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How I got the shot.

The Northern Goshawk is a bird of prey that very few are lucky enough to see. It lives most of its life hidden in the deep forests, where squirrels and various forest birds, including the Eurasian Jay, feature on the goshawk’s menu. It whizzes down between the trees at high speed, then with great force and precision, puts its claws into the prey that's been surprised by the rapid ambush. The goshawk has four claws: three are for holding prey, while the second is a large razor-sharp killing claw with which it euthanizes its dinner.

These northern goshawks also feed on carcasses of roe deer or elk, if they are lucky enough to find one. This behaviour comes in handy for wildlife photographers, who can position themselves near animal carcasses, then wait and hope that a goshawk might show up. That's exactly what I did to capture this picture, where I found a dead deer at a spot right near a pond.

I used the M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25x IS PRO as my main lens, as it allows me to photograph the goshawk from a little distance, but still make the bird the main part of my frame. By the pond in front of my photo hide I have placed some fat to feed the Eurasian Jays and woodpeckers to get pictures of them. A young goshawk spotted the fat that I had placed – it probably thought that it tasted better than a dead roe deer – so it left the deer, and flew towards the pond. I was sitting ready with another camera body and my second favourite lens mounted, the M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO. This is a lens with a really great advantage: the fixed F2.8 aperture. F2.8 enables faster shutter speeds which is very often useful – while the wider aperture gives a really smooth bokeh so that the main subject, in this case the goshawk, gets all the attention.

Once this bird is ready to take off, you do not have any time to make changes in the camera: all your settings had better be made in advance. So, let's take a look at the shutter speed that I chose for this image. As a rule, if you are to succeed in getting birds sharp while they are flying, you should be using at least 1/2500s to make sure that you eliminate movement. In these specific conditions, with little light in a dark forest, it is almost impossible to reach a really fast speed.

So instead, I thought creatively: I came up with another exciting option and set a longer shutter speed instead, one that would highlight the hawk's wing movements and create a stunning image if I was successful. I felt that 1/50s should give me the movement that I wanted. To some extent, this is down to experience – or trial and error. When it comes to getting the head sharp, there's not much else to do but cross your fingers and hope that the hawk's head is still enough in one shot, so its eyes magically get an acceptable sharpness. If the picture is to work, there must be sharpness in the hawk's eyes.

My ISO was set to 800 and with a bright lens like the F2.8, I reached the desired shutter speed of 1/50 sec. I zoomed the lens out to 55 mm so that there was room for the whole hawk with its wings spread out and luckily it would turn out to be the perfect focal length. With a zoom lens I can zoom in if it is a smaller bird, or zoom out as I did in this case for a larger bird like the goshawk. The 40-150 F2.8 is really a flexible lens to have as lens number two.

As the goshawk came in to land, I used continual auto focus: I set the camera to sequence shooting low at 18 frames per second, automatic white balance and evaluative metering, then fired away. I was really excited when I scrolled through the pictures afterwards: the wings had exactly the movement I had hoped for, and the sharpness sat where it was supposed to. All the photos were taken in raw, which gives more flexibility when post processing, especially with tricky exposures.

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  • fantastic shot I love it
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