Alpine Eagle Foundation – Eggs & Babies – Part 1
I discovered photography quite young, at the age of 13, as my father was an amateur photographer. Nevertheless, at that point in my life, I was not at all aware that it would become a real passion.
It was not until well after my studying to be a medical imaging engineer that I realised that photography had to play a large role in my life. I left my job and decided to travel with a film camera and medium format film. This is where my love for this very distinctive medium format originated.
However, when I decided to equip myself professionally with digital equipment, these huge sensors were unaffordable and much too slow for my use. Therefore, I decided to go with full-frame rather than the medium format I liked so much.
This is how “Gods and Beasts” was photographed, one of my first photo series in Mongolia. This series met with some success, and in particular, this photo of an eagle against a black background that perfectly represented what I wanted to express: a complex relationship between humans and animals.
The falconer Jacques-Olivier Travers fell in love with this photo, and we have since decided to work together on many projects. We already started working together on bird portraits in 2017, at that time with a FUJIFILM GFX 50S.
This first experience with a digital medium format camera was sheer delight. I finally rediscovered this finish, quality and precision from both the lenses and the much larger sensor. There was still a psychological barrier to overcome, to trust the camera 100% and disengage my mind from the technique. Particularly having an extremely fast and flawless autofocus, which is essential for photographing animals, without losing mobility.
This is where the GFX100S came in: to rival my old full-frame cameras in both size and speed, while adding the superlative quality of a medium format sensor! With a bit of patience, my dream finally came true: to be able to equip myself professionally with a digital medium format camera, without breaking the bank or compromising on the camera’s performance.
The Alpine Eagle Foundation is a charitable foundation endeavouring to reintroduce the white-tailed eagle in France. The eagle is a fishing eagle that humans made extinct in Europe about 200 years ago, mainly due to hunting.
Jacques-Olivier has been passionate about this eagle since he was very young and thought that if man had been able to make it disappear, he should be able to reintroduce it. 8 years of perseverance later, with the help of the Swiss jeweller Chopard, they set up this foundation which has just obtained authorisation to reintroduce the first young birds into the wild.
When Jacques-Olivier asked me to photograph all the communication images for the foundation, it was an honour, and I knew right away that the GFX100S would be my ideal partner.
The idea of this commission was to photograph each stage of development of the white-tailed eagle with my unique graphic style: portraits taken against a black background that inspire emotion.
It is certainly a challenge to capture the stages from egg to an adult bird flying independently, via several stages of young birds. Between you and me, the final photo of a flying adult is not going to be easy!
But, as this is a long-term project and we must start from the beginning, we started with the births.
We had the extraordinary opportunity to witness the live birth of a baby eagle, and this meant being extremely responsive and well prepared. This is where the advantage of weight and size makes a difference, as with a light and very mobile setup, it was easy for us to return to the incubator room several times a day, continuing to photograph the young birds intermittently.
A birth can take between 24 and 72 hours, and it is always particularly important to never take the egg out of its incubator for more than a few minutes, so that it does not lose heat which would be an immediate risk of death.
In parallel we photographed the young birds, which were between 10 and 20 days old. As you can see, the chicks are growing quite fast, as they are already the size of a chicken within a week.
However, this solid appearance is deceptive, as their muscles are not fully developed, and they find it difficult to stand upright for more than a few seconds. They spend most of their day lying down and sleeping in the artificial nest that is made for them.
This is where the GFX100S’s autofocus is invaluable, as you need to be extremely responsive to shoot the poses that are interesting. The same goes for the very weak ability for these babies to focus. Elisa, my assistant, did a great job of working with them to get the poses we were interested in.
I am delighted to have chosen the GFX100S for this photography work, and I cannot wait to get back to photographing these amazing models!
As this commission is about the whole life of the birds, it will take place over several photo sessions. Watch this space for the rest!