PhotoWILD Carolina Raptor Center

As you can tell from our last few posts, the birding photography bug has bitten the Baker household.  As such, when we are not shooting, our lead photographer spends his time pouring over photos and videos on capturing wildlife. One evening, we stumbled onto a great opportunity to photograph some raptors up close at PhotoWILD Carolina Raptor Center.

You can take part in this photography event called PhotoWild twice a year at Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, North Carolina. You can photograph until your heart's content for an entire weekend and photograph birds of prey (raptors). You can choose between a 1-Day pass or a 2-Day pass and get up close and personal with a variety of 12-14 Raptors.

These birds of prey are absolutely spectacular up close. You will not likely get this close to a raptor ever in the wild to shoot a photograph, so it was a no-brainer for us.  We signed up, and began the rigorous process of developing a strategy for a good photograph.  Although we have taken many photos of birds, these birds were much different because they actually sat still since they lived in captivity all their life, so we had to ask ourselves, "What do you do after taking the 500th head shot of a still bird?"  We prepared with this in mind.  Incidentally, we both took 501 head shots together.  Just kidding.

On the day of the event, we ventured out bright and early and joined about 18 fellow photographers and bird enthusiasts on a Sunday. Everyone was eager to put their photography skills to the test as the PhotoWild event was postponed from the week before.  Thanks to Hurricane Matthew.

The amateur photography crew came with a variety of equipment from camera phones to top end pro DSLR cameras, but in the end, all that matters is that you came and were at the right place at the right time to capture a one of kind bird's expression or a unique pose, or that one in a million shot when you get both. Thankfully the bad weather had passed from the weekend before, and we were greeted with bright sunny skies, perfect for bird photography at the Carolina Raptor Center. 

The PhotoWild event began at 8 am and ended around noon. When we arrived we met some really nice people who were as excited as we were, and we passed the time comparing equipment and bird photography stories. The birds were set up in 2 different areas. Area 1 was in the woods and area 2 was near the flight area out in the open. They have little photography staging areas for each raptor. So in area 1 they set up 4 birds and then in area 2 they had 4 birds. Then they rotate them every 30 minutes to the next photography station and introduce a few new birds in each rotation.

Troy was set up with the Canon 7D with the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens, and I was setup with the Canon 6D with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens and a Teleplus PRO 300 DGX 1.4x AF Teleconverter. I have to say I really missed shooting side by side with Troy as he keeps my settings and me on course to get great photographs.  However, I did get lucky and captured the lead picture for this article of the Golden Eagle. But, by far Troy got the absolute best photos. 

We both started off in area 1 in the woods. Troy was waiting for some light to break through the trees and onto the birds. It did not disappoint. Troy waited until some hard light just blasted through the tree tops and lit up the bird's face. He adjusted his ISO down low and exposed for the hard light, which in turn makes the background black. It basically forms a nice portrait light for a bird, without having to use flash. These birds get enough flash in their eyes, plus a lot of folks have already done those shots and Troy was looking for natural light and just the right timing.

It's funny as you watch these birds each one has a personality all to its own. The most entertaining of the group was the Spectacled Owl named Estrella, whoooooo.... seemed almost a cartoon with its antics. At first it looked half asleep or bored to death. Then it would come alive into a cartoon cartoon character...a pirate of the seven seas, and with that voice Troy gave it an epilogue, "Listen up you Scallywags I am a Buccaneer pirate of the seven seas..aaarrrrrrrrggg, matey." Mind you, it said this with its goofy eyes. 

Participants can enter a photo contest, and winning photos will be auctioned off to raise money for Carolina Raptor Center.  This year's event is held at the Palmer Building in downtown Charlotte. The Judges choose Best in Show, Best Action Photo, Best Color Photo, Best Composition, and Best Personality Photo. You can submit one to two framed photos you have taken. The photos must be at least an 8x10 up to a 20x24.

The Baker team would like to enter and look forward to attending the event. Who knows we might have a shot at winning. Who knows what great shots were missed. You never know when that right moment will happen, and  that's what makes photographing birds exciting.  Can't wait to see the other entrants to the contest. One thing's for sure, the Baker team will be back next year to photograph raptors again at the PhotoWILD Carolina Raptor Center.  Many thanks to the volunteer staff for their hospitality and all the great information that they shared.