Hawks in the Neighborhood

I don’t actually have a backyard.  However, we do have a green space — a strip of land that, at one time, was the right-of-way for an electric streetcar line that ran to the coast, less than a mile from here.   Today, the strip of land is owned by the city, but neighbors are welcome to use it as backyards, patios, horseshoe pits, or just keep it in it’s natural state (more or less).  I like the natural state — just a little ground cover and a few trees and some shrubs — things that grow without much attention.  Southern California is experiencing a drought — after all, it is mostly desert.

The area makes a nice habitat for all sorts of animals.  Of course, there are those few people who let their dogs run through the greenspace without feeling the need to pick up after them.  This is not so nice, but my problem is with the humans, not the dogs!

We also have an array of birds, ranging in size from hummingbirds to crows.  I’m not really into photographing birds, but recently, there have been some new residents — what I presume to be a mother hawk and her two youngsters.  Two nights ago, I watched the young hawks try to hunt, but they were no match for the ground squirrel who seemed to not notice their silly attempts to attack him, all the while just staying out of reach — except in one case where he seemed to go on the attack, and the hawks nearly tripped over each other, trying to get away.

Additionally, we are witnessing nightly dogfights — aerial combat between crows and the hawks.  My uneducated observation is that the hawks have greater straight-line speed than do the crows, but the crows are too smart to fly in a straight line and easily outmaneuver the hawks.  It is all very noisy!

Last night (early evening) I put a Sigma 60mm/2.8 Art Lens on my Olympus OMD-EM5 and walked less than ten feet from my garage to grab a few shots of one of the hawks.  I thought I’d share a few photos, as well as a word or two about composition.

I’ll post two sets of images.  The first of the pair will be the photo as captured in RAW with no post-production manipulation, except from the conversion from RAW to jpeg, necessary to post it in this article.  The second image, in each pair, will be after some adjustments in Lightroom CC.

Hawk in a Tree -- RAW

Hawk in a Tree — RAW

This is a nice enough photo. I’ve captured one of the hawks eyes, and have shown him in his habitat. He is nearly centered in the frame, but there are some garage roofs in the background.

The second version of the same image has been cropped to eliminate distracting elements, still keeping the bird mostly centered (body is centered, being careful not to cut off his tail), and I have zoomed in to make the bird more prominent. I have added some warmth to better reflect the late afternoon sun and adjusted the Clarity slider (in LR) to increase detail.

Hawk in a Tree -- jpeg

Hawk in a Tree — jpeg

Actually, I took this photo first — as you can see, I was further away. Slowly, I walked toward him (there were two in the tree, but this is the only one who seemed to pay any attention to me). It is OK, but a bit bland, and the subject is too small.

Hawk at a Distance -- RAW

Hawk at a Distance — RAW

The EM5 has plenty of pixel power, and handles cropping well. BTW, I am not of the school that believes crops are for farmers. If there is a way to improve the image, I’m all for it.

In the manipulated image, the crop is obvious, but not just to get closer. I positioned the bird’s eye in the lower, right third (Rules of Thirds, boys and girls), giving him plenty of space in the left segment of the frame. For me, this makes for a much stronger image. You are welcome to hold a differing opinion. 🙂 Finally, I warmed up the image and on both files, some white and black clipping, exposure and clarity changes were made.

Hawk in the Tree  -- jpeg

Hawk in the Tree — jpeg

All captures were at ISO 200, f.28, 1/80. Given the sensor in the OMD, a crop factor of 2x must be considered to reach the 35mm effective focal length or 120mm.

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Hi Chris,

Thanks for taking the time to read the article and respond. I also began my career in the 1970s. In fact, my first ‘paid job’, in photography, was working in a hobby shop type darkroom where we taught photographers to develop their film and make their own prints.

While I certainly agree that we should all strive to ‘get it right’ in camera, I don’t agree that it was ever the ‘standard’. The darkroom was always a place to dodge and burn, and yes, even crop images to better match the vision of the photographer. Back then, many pros used medium format film, specifically because the larger negative allowed for more effective image manipulation.

For many photographers, Ansel Adams was the epitome of a great landscape photographer — and he is often pointed to as an example of meticulous darkroom preparation of his prints. Certainly, times have changed: I remember when everything was manual focus, and there were no exposure meters built in to cameras. Heck, I even remember that days when phones where attached to walls, and they had no cameras. 🙂 🙂

Thanks, again, for taking the time to respond, Chris.


Chris Nicol

I agree wholeheartedly the final photograph (image) is what is important these days of digital imaging. But I always tried to ‘crop’ in camera when I used an OM1 or OM4 with film. This was the standard, then. How times have changed since I started as a Pro in the early 1970’s!!!