Portrait of a Hawk – Another Couple in Elm Park
In my last blog I mentioned being provoked to think about the meaning of my work in the context of the on-going reconstruction of Elm Park, in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts. I had bumped into a couple who had questioned the value, financially and otherwise, of the Park and its reboot. We bumped into another couple today, quite a different experience. These two young folks, sitting on one of the benches at the Park were chatting like, well young couples do, and probably enjoying the more moderate temperatures. We happened to be passing by, pursuing yet another reflection shot, when we were joined by the individual you see here. He landed not too high up in a tree, perhaps thirty feet from the four of us, and commenced to screaming at the top of his/her lungs. In case you are not aware, hawks can really let it loose when they have something to say. I think the young couple was amused or annoyed (their attitudes may have broken down along gender lines, I’m not sure), but I had the sense that they were thinking that it would be OK if I were to act like an annoying photographer and get the hawk to fly away, leaving them to get on with their business. The ability to be annoying is of course is a key competency in photography, so I hit the shutter.
I’m not a wildlife photographer. I would never want to do anything that required that much work; and the hours? Forget about it. But this individual’s stare got under my skin a bit. My wife and I talked about that look, trying to figure out what it means. What was the screaming about? There was another hawk in the area that seemed to be working closely with this one. Hawks scream for a few different reasons and it is a scream. It is a basic form of communications. It may have been part of a conversation with its mate. There may have been another errant hawk in the area, from another family. I can anthropomorphize almost anything, so I kept thinking about a comment by the famed wildlife photographer Frans Lanting. I can’t remember the quote, but in effect, he was making the point that animals in the wild routinely live with the experience of desperation. They struggle every day with the unceasing need to balance the hunt for food with the loss of energy that is required by the hunt. If they do too little, they starve. If they do too much, they run out of energy for the hunt and die. All that, and they have to raise a family. It’s a tough way to make a living. This is an image of a hawk on duty and for me, you can see it in his/her eyes.
The hawk flew off to join its partner about 50 yards away. The mission of the annoying photographer was accomplished. The couple returned to their chat. Another day in the Park.
Technical note for photographers: This image was taken with a Nikon D600. The D600 is Nikon’s cheapest and lightest “full frame” DSLR. I rarely talk about gear in the blog. I’m far more interested in technique and art making, and most modern cameras are so good, it really doesn’t matter which one you use. You should use the equipment you like. In this case though, I have to make an exception for this camera. This is a good camera that I don’t think gets the respect it deserves. This image was heavily cropped. I was only shooting with a 200 mm lens, which may seem like a very long telephoto lens to some, but it is nothing for birders. The image was not sharpened in post-production. The level of detail that can be recovered was, for me, stunning. The autofocus was spot on. The bird was nearly in silhouette, against a bright sky, but I was able to recover all the detail in this ISO 400 shot, without generating any noise. This crop has about 5 megapixels left in it. I bet I could print it at 13 by 19 and it would look great. The high quality of the image from the sensor, the accuracy of the autofocus and the light weight form factor lead me to recommend this camera highly. There was a notion going around the net that the sensor was always going to be dusty. I had no such trouble and the camera store where I bought it, E.P. Levine’s in Waltham, said that dust on the sensor was not a problem. I have no affiliation with Nikon.