History repeats

Red-shouldered hawk at sunrise
This morning I had almost the exact same conditions that I had last winter when I snapped a pic that I liked but wanted to redo, so I leapt into action, which turned out to be frozen so solid that I hurt my coccyx. But like then, I wanted to catch the red-shouldered hawk as it sat in the tree illuminated by the just-risen sun; unlike then, I got the pic before the hawk, some thirty meters away, decided I was acting too suspiciously to trust (that coccyx thing,) and flew off. I had tried to maneuver into a position that provided a better view of the head, to no avail, so we have this stalker portrait. I set the white balance to direct sunlight, which essentially makes no color correction, so the reddish light of the sunrise was retained – auto white balance would have altered it.

The reason I wanted to redo that image from last year, much as I like it, was that the lens I used does not produce a perfectly round aperture at that focal length when wide open, and so the background light has vague nonagonal shapes to it rather than smooth circles; this is because it has nine aperture blades, thus it produces a nine-sided polygon from out-of-focus highlights. So as the sun peeked through the bare trees, I wielded a different lens and tried again.
Holly silhouetted against sunrise
The horizon clouds, however, had other ideas, so the light was of a markedly different quality when the sun emerged. I had a moment of brilliant orange light before the sun rose into a thin cloud band and disappeared, and by the time it reappeared the color had changed, so this was what I ended up with.

Unedited versionAlmost anyway. The image above is actually edited to remove the faint evidence of the nature photographer’s bane: electrical lines. There are actually very few places in the US that are free from wires, poles, and towers, making any kind of landscape shots tricky, and this is especially true for the front yard – I’ve done no small amount of repositioning in an attempt to get something interesting in the sky without those damn wires. Seen here is the untouched version, with faint but noticeable streaks on the left side. Wielding the smudge tool in Photoshop was enough to hide them, though if you compare the two, you can still see some hints – without the comparison they really don’t attract attention. While I was at it, I did a slight color tweak towards red. But go back to last winter’s image and notice how the background looks so much better here; this is why I wanted to redo the shot.

AnotherReasonSunrise also brings another bane of landscape photographers in many parts of the country: jet contrails. Between the sudden surge of departing flights and the light angle that makes them stand out starkly against the sky, you can almost forget about including the sky in images taken from some locales. I think most times people tune them out while taking photos and never notice when they’re in the frame, but they provide a strong contrast element that is immediately noticeable in the resulting image. I shot this one just as an example of why I can’t work from the yard too much, even when I have nice foreground subjects. Soon afterward, the cold air had dropped the power curve in the batteries too low to be effective and the camera died. I could have swapped them out for a warm, fully charged set, but I had already lost the light quality and those contrails were only going to increase in size and number.

If it were up to nature photographers, there would be no overhead lines, no cell or radio towers, and jets wouldn’t be permitted until after the golden hour, staying the hell away from the really nice areas altogether. Just you wait. Someday our numbers will be great, and then things are gonna change.

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