Three Owlets LogoThree Owlets Logo 2Owls In The Park

Vancouver, British Columbia

Photo Information

All the photographs on this are, unless otherwise indicated, of wild birds and taken by myself. You may be interested in what equipment I use and some of the techniques. So, here is a brief overview of both, along with some basic recommendations.

When photographing the more aggressive owls greater distances may be required than for the Barred Owl. Even rural Barred Owls will be less tolerant of human behaviour then the city-wise individuals I have typically worked with. 

Always remember that the subject's well-being comes first - no photo is worth disrupting the subject.

My Current Equipment (Digital)

2003 is when I began using digital SLR cameras and the following year the transition to digital was complete. This transition was quicker than I expected. Since then the advances have continued. One of the most significant improvements has been in the sensitivity (ISO equivalent) of these cameras - I now use ISO 800 and higher without worrying about (excessive) loss of quality.

I currently use Canon camera bodies and the occasional Sigma lens.
In 2007 I typically used a 300mm f/2.8 Sigma lens with monopod.
For 2008 I found that most of my work was done with a Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS (image stabilized) lens. For nest site photography I used a much longer lens (300-800mm), Gitzo tripod and a Wimberly head. A Canon 580Ex flash provided additional light when needed.
For 2009 I have acquired the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS lens. The additional stop is helping my focussing abilities - as dusk approaches even the best autofocus fails.

My Older Equipment (Film)

Prior to 2000 all my photography (owl or otherwise) was done with 35mm SLR camera equipment.

In particular, Olympus OM4 bodies, Olympus and Sigma lenses. My favourite combination for owls being a 300mm f/2.8 lens and monopod, with flash if needed (see notes on flash photography later). For wider views I found the 65-200 f/4 lens to be a good alternative. All were manual focus lenses.

Film (what's that?): my choice was typically Fuji or Kodak ISO 100, 200 or 400.

Recommended Equipment

While it is possible to take owl photos with compact digital cameras, it is not easy, and as the light level falls the camera will be unable to focus. So the only serious choice is a DSLR (digital SLR). This need not be an expensive model.

Camera and lenses

A DSLR with one of the following: 70-200, 28-200, 28-300mm or some such will cover almost all you need. Get a lens with as wide a maximum aperture as possible. The digital cropping factor of most digit al cameras will make these lenses seem more powerful than their 35mm counterparts.
Also remember that you do not have to get frame-filling photos of the subject - the best photos show the animal in its environment. You may say that this is counter to many of the photos on this site. The reason for that comes down to resolution limitations of web pages - I typically crop photos for the web pages, but the originals show so much more detail and context.

Tripods and Monopods

Obviously a tripod is a great asset for longer lenses and lower light. However, a monopod is easier to carry for those times when mobility is required.

Flash

You may have noticed a certain caution on my part in recommending the use of flash. My preference is for limited use of flash - fill flash in daylight appears to cause not discomfort to the owls. At least with the tolerant Barred Owls, Great Horned Owls may be less forgiving.
It is, therefore, a useful tool - but be sure to evaluate your subject's reaction and adjust your use as appropriate. In some cases I have found them to be more tolerant of flash than flashlights.

Technique

I generally prefer to let the owl come to me - chasing after one is usually fruitless anyway. So I spend a lot of time in areas I know owls frequent - places where squirrels and rodents occur are usually good. If I am fortunate enough to find a hunting owl I usually back off and watch from a suitable distance. Sometimes the owl will fly up to a nearby branch after the hunt - an excellent opportunity for photography. I have lost owls on a number of occasions because I did not want to risk interrupting a hunt - but in the long run it is worth it because the owls are more relaxed in my presence.
Young Barred Owls can be an absolute joy to photograph - unlike their parents they are extremely inquisitive. If an owl with a slightly fuzzy head starts looking your way and bobbing its head, you probably have a youngster. Bobbing around a bit yourself may result in an owl flying over to have a closer look at you - don't panic, but don't get too close either!