Fantasizing about a photo for a very long time is quite risky when the time finally comes to take it. On the one hand, you may be disappointed when it comes to life at last, but you also may wonder about the underlying reason why you want this photo so much.
In my case, photographing a bird of prey in flight, but with a sophisticated aesthetic and studio lighting, was a challenge I dreamed of achieving. Both the visual aspect and the technical challenge excited me when I thought about it.
But what changed the game was when I was approached to try and take this virtually impossible image.
If you are unaware of the genesis of this project I highly recommend you read the first part, where I explain how I came to photograph the various stages of development of the white-tailed eagle, to raise awareness about its reintroduction.
Indeed, the Alpine Eagle Foundation’s objective is to bring back into the wild this eagle that disappeared from France 130 years ago. The white-tailed eagle is a majestic sea eagle, the largest eagle in Europe, which nested from Greece to Norway.
Exterminated by man in the 1900s, fighting for it became symbolic for Jacques-Olivier: if humans had caused its disappearance, we should be able to make it come back.
For more details on the egg, birth and baby photo sessions, I would encourage you to watch the previous episode.
This new shoot aimed to take portraits of young birds (6 months to 4 years old), portraits of adults (over 6 years old) and to attempt the impossible: a bird in flight in studio conditions.
Taking portraits of birds is one of my specialities, so there was no apprehension about this first part of the shoot. However, it was the first time I had worked with such young birds, and therefore their behaviour was quite unpredictable.
So I carried out my usual setup, with a large softbox so that the bird could express itself as it wanted while being perfectly lit. The camera used was the GFX100S, as with every phase of this project.
The ideal lens for this shoot was the GF80mmF1.7 which excels in portrait photography with its smooth and precise rendering.
The advantage of such a camera, especially with an advertising project, is that you have all the resolution you need to manipulate the files without risking the loss of any quality. It even changes the way of working in a way, with the possibility of making a single photo, which can be used in all the formats required, both vertical and horizontal. This is particularly interesting for a subject as unpredictable as a young eagle of a few months old: it is possible to obtain only one photo in the desired posture. Being able to work without limit on the file that is obtained is a real plus for the convenience of the photographer and the client.
Especially since for flight photography, this parameter is even more important! Not being able to control the flight path of the bird, nor the distance to the camera that it will have during the photo, I opted to work with an ultra-wide angle lens – the GF23mmF4 – and used the resolution of the sensor to my advantage.
Framing wider than necessary, and deciding on the final framing post-production is an invaluable advantage in a professional setting.
For this flight shot, things got complicated on a technical level. On the one hand regarding lighting, to get a light fast enough to freeze the bird in movement, while having a huge amount of light to cover the whole body of the animal diffusely.
From a photographic point of view, it was time to put the GFX100S and its responsiveness to the test. There was no need to think about high-speed continuous shooting, which would make you lose all control over the decisive moment. All the coordination was down to the relationship between the camera and the photographer.
And after just a few test flights, this coordination between the whole team was quickly established! A first shot and the team was in awe within 30 minutes. After the success of these technical tests, it was time to get down to business and remove the jets from the bird.
Jesses in falconry are like a leash for a dog, it is the link between man and animal, made of very soft kangaroo leather so that it doesn’t bother the bird. But once the jesses are removed, the bird is free to do absolutely anything it wants, and even to leave if it feels like it.
It is at this precise moment that the outstanding work of Jacques-Olivier, the extraordinary relationship he has developed with his birds, is essential. There is nothing more than mutual trust, between the photographer, the falconer, the eagle and the technical team, to maintain this delicate balance.
It is therefore with immense pride and great joy that we succeeded in taking the photo we had long fantasised about: a white-tailed eagle, with all its wings spread, in full flight with the aestheticism typical of my bird portraits.
This photo, which for the moment has not been revealed to the public, will hopefully reflect the wonderful story of its creation.