Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2006/06/07

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Subject: [Leica] RE: Doug's Cooper's Hawk
From: telyt at (Douglas Herr)
Date: Wed Jun 7 19:05:20 2006


Jim Christie < jim.christie at> wrote:

 > I just saw your Cooper's Hawk shot. Wow, what a neat shot. It is very 
 > and sharp. Looks like the DMR really performs well. I presume you had 
 > hike in to find the hawk and I presume you used a tripod. Great 

Richard S. Taylor wrote:

 > I wonder, too, if we really understand how difficult your work is to 
 > Maybe if you included a subtitle along the lines of:  "Shot # 241 out
 > of 243 that afternoon after waiting a couple of hours in a chilly
 > drizzle with my feet freezing and my back aching for the damn bird to
 > settle down and the sun to come out and finally get low enough to
 > produce the modelling I was after,"  you'd get more reaction.  ;-)

OK so I need a better story:

I've been getting to know this particular hawk for a few years now (and 
his SWMBO).  Each spring they've nested within a few hundred yards of 
the previous year's nest so they haven't been to difficult to find.  
Each year they also have an area where they like to hang out off the 
nest, generally within 200' of the nest tree.  I stay away from the 
nest because predators can pick up my scent trail if I were to visit 
the nest itself.

The first year I could barely get within range with the 560mm lens 
before they'd leave; get too close to the nest tree and it's bye-bye 
scalp.  The second year they still kept their distance when perched but 
when I'd first arrived in the area they do a couple of fly-bys while I 
kept my scalp completely entangled in dense brush, but after a few 
minutes it was safe to emerge from the thickets.

This year the male barely even looks up when I arrive in the area - 
maybe a half-hearted fly-by a few yards away, then he thinks no more of 
the bearded dude with the clicking machine on a stick.

Over the years the equipment I've used has evolved along with the 
birds' response to me.  I soon learned that tripods and dense 
understory don't mix.  I frequently have to move the camera ever so 
slightly as the hawks hop along their perches because of the dense 
growth in this forested area: getting a clear view of the hawks is not 
easy.  The monopod & shoulder stock are MUCH more suited to the 
terrain, but this setup's slow shutter speed limit can be a problem in 
a dense forest.  I tried a 400mm f/2.8: the lens required the tripod, 
and the DOF was much to shallow at full aperture, the huge front 
element freaked the birds out, and I destroyed a shoulder lugging it 
around in the forest.  High-speed films seemed the only answer at the 
cost of grain and high contrast.

The DMR has solved the film speed problem.  It's high ISO performance 
is far better than same-speed film, and the DMR's dynamic range offsets 
the high-contrast light under the forest canopy; I can also dial back 
the ISO as light requires, something I could do with film only by 
carrying several camera bodies.

  Walt Johnson wrote:

 > There is nothing wrong with getting up close and personal. The most
 > important thing is to make sure your subjects feel your respect for
 > them. They are not elements of  the composition but rather human
 > souls. Some are better than others but when treated well they
 > generally respond well.

This paragraph of Walt's sums up my experience with the Cooper's Hawks. 
  I had allowed them time to get to know me and they learned to trust 
the Leica-toting guy in the camo coat because I walked quietly, 
respected their nest space and generally demonstrated that I was not a 

The male hawk responded last Sunday in a manner that suggests that Walt 
was writing about him:  he flew to a perch about 20' away from me just 
above eye level in an area where I could get clear views with good 
backgrounds.  Unfortunately the lighting was crap: mixed in with the 
deep shade of the forest canopy there were spotlights of direct 
sunlight through gaps in the canopy.  I waited for shadows to move so 
that the bird and his perch were completely shaded (high ISO but no big 
deal with the DMR);  this took a half-hour or so.  During this time the 
hawk was completely relaxed, as you can see because he's resting on one 
foot.  Remember I'm still only 20' away, talking quietly to the hawk, 
fiddling with the camera, re-adjusting the monopod's footing.  I made 
about 60 or 70 exposures, 2/3 DMR, 1/3 SL2 & Provia 400F.  Once I'd 
made enough exposures I thanked the hawk and put the cameras down.  A 
few minutes later he flew to another nearby perch.  All true.

So what you see in this photo is the result to date of hundreds of 
hours in the field, countless equipment/media experiments, and above 
all treating my subject with respect.

Doug Herr
Birdman of Sacramento

Replies: Reply from r.s.taylor at (Richard S. Taylor) ([Leica] RE: Doug's Cooper's Hawk)