Whenever I’m kayaking, I have to decide whether to put on a short lens for landscapes, or a long lens for wildlife. On this trip, I went specifically to try to get a great eagle photograph, and kept a 150-600mm Sigma telephoto with a 1.4x adapter on. Getting close to eagles that are accustomed to fishermen and paddlers is not the issue, it is finding the eagles in an appropriate setting and in good light. In my mind, I envisioned an eagle taking the first powerful wing strokes leaving the top of a white pine. But most of the eagles I saw, whether single birds or pairs, were in aspen — just not the same.
Then I came upon this wonderful cone-laden white pine with an eagle perched against the dark blue sky. I made perhaps two dozen images of it, interspersed with an osprey that was fishing overhead. I’ve done enough observing of eagles to see the signs of preparation for taking off, and I was ready with the camera set to fire a series very fast as the eagle took flight.
Upon returning to the studio, I extended the canvas of the eagle in the tree and dropped in the photo of it taking flight. I hate bald blue skies, so I looked through my files to find clouds that would fit the format, the time of day and angle of light. This final output from two eagle captures and a cloud panorama from several images delivers what I had envisioned. The wider view of clouds creates an illusion of the viewer being close to and at tree-top level with the eagles. This is very similar to the feeling I remember getting as a child viewing the dioramas painted by Fancis Lee Jaques at the Bell Museum of Natural History, where the animals are close, but put into context of a sweeping landscape.
Is this cheating? Sure it is. But technically, it is impossible to make this image in a single capture. My goal is to create photographs that mimic what I’ve seen, both in my visual, and my emotional memory. There are thousands of “pure” images of flying and perching eagles in the world. But none I’ve seen that create the sense of “being there” that is possible to foster with a composited image. Just a final note: “cheating” does not translate into “easier”. All the components must be photographed, composited and edited to seamlessly blend together as a believable whole, or it falls apart.