An (almost) full frame harrier image

Published: 02/18/2020

Northern Harrier have pretty much been the focus of my local photography in Princeton for a couple of years now. They are challenging and frustrating birds to photograph given their erratic and skittish nature. However, they are also highly rewarding when everything lines up. So what is "everything"? Similar to most photographs -- nice light (either sunny or diffused), sharp focus, a nice background, and a good pose from the bird. My local spot presents some challenges in particular where often the best light angles shoot into backgrounds that have telephone poles, so I often opt for darker cloudy days where the higher ISOs required do hurt some of the detail. As these birds rarely come super close, there is always some level of cropping involved, which while the images hold up well, the more pixels on the bird the better.

However, I've recently been shooting on sunny days in one spot that does give a reasonably nice background with a near perfect sun angle and I've been getting some reasonable close passes. This image below stands out as probably the most pixels I've gotten on a harrier to date. The full sized file is about 17 of the original 21 megapixels -- basically full frame on my D500. This image was taken at 700mm at 1/3200 f/5.6 and ISO 800.

There are some minor nits to be had here -- the bird is angled a little higher up than I would like and it was ever so slightly off perfect light angle, but overall I think it's pretty good! What I like the most is the detail produced by the nice light and the image being nearly full frame. Below I've highlighted some regions I thought were particularly cool. Although the overall image is downsized, the bits shown in red squares are 100% crops (i.e., each pixel on your screen is a pixel from the original capture). These crops, unlike the above image are unsharpened but still contain tons of the detail. On the face you can see almost every hair near their beak, on the legs you can make out feathers and texture on the skin, and finally on the wing you can see individual feather barbs especially on the edges. This, to me, is just so cool and highlights some of the more fun aspects to the technical side of wildlife photography (as opposed to arguments on forums :)).

Anyhow, I found the high resolution image really rewarding to look at and make out all of the detail on a bird that is rarely close enough, not to mention close enough for long enough, for us to examine with the naked eye and figured I would share. Hope you enjoy!

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