There are 60 species of eagles worldwide, on every continent except Antarctica. Wherever you live, there is a good chance that one species or another occurs within a short drive of your home.
Here in North America, Bald Eagles get most of the attention of photographers. They are big, charismatic, and great fun to photograph. On most of the photo workshops I lead, photographing bald eagles is a popular activity.
How Do You Photograph Eagles?
There is something special about eagles. Maybe it’s their size and strength, the intensity of their stare, or their ferocity. Whatever it is, eagles are compelling photo subjects.
To get a good eagle photo, you need to do more than visit the right location. You need to understand eagle behaviour. You also need to face the challenges of metering and exposure, wildlife composition, and birds in flight photography.
Eagle Photography Ethics
Before photographing any wildlife, always ask yourself if your actions are causing harm. If the answer is yes, don’t do it. Be honest with yourself. Your photos are not as important as the animal’s well-being.
Many species of eagles are at risk. Habitat loss, lead poisoning, poaching, and climate change are all taking a toll on eagles. As photographers, we need to be aware of these threats and take every precaution not to add to the problem.
The repeated stress caused by too-close photographers and wildlife viewers can impact wildlife. Eagles are no exception. Be cautious around the birds. If you need to approach them, do so slowly, and step back if the eagle starts to get agitated.
A Note on Baiting
Baiting is unethical, can lead to harmful behavioural changes, and is often illegal. Aside from satisfying your own urge to create an image, baiting eagles does nothing good. In areas where baiting of eagles occurs, the birds have lost their fear of people and can approach dangerously close. Providing food can make young birds dependent on humans and impede their natural hunting instincts.
Just don’t do it. And don’t support unethical tour operators who participate in baiting.
Research to Get the Best Eagle Images
To get the best images of eagles (or any other subject), you need to know something about them. Whether it’s Bateleur Eagles in the Okavango Delta or Bald Eagles in Alaska, you need to know about behaviour and natural history.
An example: In Alaska, just at the breeding season is wrapping up, our resident Bald Eagles are exhausted. And they look it. Their feathers are old, they’ve been spending a lot of time on muddy beaches, and frankly, they look a bit tattered.
Of course, this can be a great time of year to get interesting behaviour photos. Post-breeding are feeding and interacting with their young and with one another. But for portraiture, they aren’t looking their best.
If you want to get the perfect, clean portrait of a Bald Eagle, you’re better off coming in the winter.
You also need to know the big things. If the species is migratory, you need to plan your expedition when the birds are around!
You can see what I’m getting at: you need to know your subject.