Reader photo: Eagle silhouette

Photographer: Johan Orton


Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV; Canon 300mm lens

JOHAN ORTON WRITES: I had one goal for my first visit to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – to capture a beautiful sunset – and I only had three days to achieve it.

I find that silhouette photos work best during the golden hour when the light is soft and warm. I took this photo at around 5.45pm.

Our time in the park had run out and it was our final afternoon game drive. I decided to stop at the first decent tree and try to get a silhouette shot. I had a clear picture in my head of what I wanted to achieve, but I just couldn’t get it right.

Then I saw this martial eagle near Twee Rivieren. I had to be careful not to scare the bird away when I poked my camera through the window, and my settings had to be perfect because there was no time to experiment. I had to rely on my experience as a sports photographer to get the shot.

My Canon 300mm lens has never let me down, provided the subject is close enough. In this case the eagle was only about 20m away. These are the settings I used: shutter speed 1/4 000 second; aperture f5.6; ISO 800.

Luckily the bird took off at just the right moment!

TOAST COETZER SAYS: Isn’t it great when everything falls into place? This is a classic silhouette photo. The subject is easy to identify as an eagle: the hooked beak, the talons, the tail, and the wings spread open to ride the wind.

There’s a lovely sense of movement: You can tell that the bird has just taken off and you can almost picture the branch wobbling in the aftermath. (I love the little gap between the branch and the eagle’s talons.) Johan gave the bird lots of space to fly into.

It couldn’t have been easy to nail down all the different elements of this photo in the fading light. Johan deserves a high five!

This photo originally appeared in the March 2018 issue.
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