Study Group 2

Bruce Finocchio

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Title:   Bald Eagle Pauses On Its Feeding Of A Salmon

Goal:   My goal is to portray an intimate view of a Bald Eagle that contains the essential elements that speak and say Bald Eagle. Here you have their powerful and huge claws; you can see that this eagle is firmly holding down the salmon as it eats. You have the food source, the salmon, not a minor point, because salmon are the key species that brings life to this area of Alaska. Without salmon, without the special soils of the Chilkat River Valley that allow for upwelling of warmer waters, the great concentration of eagles would not be possible.

You don’t have to show all of the habitat to have a nature story. Here you do see the stream waters in the background, and the round stones in the foreground tell you that it is along a river. Personally, the images that have so much habitat that the main subject the animal is very small in the frame, don’t get me excited. These images lack being able to show the spirituality of the animal and the sacredness of life.

What I love in this image is the light, for here the low side lighting lights up the orbit of the eagle eye, making it glow—glow white, whiter than normal.

Source:   This image was taken with my Canon D40; the camera I was using in 2010. Along with my 600 mm f4.0 IS lens with a 1.4 tele-converter attached, effective length of 840mm. 1/800 sec. shutter speed, at aperture f7.1 and ISO 640. If I remember correctly, the capture was late in the afternoon, in Mid-November so the angle of the sun was pretty low, just before it set below the mountains to the west of the Chilkat River valley.

Technique:   My lens was on a tripod, you just cannot hand hold this lens, with my Wimberley gimbal type tripod head. I think also I moved down river farther than most, so that my angle was good for when the eagle bend down and started feeding—an angle with the eagle was parallel to the film plane.

Processing:   I used Nik’s Viveza (Google’s now) for a couple things. 1) I lighten the Eagle’s dark feathers so you could see some detail. 2) I also made the eagles white feathers a bit whiter. 3) I used levels to lighten the exposure of image as well. 4) I also used Viveza to darken and tone down some of the bright red spots in the meat of the salmon carcass 5) I also used a technique with the RGB channel to enhance mid-tone contrast.

Comments/Scores (N, T, P, E, Total)

Critique Image (only members of Study Group Two may critique this image)

Review by Butch S., 7-21-2015
This is a strong nature image. The composition is good and it is clear that you intended to focus only the head and talons of the eagle. To my eye the image is mostly under exposed, thus begging for a dodge of the bird's head and shoulder. This comment also applies to the fish head and body. The water, if left as is, would then give a nice contrast in tonal values. I also would like to see what a greater depth of field would look like to put the red fish flesh in focus. Could your D40 tolerated a higher ISO so you could have used a smaller aperture?
N-3, T-2, P-3, E-0, Total=8
Review by Rick C., 7-23-2015
The nature story in this image is excellent. I like the poised position of the Eagle’s head. I do not need to see it tearing at the salmon as the open fish behind the head already tells me what is going on. Primary focus and DOF look fine to me. The tight composition also works well here. As you have it, the lighting looks totally natural, which isn’t a bad thing, but which also lets the water in the BG have more influence than it needs to. In one of your comments you mentioned Viveza. I think you could have taken those adjustments even further. I would be inclined to open the facial area of the Eagle up even more and then darken down the water BG to shift the emphasis even more to the Eagle’s face (see what I did with Viveza). N-3, T-3, P-3 = 9 (can be even stronger)

I noticed that your image was saved in ProPhoto RGB. Remember that Windows (and the internet) are sRGB color spaces and as a result your image colors and brightness may not look as they did one your system. You will need to convert to sRGB to keep thing looking the same.

Response to the above critique by Bruce F., 7-31-2015
I read your description and review of my eagle image and downloaded your adjusted image to compare to my image that I submitted for the study group. At first I disagreed with your adjustment comments, after I looked at the image on my computer. Yes, then, I can see your adjustments were subtle. Overall, yes, your image is slightly better pictorially.

But my question is how far do you go with adjustments like this? I would argue if you really look at your adjusted image, the light on the water really doesn’t match the bright light on the legs and claws of the eagle, nor the eye. Well you could say there is a break in the clouds for the light on the eagle, and the light on the water is filtered by some thin clouds.

Yet it doesn’t really match, the light. Yes, maybe, I could spend a little more time subtlety balancing out the light on the water and the eagle, so it appears more natural. Maybe, you also could say that it doesn’t really matter for who is going to notice this. Maybe, only me. Yet, if I can, someone else will too. That person is going to say or could say that it’s not real, and that I have been lied too.

Nature isn’t perfect, soon all the nature images that you see will be perfect. Nature imperfections will be sanitized out.

With the power of the digital darkroom now, photography, isn’t really truly photography anymore. If nature photography, now really becomes something created in the mind of the artist, and less and less about a moment in time, less about what the photographer saw and visualized at the moment of capture.

How far do you go before drawing the line? There is something true and sacred about nature. If I go and make the adjustments as you suggested, do I cross the line, and present something that’s false.
I am very careful about this, but the next nature photographer, trying distinguish him or herself from the crowd isn’t going to mind putting animals from the next day into the scene, or using a tame wolf to jump over the fence at night to win the BBC World Wildlife competition.

Pretty soon people are going to ask, did this really happen. Is this hummingbird pollenating this spectacular flower really real? Does this hummingbird really pollenate a flower that’s doesn’t live in its environment?

It becomes a question of believability! Soon everyone is going to look at nature images with a suspicious mind and with doubt and skepticism. Every photo is doctored to look and convey a certain meaning. Believability is lost, and certain degree of trust and truth to the viewer is gone.

Well, you can say that photography real never does portrait reality. Yes, that’s always been true, even Ansel Adams altered his photographs in the wet darkroom, to get the final print the way he wanted, even if it meant whiting the crosses, and increasing contrast on his Moonrise in Hernandez, New Mexico image.

Maybe, captioning is an answer or representing these perfect images as fine art?
Look at Nick Brandt’s work “On This Earth, A Shadow Falls”, is it art or nature photography? Or both?
There is no easy answer, but the power of the digital darkroom is so tremendous and growing by leaps and bounds. Sometime the best representation of nature isn’t the adjustment you can make, but the one you don’t.

By the way, I don’t think your adjustment to my image goes too far. Also, I would like to thank you for mentioning to me about the color space. Yes, I should be sending in my images under srbg color space, the color space of the Internet, and not with a Pro Photo color space.

Review by Andy H., 7-24-2015
You certainly achieved what you set out to do,this is an intimate image.

Everything, technically, is on the money and the light in the eye is a bonus. I love the texture of the eagles feet and the light striking them.When I opened the image up I automatically tried to pull the image down looking for more of the head. For me I would like the DOF take in the salmon in the background.
N-3, T-3, P-2, E-0, Total=8

Review by Dawn C., 7-29-2015
Strong nature story in this intimate portrait. Light and action don't always cooperate when it comes to nature. You handled the back-lighting well and the tiny catch-light adds life to the eye.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total-9

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Title:  African Lions Mating

Goal: To capture a dramatic lion mating during my recent trip to East Africa. I think the key is the female looking up and the interaction with the male. The early morning light also helps.

Source: Canon 7D body, with a 100 - 400 mm Canon F 4.5 to F 5.6 lens.

Technique: Shot from a Land rover at Ndutu, in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, with Tanzania.

Processing:    Adode Photoshop, and Bridge, with some touch ups with Nik Viveza software.

Comments/Scores (N, T, P, E, Total)

Critique Image (only members of Study Group Two may critique this image)

Review by Ashraf K., 6-6-2015
A very good nature story here that shows the behavior. No visible technical quality concerns. The image is smooth and sharp. I believe the pictorial quality could have been improved by cropping a bit from the upper and left areas of the frame.
N-3, T-3, P-2, E-0, Total=8
Review by Denise D., 6-7-2015
This is a beautiful image. I like the female eyes looking up at her male. I also like the detail around the male nose and jaw. This shows how strong he is. The morning light across the field gives the image the golden glow. Really a great job.
N-3, T-3, P-2, E-1, Total-9
Review by Dan C., 7-4-2015
Your typical strong nature story.
I do need to echo Ashraf's comment about a tighter crop enhancing both the nature story and the pictorial quality of the image. I find a crop that puts the lion's eye in the upper third crash point (when using the Photoshop Crop Tool) does the job nicely.

At screen sizes it does appear adequately sharp but blown up full screen or projecting the image does reveal a little sharpness. I find selective sharpness using Nik Sharpener Pro does the job as does using high pass sharpening at about 40% opacity. The structure slider in Viveza also works to increase the appearance of sharpening but use a control point or brush so you do not make the foliage appear sharper as well.

I did look at it flipped horizontal but was not happy with my normal practice this time. I found it did not enhance the story as it usually does and weakened the pictorial quality.
N-3, T-3, P-3, E-0, Total=9

I am a wildlife, nature, and scenic photographer. I now live in San Mateo, after spending most of my adult life in Millbrae. I previously worked full-time for Applied Biosystems and Life Technologies as a senior business analyst. I left this position a few years ago to concentrate on my true passion of nature photography. My Dad was a deer hunter and bought some property in Monterey County, so he could have a place of his own to go deer hunting. We have owned this property since 1946. I grew up spending my summers down there, following in my father's footsteps, hunting quail, dove, and black tailed deer--using a b-b gun, graduating up to a powerful hunting rifle. When I was eighteen I had to kill a black-tailed buck up close shooting him in the neck, since my first shot from afar had only wounded him. I saw death up close and personal, deciding from that moment on I didn't not want to be part of death, but to cherish life instead.

My friends and I do a lot of bird photography at my ranch in rural Monterey County, using photo blinds extensively; and recently we have built a few permanent ponds to attract wildlife.

I was a Minolta user, but switched to Canon in 2001. I used to shoot extensively with slide film; now I strictly use digital camera bodies, specifically the Canon 7D and 40D bodies, previously the Canon D1 Mark II and as backup the Canon 20D. I primarily use RAW capture, and process the images in Photoshop. I recently upgraded to CS5, and also have many external hard drives to store my raw files.

Check out Bruce's nature blog at and his website at