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Owls In Parks - Photography
I plan on creating photo galleries dedicated to the owls I have found in the various parks featured on this site, but in the meantime checkout my general owl gallery. The content may be sparse at present but will expand over time.
All the photographs on this site are, unless otherwise indicated, of wild birds and taken by myself. You may be interested in what equipment I use and some of the techniques. So, here is a brief overview of both, along with some basic recommendations.
When photographing most owl species greater distances are generally recommended than for the Barred Owl. Even rural Barred Owls will be less tolerant of human behaviour than the city-wise individuals I have worked with in, say, Stanley Park.
Always remember that the subject's well-being comes first - no photo is worth disrupting their natural behaviour.
My Latest Equipment (Mirrorless)
In 2021 I started the move to mirrorless cameras. As of 2023 I am using two camera bodies - Canon's R5 and R7. Lens selections remain largely the same as for my older digital equipment (with a gradual transition to RF lenses).
My Other Equipment (Digital)
2003 is when I began using digital SLR cameras and the following year the transition to digital was complete. This transition was quicker than I expected. Since then the advances have continued. One of the most significant improvements has been in the sensitivity (ISO equivalent) of these cameras - I now use ISO 800 and higher without worrying about (excessive) loss of quality.
My Older Equipment (Film)
Prior to 2000 all my photography (owl or otherwise) was done with 35mm SLR camera equipment.
In particular, Olympus OM4 bodies, Olympus and Sigma lenses. My favourite combination for owls being a 300mm f/2.8 lens and monopod, with flash if needed (see notes on flash photography later). For wider views I found the 65-200 f/4 lens to be a good alternative. All were manual focus lenses.
Film (what's that?): my choice was typically Fuji or Kodak ISO 100, 200 or 400.
While it is possible to take owl photos with compact digital cameras (rare these days) or smart phones, it is not easy, and as the light level falls the camera or phone may be unable to focus. So the serious choice is a Mirrorless camera or a DSLR (digital SLR). This need not be an expensive model.
Camera and lenses
A camera with one of the following: 70-200, 28-200, 28-300mm or some such will cover almost all you need - for Barred Owls. Get a lens with as wide a maximum aperture as possible. The digital cropping factor of most digital cameras will make these lenses seem more powerful than their full frame (35mm) counterparts. For other species I recommend something much longer (for owl privacy).
Remember that you do not have to get frame-filling photos of the subject - the best photos show the animal in its environment. You may say that this is counter to many of the photos on this site. The reason for that comes down to resolution limitations of web pages - I may crop photos for the web pages, but the originals show so much more detail and context.
Tripods and Monopods
Obviously a tripod is a great asset for longer lenses and lower light. However, a monopod is easier to carry for those times when mobility is required. With the advancement of image/lens stabilization the need for such support is less than it once was but still well worth considering.
You may have noticed a certain caution on my part in recommending the use of flash. My preference is for limited use of flash - fill flash in daylight appears to cause no discomfort to the owls. At least with the tolerant Barred Owls, other species may be less forgiving.
When I started photography ISO 1000 was rare and extremely grainy/noisy. Nowadays I happily shoot at 3200, 6400 or higher, reducing the need for flash considerably.
It is, therefore, a useful tool - but be sure to evaluate your subject's reaction and adjust your use as appropriate. In some cases I have found them to be more tolerant of flash than flashlights.
I generally prefer to let the owl come to me - chasing after one is usually fruitless anyway. So I spend a lot of time in areas I know owls frequent - places where squirrels and rodents occur are usually good. If I am fortunate enough to find a hunting owl I usually back off and watch from a suitable distance. Sometimes the owl will fly up to a nearby branch after the hunt - an excellent opportunity for photography. I have lost owls on a number of occasions because I did not want to risk interrupting a hunt - but in the long run it is worth it because the owls are more relaxed in my presence.
Young Barred Owls can be an absolute joy to photograph - unlike their parents they are extremely inquisitive. If an owl with a slightly fuzzy head starts looking your way and bobbing its head, you probably have a youngster. Bobbing around a bit yourself may result in an owl flying over to have a closer look at you - don't panic, but don't get too close either!