Snowy Owl at sunrise

This photo was taken on one of our recent snowy owl workshops in Ontario, Canada. I thought i would post it and explain how it was taken.

My gear that was used to capture this image were a Nikon D600 and a Sigma 120-300mm f2.8.

My settings in the camera were as follows:

120mm to ensure that i composed the image properly to get a foreground, the sun and the owl. A common mistake when photographing birds in flight is cropping too tight and clipping a wing or not acquiring the right composition when putting the bird into a scene.

I set up back button exposure lock for the sunrise shoot and had locked the exposure on a bright spot in the sky. I did not meter the sun itself, rather close to the sun to help achieve an exposure that was workable. If i would have exposed on the owl, it would have totally blown out the sky. 

I used f.4 because the scene was so dark and i wanted to open up the aperture as much as possible.

I used a shutter speed of 1/1600th of a second to make sure that i froze the movement of the owl as I panned with it across the scene.

I set the compensation to +0.7 to brighten the shadows and also make the wing tips translucent. It would make the owl look more angelic rather than a dark silhouette. The downside is that it also brightens the sky and I lost colours in the image in the camera.

My ISO was 500. It could have been higher, but we were just shooting the same owl flying into the sun and I did not get a chance to change it. In aperture priority that would have increased my shutter speed and gave me some room for an aperture around f/6.3 or f/7.

Once I got the image home and on the computer I had some editing to do.

The foreground was too dark and very blue. I had to lighten the foreground. It was still blue, but an acceptable tone for my liking.

I then had to darken the colours in the sky because the colours were washed out.

I still had to lighten the owl to bring out more detail and i had to lighten the fence line to bring back some details in the shadows.

For software I used photoshop bridge and photoshop CC. I also used NIK Dfine to eliminate any noise in the original image.

If you want to take images like this and learn how to edit them, please join us on our snowy owl workshops in Canada. Details can be found by clicking this link.


1 Comment

Kevin A Pepper

Kevin is a photographer and educator based in Waterloo, Ontario. His first love is photographing nature, regardless of the season or weather condition; the Ontario landscape and its wildlife are his inspiration. But you will also see other styles of photography in his portfolio. From street photography to urban exploration of abandoned buildings and architecture, he loves to capture it all with his camera for his corporate clients and his growing personal portfolio. Kevin’s images have been featured in Canadian Nature Photographer, PHOTONews Canada, Photo Technique Magazine, The London Free Press, The Weather Network, and National Geographic Online. His diverse client list includes the City of Cambridge, Olympus, GORE Mutual, TVO, and African Lion Safari. Kevin also operates “Northof49 Photography”, a company launched in 2012 dedicated to teaching amateur photographers through International and Canadian-based workshops. In the coming year, Kevin will be leading workshops in Iceland, Mongolia, Tanzania, Venezuela, Provence, and numerous destinations across Canada. Website: