Bald Eagle Photo Workshop

Trip Report – Bald Eagle Photography Workshop 2018 – A

In Trip Report by Matt Shetzer

Eagles, Eagles and more eagles up close! The 2018 Bald Eagle workshop #1 attendees got to experience the eagles closer than they have ever come to us before.

Joining us in beautiful Haines, Alaska was Shari and Kim from Florida, Bella from Texas, Tom and Mary from Minnesota and traveling all the way from South Korea was Myung.

Bald Eagle Photo Workshop

Tom, Mary, Shari, Bella, Judy, Kim, Myung and Matt during the 2018 Bald Eagle Photo Workshop

Monday was a beautiful day with the sun out and the vertical snow-capped mountains of the Coastal Range glowing with blue-sky backgrounds. The ferry ride couldn’t be any more beautiful today and many got shots of Eldred Rock Lighthouse on the way in.

As everyone arrived on the ferry, Judy and Matt met them at the terminal and did a quick tour through town as we checked into our hotel for the week.

Bald Eagle Photo Workshop

Tom and Mary from Minnesota photographing the eagles in the preserve

We are fortunate this year to have Judy guiding as well. Judy is a Haines resident and an excellent naturalist and author.

As everyone prepared for the workshop to begin, we met at 5:30pm in our conference room for the week and discuss photo techniques getting ready for tomorrow morning. We explained the histogram, exposures and compositional ideas to help out our first day’s shoot.

We headed out to a local eatery in the harbor that specialized in Alaska dishes such as Salmon and Halibut. Most the guests tried the Alaskan caught Salmon tonight, with rave reviews.

Off to bed, as the bald eagle photography starts tomorrow morning early.


Tuesday
We woke to another beautiful day in Alaska with all of the snow-capped mountains out. We left before sunrise and headed out to the bald eagle preserve. On the way to the preserve, we spotted 3 moose. It doesn’t seem right that our first subject for the Bald Eagle Photo Workshop is a moose, but in wildlife photography, you take all the opportunities.

As we arrived to the preserve the eagles were out. We photographed many perched up close, and in flight. As the eagles would haul a salmon out of the river, they would fight over the fish putting on great aerial displays.

During the week, here are some of the eagle behaviors we photographed.

Bald Eagle Photo Workshop

Shari is ready to capture the eagles fighting over the chum salmon

  • Eagles fighting
  • Eagles chasing each other for fish
  • Talons locks
  • Eagles preening
  • Eagles catching fish
  • Eagle catching a merganser
  • Close up portraits
  • Eagles grabbing fish and flying off with it in their talons
  • Eagles flying with mountains in the background
  • Eagles landing with precision on perches

As we took a break for lunch we spotted some mountain goats up on a mountain. Judy set up a spotting scope as we watched.

Since it was such beautiful day, we headed to photograph an old Alaskan cache and a river valley with the mountains in the background.

We headed back to the preserve for some more eagle photography and Mary got quite the thrill. As two eagles were chasing each other, they came within 10 feet of her, saw her, and flew just over her head. I’ve never seen the eagles come so close.

We then headed over to another river basin to see the eagles in a different setting. There were eagles perched on the vibrant Sitka spruce trees, and even one on a lichen covered rock with the green glacier fed water around it.

Bald Eagle Photo Workshop

Bella enjoying the fresh snowfall on the Chilkat river

As there was beautiful light on the mountains as the sun set, so we did a little landscape photography overlooking the Lynn canal with the warm light on the Coastal range.

We then took a break to download images and headed out to dinner at a local Thai restaurant.

Tonight, we discussed different inflight techniques, mastering the cameras modes, and how to make sharp images.


Wednesday
We woke to another beautiful day and headed out way before sunrise, so we had plenty of time during the golden hour.

The eagles were very active fighting over the fish, and extremely close. While most years, the 500mm range is perfect, we were shooting around 200-300mm.

Eagles were attacking each other and flying all over. After last night’s discussions, everyone moved over to shooting manual, and found it successful and stayed there the whole week.

Everyone got lots of inflight images as the guests were trying out the new techniques learned during the workshop.

Today we photographed the following species in addition to the eagles:

  • Trumpeter Swans
  • Mergansers
  • Ravens
  • Crows
  • Magpies
  • Brown Bear footprints in the snow
Bald Eagle Photo Workshop

Kim joined us from Florida to photograph the largest bald eagle migration in the world

After a full day in the field, we headed back to Haines. Dinner tonight was at another local eatery, and we relaxed with Halibut fish and some local drinks from the distillery.

Presentation tonight continued on inflight techniques, and we addressed many different autofocus settings and how to improve the quality of the images. As we concluded the evening, the snow began to fall.


Thursday
We woke to 6” of fresh snow on the ground. The trees were beautiful with the snow sticking to them. We headed on out to photograph the eagles.

We were so fortunate as the preserve looked like a winter wonderland, with eagles.

We were able to get great close-ups of eagles today as little as 10 feet away. They would just land near us and feel completely comfortable as we took their photos. We also found two eagles perched together on a log while the snow fell that will be a perfect Christmas card.

All day the snow fell, and we then found an eagle that hauled its bloody fish into the snow. The red really popped again the white snow.

As the sun got lower, we headed back to town.

Dinner tonight was back at the harbor for some more Alaskan specialties.

The lecture tonight was on the benefit of back button focus, and all the guests brought images they took to discuss with the group. We analyzed each image for composition and technical settings, so we can improve each day.


Friday

Bald Eagle Photo Workshop

Myung traveled all the way from South Korea to experience the beauty of the eagles.

Another beautiful day and lots of snow on the ground. The bears were very active last night with tracks everywhere in the snow.

Today we worked on in-flight images as requested by the guests. We went to a location that offers us lots of opportunities for them to fly right next to us and the snowy backgrounds really add to the compositions.

We had another eagle that perched very close to us and photographed the eagle for excellent portraits.

As the day went on, we continued to work the whole river for new opportunities.

For lunch today, we headed to a real authentic Alaskan roadhouse for lunch. We enjoy big burgers and delicious chili.

With full bellies, we headed back on the river, we continued photographing the eagles, and even a couple of trumpeter swans in flight.

For our evening discussion, we did an image review again for the day. Everyone really improved the quality of their images, and in-flight and action shots were the norm. Everyone is still shooting Manual and doing a fantastic job of it.


Saturday

Our best day in the field! While it was raining in Haines, it was beautiful out in the preserve. We had the mountains out, a thin cloud layer to diffuse our images, and tons of action.

Bald Eagle Photo Workshop

Judy, a Haines local, guided during the week and shared her local knowledge of the area.

All day we enjoyed the action with eagles pulling fish out of the water and fighting over them. Once an eagle would drag a fish to the shore, we would have an hour of excitement as other eagles would dive bomb trying to display their dominance.

With full memory cards, and drained batteries, we headed back to Haines as the light faded. Today was certainly our biggest day, with the guests exceeding 4,000 images today due to all the action.

Heading out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant tonight, we traded stories from this exciting day.

Our lecture tonight was on Post Processing techniques followed by more image review from the day’s shoots. So many guests brought eagle attack images to share. Great to see so many sharp images with intense eagles with their talons out.


Sunday
Our last morning in the field we started the day off with something I have never seen before. A bald eagle caught a merganser. The guests got great shots of this unique scene.

We continued photographing the eagles and found two perches that were great compositions, one with 5 eagles on it, and the other with 4. As the afternoon came, we packed up our gear and headed back to town, so everyone could take the ferry back to Juneau. As we waited for the ferry, it was great to talk about all the fun we had during the week.

It was fantastic to share the beauty of the eagles with Kim, Shari, Tom, Mary, Bella and Myung. I look forward to seeing your finished images of the eagles!

Trip Report – Bald Eagle Photography Workshop 2018 – A was last modified: November 20th, 2018 by Matt Shetzer