Sun or No Sun: Which Red-tail Image Do You Prefer? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Sun or No Sun: Which Red-tail Image Do You Prefer?

Red-tailed Hawk, immature perched in cottonwood tree, Bosque del Apache NWR, San Antonio, NM. From the recently concluded Bosque IPT.

The in the sun image was created with the Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens, the 1.4X III TC, and the EOS-1D Mark IV with the lens resting on the car window. (I did not have a BLUBB on the trip. :() ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2/3 stop: 1/400 sec. at f/8 in Tv mode (to guarantee a minimum shutter speed of 1/400 sec. with the lens balanced somewhat precariously on the car window.)

The overcast image was created with the tripod-mounted Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens, the 1.4X III TC, and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 2/3 stops: 1/125 sec. at f/9 in Av Mode.

For each: Central Sensor (by necessity) Rear Focus/AI Servo AF and recompose. Click here if you missed the Rear Focus Tutorial. Lens/TC/camera body Micro-adjustment: +4.

Sun or No Sun: Which Red-tail Image Do You Prefer?

I can thank an upset stomach for this image. Heck, you gotta learn to love what is. (Byron Katie:–who would you be without your story?) I needed a porta-potti so I left Robert with the group and made my way around the Farm Loop Road. Several porta-potties were removed from their traditional locations at the Chupadera and Farm Decks this year…. In any case, as I headed back to the north end of the refuge I noticed some crows hassling a raptor, the young red-tail in the images above. I carefully positioned the car, raised the window a bit, positioned the lens, and made a few images. The bird seemed relaxed in spite of the crows so I got out of the vehicle and set the lens up on the 3530 LS tripod with the Mongoose M3.6 on it to reduce the angle of inclination just a bit. The bird sat for a while and then flew off for to look for an early lunch.

Do note the difference in exposure compensation settings in the two images. If you do not understand them, see the Exposure Simplified section in ABP II; remember, your meter is smarter when the sun is out than when the sun is in. Note also that I felt more comfortable stopping down a bit with the lens on the tripod then I did with the lens resting on the raised window. If the lens had been on the much more stable BLUBB I would have confidently stopped down for the sunny image.

Which Do You Prefer?

Which light do you prefer, the sun peeking through or the complete overcast? Please indicate “sunny” or “overcast.” And be sure to let us know what you like abou the light. Please remember that the JPEGs in the GIF represent the unprocessed images and that I am not asking which image you prefer, but which light you prefer. In the follow-up blog post I will share the optimized version of my favorite. Sorry, no clues. ๐Ÿ™‚

BAA On-Line Store Issues Continue

The problems with the new server and the BAA On-Line Store continue today, 12/8/11. You can learn more here. (BTW, I arrived safely on Long Island just after noon thanks to the great folks at Southwest Airlines.) The store was up for a while this morning and then crashed again. Jim was able to get into the back end but was unable to process the orders. We are working hard to rectify the problem and apologize for any inconvenience. Obviously we too wish that we were not having these unavoidable problems. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Shopper’s Guide

Below is a list of the gear used to create the images in today’s blog post. Thanks a stack to all who have used the Shopper’s Guide links to purchase their gear as a thank you for all the free information that we bring you on the Blog and in the Bulletins. Before you purchase anything be sure to check out the advice in our Shopper’s Guide.

Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens. Right now this is my all time favorite super-telephoto lens.
Canon 1.4X III Teleconverter. Designed to work best with the new Series II super-telephoto lenses.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body. My two Mark IVs are my workhorse digital camera bodies.

And from the BAA On-line Store:

LensCoats. I have a LensCoat on each of my big lenses to protect them from nicks and thus increase their re-sales value. All my big lens LensCoat stuff is in Hardwood Snow pattern.
LegCoat Tripod Leg Covers. I have four tripods active and each has a Hardwood Snow LegCoat on it to help prevent further damage to my tender shoulders ๐Ÿ™‚
Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod. This one will last you a lifetime.
Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head. Right now this is the best tripod head around for use with lenses that weigh less than 9 pounds. For heavier lenses, check out the Wimberley V2 head.
CR-80 Replacement Foot for Canon 800. When using the 800 on a Mongoose as I do, replacing the lens foot with this accessory lets the lens sit like a dog whether pointed up or down and prevents wind-blown spinning of your lens on breezy days by centering the lens directly over the tripod.
Double Bubble Level. You will find one in my camera’s hot shoe whenever I am not using flash.
Be sure to check out our camera body User’s Guides here.
BLUBB. I personally designed the Big Lens Ultimate BeanBag and have it made in the good old US of A. This large beanbag is ideal when working with super-telephoto lenses from your vehicle. Beware of cheaper and much inferior copycat rip-offs; you get what you pay for just like your Daddy said.
The Lens Align Mark II. I use the Lens Align Mark II pretty much religiously to micro-adjust all of my gear an average of once a month and always before a major trip. Enjoy our free comprehensive tutorial here.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV User’s Guide. Learn to use your Mark IV the way that I use mine. Also available for the 7D and the Mark III here.

40 comments to Sun or No Sun: Which Red-tail Image Do You Prefer?

  • avatar Mary Stamper

    Sunlight, definitely. The shadows created by the sun give an almost 3 dimensional feel to the image…like you could actually step into it. The other is way, way too flat for my taste, though if one is going for an illustration-type look, the overcast one succeeds very well at that.

  • avatar colin bradshaw

    Hi Artie,

    Greetings from across the pond.

    Which image do I prefer? Well I guess it depends what I’d be using the image for. I think the soft sunlit image is more pleasing artistically but if I wanted to illustrate the identification features of Red-tail I’d go for the overcast. I know this seems a bit of a fudge but I think likely usuage makes a big difference to the answer.


  • avatar cheapo

    Doh! Sorry Artie. Though I did also say “I believe you”, which I genuinely do. I think I blurted (which I don’t normally do), and typed without really analyzing what I was typing, or what I was looking at. I’m not really a photographer by nature, but I should be used to seeing images from you that exceed what I believe can be had from any camera. With hindsight, I see the OOF twigs etc, which I didn’t notice as I was so drawn to the bird in both images, and to the brightness of the perch in the sunny one. I’m actually gobsmacked to realize that two such superbly different images can be achieved within moments of each other.
    (I use OOF because I’ve seen others do it, and it does save the old typewriter ๐Ÿ˜‰ Best regards, Pete.

    Hey Pete, That’s better! I apologize for making an image of a free and wild bird look as if it were taken in a studio. No wait, that’s my job! ๐Ÿ™‚artie

  • I like the soft sunlight one best because it shows better contrast between the dark and light areas.

  • avatar Howard Rivers

    I think the contour of the Red-tail’s head is substantially emphasized in the overcast light and this clearly demands my attention.

  • soft sunlight for me. its a bird of prey, and the sun amplifies the strong and dramatic impression.

  • avatar Kati Tomlinson

    It’s all been said, my preference is the overcast as the eye is drawn to the bird, not the background

  • avatar Dudley Warner

    I really prefer the overcast version. It has a more pleasing light.

  • My preference is the overcast light. In the โ€œovercast light imageโ€ there is enough detail so that you do not have to lighten the shadows in order to reveal more.
    If you had to do that, this would increase the noise in the image. Starting from the overcast image you can increase contrast and saturation at will and still have more detail in the picture with less noise.

  • avatar Jens

    I like the pop and the head position in the soft sunlight

  • I like both but prefer the soft sunlight. The warmly lit bird stands out more from the cold color dark sky behind it. The sun creates a little more drama than the overcast light.

  • avatar Ruthie

    I cannot decide. I think it depends on the intention of the photographer. The soft sunlight is certainly more dramatic while the overcast reminds me more of an illustration for a bird guide.

  • avatar Hugh Fitzmorris

    I much prefer the overcast image, the color and detail are superior.

  • Soft sunlight rules. But I guess you’re going to surprise us with something.

  • avatar Dennis Pritchett

    They are both good images, but the soft light wins for me.


  • avatar Craig Wiese

    I like the overcast lighting. Less contrast and better detail in the wing. Just generally a more pleasant feeling to the overcast lighting.

  • I love the soft sunlight because there is more contrast. I like the bird’s expression with his face tilted more toward the camera. Tree detail is nicer too.

  • As an artist (lots of realist bird paintings), lighting contrast always creates drama, hence early morning or late afternoon sunlight is preferred. However, for botanical or technical drawing/painting, no deep shadows or strong highlights are required, just pure detail to give true colour to the subject. Overcast conditions are perfect for this. So, as a painting, the sunlit image is preferred. As a technical illustrtaion, the overcast image is preferred. I’d love to try both! Cheers, Cindy

    Hi Cindy, Thanks for your kind comments. Do you paint wildlife for a living? artie

  • avatar jim little

    While I find both images striking, I prefer the overcast lighting. Seems more natural to me.

  • I actually like both images. The soft light is nice but, the other is cool also.

  • avatar jim little

    Both images are striking—but my preference is for the overcast lighting.

  • Soft sunlight for sure.

  • avatar Charlie Young

    I prefer the soft sunlight version. The darker background makes the white breast feathers stand out more.

  • I prefer, and by far, the warm colors in the sun version.

  • avatar Nick Honig

    I like the soft light. However I am not saying that I like the image of the bird in the soft light better. The image of the bird in the overcast light I like the best of the two. So if you have a similar image like that one that you took with the sun peaking through, I think that that would be my favorite. My reasons are: I like the expression of the bird, the detail in the wing feathers are more pronounced and the head feathers are raised which adds more “action” to the shot.

  • avatar Rebecca Field

    Okay, having reread your question in its entirety, I prefer the overcast image. The detail in the darker feathers of the bird is better. Still a close call though.

  • avatar Jay Gould

    The overcast inquisitive greater detail look gets my vote.

  • avatar Bob Schwartz

    For the reasons stated by Edward, Kenny and Roger, I also prefer the overcast version.

  • avatar Bob Boner

    I prefer the overcast image.

  • avatar Rebecca Field

    I am tending toward the soft light image, but perhaps it has more to do with the framing and head angle than the light. Pretty close call.

  • avatar pat dunnuck

    I like the bird in the overcast & the colors in the soft!

  • I like more the sunny image; not only for the warmer colors, but also because of the darkest background, so the bird pops out. I’d be curious to see a version of the overcast with the sky darkened a bit.

    I’m not considering the bird position, actually I like more the one in the overcast photo (also becauseo of the feathers in the head), but I think your question is focused about lighting.

  • avatar Myer Bornstein

    I like both of them, but the overcast one has more detail so it is a step up on the other one

  • avatar Roger Williams

    Initially, I liked the sunny image best. Perhaps it was due to its coming up for view first, but also, because of the rich, warm tones. However, after many back and forth views, I vote for the overcast image. I think the tones are truer to actual life in this image and I like the feather detail that is somewhat less prominent in the sunny version. I also prefer the head turn in the overcast version – but then, that’s not to be part of the discussion.

  • avatar David Policansky

    Really tough call. I like the bird’s head in sunlight a bit better–the contrast really emphasizes that raptor eye–but I like the body and tail in the overcast a bit better. My conclusion is that the difference in the light doesn’t make or break the image, partly because you and your camera handled the light well in both cases.

  • avatar Kenny Walters

    I like the soft sun image. Makes the feathers pop a bit and I like the warmth in the foliage.

  • avatar Paul Smith

    LOVE the soft sun image!!

  • avatar Jon

    As the images appear I prefer the soft light, there is more contrast. I have a sneeky feeling however that the image you choose will also have excellent contrast.

    Hi Jon, I am confused. The image created when the sun peeked through obviously has more contrast, contrast being the range of brightness from the lightest highlights to the darkest shadows. Images of the same subject created in sunny conditions always show more contrast than images created in overcast conditions. artie

  • avatar Edward Fisher

    I prefer the Overcast image. Better detail in the feathers, and no harsh shadows.

  • avatar cheapo

    I love the bird, but unfortunately I don’t like either image. Too good? They both have a ‘studio’ feel to them. If you say they are both outdoors, I believe you. The overcast is less ‘chocolate boxy’, and therefore is better.

    You wrote, “If you say they are outdoors.” You quite confuse me. I stated clearly that the bird was sitting in a tree on the refuge. Please let me know if you understood that part. artie