Bald Eagle Photo Workshop 2016

Trip Report – Bald Eagle Photography Workshop 2016 – November

In Trip Report by Matt Shetzer

The 2016 Bald Eagle photo workshop in Haines, Alaska had a great turnout with six eager to explore guests from as far as Portugal and Hong Kong. We were joined by local naturalist and guide Judy who calls Haines her home.

Bald Eagle Photo Workshop 2016

Matt, Sam, Larry, Mauricio, Nancy, John, Ian and Judy in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

Here is what we did each day during the photo workshop:


Arrival of the group on the Alaska Marine Highways ferry Kennicott

Arrival of the group on the Alaska Marine Highways ferry Kennicott

A beautiful clear day with all the rugged mountains out.  The group arrived on the Alaska Marine highway ferry today, and they were treated to a scenic trip as they journeyed up the Alaska inside passage from Juneau to Haines.  As they approached Haines, they were able to take photos of a beautiful abandoned lighthouse with mountains towering over the lighthouse in the background.

Once the ferry arrived Haines, Judy and Matt welcomed them and we loaded up and headed to check into the hotel.  A quick tour through town, and a little time for the guests to get settled and to get camera gear ready for photographing the bald eagles of the Chilkat Valley.

That evening we met for dinner and had a nice meal at the local bakery.  We got to know everyone, discussed the days again, and discussed bald eagle behavior to help with the shots tomorrow. Off to an early night at the hotel as we leave before sunrise tomorrow morning.

We left early to make the most of of the day.  The mountain peaks were still covered with a few high clouds therefore we didn’t not do a sunrise shot and we continued to the bald eagle preserve to photograph the eagles.

John, Sam and Larry getting into position for those in-flight eagle shots

John, Sam and Larry getting into position for those in-flight eagle shots

 As we arrived, we saw an eagle with a fish right off the shore.  We setup and photographed the eagle for a bit as it protected its catch from other attacking eagles. Then the group opted for a walk on the riverside up to the main area and as they walked they stopped to photograph other eagles in the trees overlooking the river.

Once everyone arrived at the end of the trail, we were lucky to have eagles haul a couple of fish out right in front of us on the river bank.  This provided hours of action as other eagles would try to steal their fish and they would fend them off. Many images of the attacks and inflight action were captured.

All of a sudden, it was noon, and time for lunch.  We headed over to a scenic lake which the trumpeter swans call home and enjoyed our lunch with a view.  Off in the distance we even saw a cow moose feeding in the meadow.  

We then headed to another location and were fortunate enough to see two more adult trumpeter swans, with 5 cygnets.  We ventured out to yet another remote location that has been extremely busy this year.  There were hundreds of eagles in the trees and we also saw some dippers.

We then returned to the eagle preserve and focused on shooting the eagles in-flight and soaring through the sky with mountain back drops. As the sun set, we returned to the hotel for a quick warm-up and then off to dinner at another local restaurant.

Tonight our workshop presentation was on different techniques to capture sharp images of the eagles, including examples of different shutter speeds so the guests could photograph the eagles with the amount of wing blur they desire.  We shared lots of photographs from within the group of different examples relating to the eagles.


Mauricio, Larry, Ian and John all ready for the action.

Mauricio, Larry, Ian and John all ready for the action.

We headed out early this morning, and went straight to the bald eagle preserve.  We photographed a group of eagles fighting over fish at a unique spot, and watched them for an hour battle until the fish was gone.

After the eagle fights, we continued further into the preserve and photographed multiple eagles on a single snag with many different compositions of the different perches.  The actions slowed down a little bit, so we headed to another spot that had been good this year that Judy found last week before the guests arrived.  We took a short walk with our cameras, and photographed the eagles in different settings on the river.

We returned to the preserve just in time for more action.  We had two other eagles catch salmon, thus adding more attacks and flying action for the rest of the day.  As the sunset, we headed back to the hotel, a warm up, and then another tasty dinner.

After dinner, we had a workshop discussion on autofocus and metering techniques for the eagles. We also discussed digital camera histograms and back button focus techniques with demonstrations.

Tonight the guests brought images to share and discuss amongst the group.  It’s only the second day, and we already have some great images being shared with the group.

Some of the eagle behaviors shared were:

  • In flight with wing tips in the water
  • Perched with beautiful backgrounds
  • Eagles fights over salmon


Relaxing at the Roadhouse

Relaxing at the Roadhouse. Judy, John, Larry, Ian, Sam, Nancy and Mauricio

We woke to rain, and headed out to the preserve.  As we arrived, the eagle action was down, and the rain continued.  We then headed to a Native American cultural center and walked around the grounds enjoying watching the eagles.  We opted to go to an old Alaskan Roadhouse and have some hot chocolate, coffee, and a little homemade pie.  As we watched the rain turn to snow, we enjoyed the warm-up, rest and the beautiful snow fall.

We then returned to the preserve, but the weather was not getting any better so we then headed to the American Bald Eagle Foundation and took a guided aviary tour through their mews and natural history museum. We learned about all the live raptors that call the ABEF their home, as well as a little more history on Americas national emblem, the bald eagle.

After we enjoyed lunch, and watched the rain continue.  We then made our way to an Alaska Indian arts center and watched a young man work on a ceremonial mask. Our guide, Lee, shared the way many of the creations at the center were made and we told many Tlingit Indian traditions.

We then headed back to the conference room and dug deep into Photoshop.  We did a full workflow from RAW all the way to final image, including noise reduction, selective contrast, masking, and sharpening. All the guests shared some of their favorite techniques as well. During workshops, we always have so much experience and knowledge in a room, it is great to hear all the different processes photographers use.

Enjoying the beautiful snowfall

Enjoying the beautiful snowfall

We then discussed portfolio management with Lightroom and image processing. Once we wrapped up our discussions, we headed to a restaurant on the Lynn Canal for a delicious fresh fish dinner.  Most guests opted for the Salmon or the Halibut.  When in Alaska!

As we woke the mountains were out and the rain had stopped.  We headed into the bald eagle preserve, and immediately saw the eagles haul out some salmon and start fighting over it.  Many guests captured great images of the eagles in flight, and banking around the area with beautiful colors in their wings.

We continued up the river, and were treated with a full morning of action.  There were many fish on the banks, and the eagles were having a feast.  We were lucky as they were so close and most guests were 300-400mm shots away.

Around lunch time, we headed over to the Chilkoot river and lake.  We arrived and there was a mated pair sitting close to each other in a Sitka Spruce tree.  What a great image of these beautiful birds with the vibrant colors of the spruce tree.

Matt and Nancy working on some new techniques.  Manual exposure and back button focus.

Matt and Nancy working on some new techniques. Manual exposure and back button focus.

As we kept going up the river to the lake, we photographed a couple of other eagles, and another mated pair siting together.   Many guests took landscape images as well as the river is so beautiful with its vibrant green color running around the lichen covered rocks.

We then headed back to the preserve but the rains began in the late afternoon, so we headed to the meeting room for everyone to show and tell the images from the day.  Great images were shown by all.  

We then talked about how to capture images for HDR (High Dynamic Range) and post processing techniques. We then looked over some examples of processing with Photomatix software and the different settings to use. In the evening we headed out to a fun local pizza place and relaxed with a couple of local beers and tasty pizza.


Sam all setup on the eagles.

Sam all setup on the eagles.

We headed out early to the bald eagle grounds and were treated to some beautiful lighting.  We mainly photographed the eagles perched in the trees and snags until the action started, and then we were lucky to get on some great attacks with talons locked.  Today seemed to be the best day as we were on a lot of action, and the light was very nice.  Lots of inflight and action shots were captured.

As the afternoon came, half the group wanted to return to the Chilkoot river for more eagles, dippers and beautiful landscapes. The other group wanted to continue working on eagle attacks and inflight shots.  Both groups got great shots during the afternoon.

Ian not missing a shot !

Ian not missing a shot !

As the light faded, we headed in for a little more lecture on HDR techniques as it was requested by the group and more Lightroom demonstrations.  We then headed out for our final group dinner at one of the best seafood restaurants in town to celebrate the week.

We started a little earlier this today to capture a sunrise image, but as we got to our location, a fog bank rolled in.  We headed to a remote location and were lucky to find two different eagles perched in Sitka Spruce trees at eye level which makes such a strong image.  We then headed to a very scenic overlook as the mountain peaks were out for some landscape shots.

We then headed into the eagle preserve to photograph more eagle attacks.  The guests got some great inflight images as the eagles came very close to us.  As the afternoon went on, we found a couple of salmon drug up on the banks of the river, and the eagles fighting over them.

As the day went on, we photographed until the ferry arrived from Skagway to take the guests back to Juneau. We headed back to the ferry terminal, packed up all the camera gear as the sun set and said our goodbyes as everyone boarded the ferry for their return home.

We had a great group, and they certainly made our job easy this week. I am looking forward to seeing everyone’s fantastic images.

Trip Report – Bald Eagle Photography Workshop 2016 – November was last modified: September 13th, 2019 by Matt Shetzer