Great Horned Owl

Equipment Info
Nearest Area
Florence Junction

This photo was taken on Friday 12-11-2009, at 0704 hours, on Highway 79 and East Cottonwood Canyon Road, in Pinal County, Arizona. This location is about four miles South of where East US 60 and Florence Junction meet. I was riding in my Van Pool with the following members aboard. (Lori Greene (Captain of the Van Pool and the driver at the time, Lorraine Heiselman, Sandy Hernandez, John Dominguez, Rich Best, and the newest member of the team, Gloria Thomas) Over the past month or so, we have spotted an Owl (Bubo Virginianus) sitting on either the telephone wires or trees along the highway. Two times I have seen this Owl and didn’t have my camera ready. I decided to have it locked and loaded in case we were lucky enough to be present when the Owl decided to reveal himself again. Several weeks went by, but the Van Pool Members and I were determined we would see the Owl again. So it happens, we were traveling Southbound on the way to work when I spotted the Owl sitting on a branch on the Eastside of the road, about two hundred feet away. No one on the van observed the Owl, but we all decided to turn around after a quarter mile, and see if he was still in the tree. As we approached the area, he was still sitting in the tree. It was a great location because the morning sunrise colors were in perfect view behind the Owl, and the tree with the green foreground made for a perfect shot. I had to laugh, because I became excited and both Lorraine and I couldn’t get the door open fast enough. We were afraid the Owl would fly away being we were so close. Nevertheless, we open the door and I jumped out as the members of the van seemed to become excited as I. I already had my Nikon D-700 (Full Frame) D-SLR with an SB-900 Flash (Through the Lens-TTL), set up and ready to shoot in Manual Mode. I had the settings at (14) Bit RAW, ISO 500, F 2.8, Shutter Speed of 1/250, Auto White Balance (5300 Degrees Kelvin), Spot Metering and Spot Continuous Auto Focus, with a 70-200mm F2.8 IF ED G Lens. I quickly took my first shot which exposed perfectly to the right of the histogram. I decided to increase the Aperture (depth of field) to F7.1. I took two more photos before he turned and looked right at me. Although he was very dark due to him being silhouetted by the rising sun behind him, (ie, why I used the flash) he turned his head and looked right at me. I was able to get one more shot before he flew off. Although all the shots came out great, this one ended up being the best. Upon returning to the van, everyone wanted me to hurry up and show them the picture on the LCD. It was a nice feeling seeing everyone liked the photo as much as I. I had previously expressed my appreciation to the members on the van, as if we were to get a shot of this Owl, I would buy them all Starbucks coffee. Once they saw the actual photograph, they all wanted an 8X10 instead, ha. I opened up the photograph in CS3 RAW, increased the Exposure Value (EV) to +1.10, customized the White Balance (WB) from 5300 to 5500 Degrees Kelvin for a slightly warmer feel, and applied 100% Noise Reduction (Luminance). Both flash and lens were set at 200mm. Although this Full Framed Sensor had no problem shooting this photo at ISO 500, I noticed a slightly better difference in the sky, after zooming in about 400 % with the Luminance applied. I opened the file and applied some Levels (15 / 1.00 / 245), Curves (Output of 128 and an Input of 139), made a mask of the sky using the Magic Wand and applied another Levels adjustment to the sky (20 / 1.00 / 255). I Saturated the entire photo to +10, slightly Dodged the white feathers and face area of the Owl, and burned the foreground green leaves to match the exposure of the branch the Owl was sitting on. I did not adjust the Owl’s eyes for I liked the red eye look caused from the flash. For my purposes, I sharpened the photo with a Highpass setting of 1.2 and made a layer mask to erase this sharpening from the sky. The sunrise colors, combined with the light and dark clouds in the sky, dead tree branch with green foreground, ended up making this shot. Special thanks to all the Van Pool Members for allowing me the opportunity to shoot this wonderful animal.

Date Added
January 13, 2010
Date Taken
January 13, 2010

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