low light photography

Giant Eagle Owl, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Another shot from the Botswana files, I believe this is Verreaux’s Eagle Owl – Bubo Lacteus, also known as the Giant Eagle Owl.   If this is not correct, please someone let me know so I can change it!

Early morning we were out in four wheel drive vehicles in the Okavango Delta when we sighted a pair of these owls perched in a tree.    It was early morning, in fact about 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise,  so really low light levels.    It’s a testament to digital technology that we were able to get useful photographs of these birds at all.

Check the tech details on this shot, 500mm telephoto lens at 1/25 second and ISO 5000.   Several points arise from this.   Firstly the slow shutter speed was only possible because the camera and lens were well supported on a tripod (in the vehicle) and because the owl was sitting still.    Image stabilization on the lens helped, as did careful camera handling.

The second point is the high ISO used, well beyond what was possible with film.   At this high ISO,  the image becomes a bit noisy but detail is still excellent. Noise of course exists throughout the image but is most noticeable in the open sky.   Whilst there is noise present in the branch and also the bird,  it is not as objectionable or noticeable because of the texture of the bark and the feathers.   In processing,   I used the Noise Ninja Photoshop plug-in to smooth out, or reduce, the noise and masked the effect so that the detail in the bird and branches was preserved.

Just to drive home the point about pre dawn light levels and detail in the image, the owl is facing east, the catch lights in its eyes are the reflection of the eastern horizon with the pre sunrise glow in the sky.

Giant Eagle Owl, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Canon 5D Mark 2 with 500mm lens at F4.0, shutter speed 1/25 second at ISO 5000.