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Photography Question 
Don Curry

Exposure with sky as background

I got my slides back today from a shoot at Reelfoot lake in Tennessee. I went there to take pictures of the numerous Bald Eagles that reside there this time of year. I was extremely disappointed in some of my shots. I was using a Nikon N90S, Nikkor 75-300 lens on a Manfrotto tripon and Provia 100 film. On one occasion there were 6 eagles in one tree. I was able to sneak up to within 75 yards of the tree. By the time I got that close 4 had flown away. I was afraid that the other two would leave so I hurriedly took my shots. It was afternoon and the only approach I had was facing west toward a cloudy light gray shy. I opened up one stop from the meter reading thinking this would be enough to brighten the eagles and prevent getting a dark silhouette. The eagles in my slides look like large crows and the sky was very bright. Do you have any advice on how to avoid this or was this just unavoidable?

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1/16/2006 4:37:12 PM

Andrew Laverghetta
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/13/2004
  It probably has to do with the exposure latitude of slide film. It's very narrow. The sky probably would have been getting close to blown out without opening that one stop, but opening it up even more will just further blow out the sky. By saying that the eagles look like large crows, are you sayign that it was still a silhouette? Then to get the same kind of color you would still have needed to open up or use a longer exposure but as you've seen, this will further blow out the background. Said simpler, slide film is obviously not the best for contrasty conditions like this. Some kind of color negative film would probably have been your best bet. So yes, pretty much unavoidable I would think. I'm not sure if later processing when printing might have helped trying to barely overexpose the sky and barely underexpose the eagle, like you're taking the average exposure value (EV) of the two and seeing if that's within the latitude of the slide film?

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1/16/2006 5:20:09 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  With a gray sky as a background...and at that distance, you're limited to silhouettes if you want the sky as part of the composition.

If the situation were to arrive again, try to sneak in from another angle, where a distant treeline is behind the birds and you can eliminate the sky completely.
(...though with eagles or any other raptors this can be a real challenge without spooking them.)

I shoot Provia 100 also and have experienced similar frustrations on overcast days.
The only way I've been successful in getting detail with birds of prey against the sky was on clear days with the sun behind me.

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1/16/2006 5:25:15 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005

Even at 300mm at 75 yds, the problem is twofold.

1) The angular size of the eagles is VERY small.

2) You probably need faster glass. 2.8 or better.

Finally, I hope you were spot metering.

Not much latitude in slide film, especially considering the conditions and equip you are using.


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1/16/2006 7:06:30 PM

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