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Thread: Nighttime Owl Photography

  1. #1
    ktuli's Avatar
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    Bill S

    Nighttime Owl Photography

    All,

    My wife signed us up to go to an Audobon Society Owl event Friday night. Apparently they try to call the owls in for the visitors.

    So obviously, I'd love to get some photos. Has anyone done this or any kind of nighttime bird photography? Any suggestions on what to expect? Gear to take? I have a call in to the folks where the event is held in hopes of (a) learning whether flash photography is allowed (assuming that will help) and (b) what kind of conditions to expect - especially how close they normally get the owls to come in - if they're baiting them with food, etc.

    Obviously if possible, I'd love to get a photo of an owl coming in for a landing. I assume I'd need a flash for that. Would a single 580 EX II be enough? Any suggested exposure settings (ie: ISO, high speed sync, etc)?

    But I figured I'd see if anyone here can provide and help too!

    Thanks!

    - Bill

  2. #2
    davidedric's Avatar
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    Re: Nighttime Owl Photography

    Hi Bill,

    I don't have much experience of photographing birds at night, but I do have some of photographing animals. Until you get a better answer, here are a few thoughts.

    Clearly, it depends how far away you will be. I would expect the answer to be pretty close, since when I have watched birds being called in they think they are approaching a fellow (hopefully a mate, possibly a rival) so they tend to come well in and not be fazed by human presence

    I'm sure when the birds are in they will be illuminated by spot (you couldn't see 'em otherwise). What experience I do have with night bird photography has seen the birds effectively dazzled by any spot. This means they stay put, and that there will be enough light for your camera to focus.

    I suspect that getting them in flight will be very tricky. I don't know the set up of course, but someone would have to be very skilled to follow a flying bird with a spot, and you or your wife would have to be pretty nifty to follow the flight and get a shot. Of course, they may be able to call them into a particular position where you can pre-focus, but that's not what I've seen happening when birds are called in (which has only been in daylight).

    As you say in your post, you really need the info from the Audubon Society.

    Hope this is of some help,

    Dave

    P.S. Should have said. If they use the phrase "calling in" that normally means imitating a bird call, and bait wouldn't be used. Normally, that is.

  3. #3
    ktuli's Avatar
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    Re: Nighttime Owl Photography

    Dave,

    Thanks for the info.

    Got my call back from the Audobon Society. No flash photography is allowed. So I'm restricted to just what I can do without flash. In fact she said that they don't shine the lights on the owls very much either - that they try to let your eyes acclimate to the dim light as much as possible.

    So I'll take my 7D with the 100mm f/2.8 or maybe even the 50mm f/1.8 mounted into the woods across the street from my house tonight and see whether I can get anything useable by cranking the ISO way up. If I can't, I'll just leave the camera at home and enjoy the experience tomorrow.

    The lady from the Audobon Society said that in general some of the owls come within 15-20 feet, while most stay in the 30 feet range. So I think even with the flash this would have been very challenging. I know that we have Eastern Screech Owls across the street from my house, so I might see if I can learn how to call them in and see if I can take some photos of the ones near home with the flash in the future.

    - Bill

  4. #4
    davidedric's Avatar
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    Re: Nighttime Owl Photography

    Oh well. Sorry, must be a near record for duff information provided in a single post. Sounds like a case of leave your camera at home and enjoy the experience.

    My photography has been out in the wilds of Africa and similar, not under the watchful gaze of the Audubon Society. My only experience of Pittsburgh PA (in 1979!) was standing on a hill looking down on three rivers stadium. Didn't look very wild then.

    Hope the event goes well,

    Dave

  5. #5
    ktuli's Avatar
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    Re: Nighttime Owl Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by davidedric View Post
    My only experience of Pittsburgh PA (in 1979!) was standing on a hill looking down on three rivers stadium. Didn't look very wild then.
    I was born in 1979 in Pittsburgh!

    And yeah - the plan is to leave the camera at home and enjoy looking at the birds. Perhaps I'll take my night vision binocs...

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