Photographing Birds Of Prey At A Local Bird Sanctuary

Photographing Birds Of Prey At A Local Bird Sanctuary

Guest Writer, Paul Monaghan is a self taught photographer based just out side of Glasgow in Scotland who has has been shooting for the better part of six years. When he first started, he would shoot everything around him from landscapes, people and concerts. Eventually, he found his way to birds.

As a lover of birds, you can imagine how excited I was to find out about a visitors center called World of Wings in Cumbernauld that has a great variety of birds and is only a fifteen minute drive from my home. First things first, I decided to take the family on a day out to visit the venue and witness the birds in action. We had a great time and whilst we were there I looked around for a possible place to set up a studio and also talked to the staff about taking photos of the birds.

Having scouted the place, I knew I could set up in their education hut. Also, while talking to the staff, I knew they'd had plenty of photographers taking images of their birds but not in a studio environment.

Coco - Green wings Macaw
Coco - The Green Winged Macaw

I had to make a compromise here as it was a metal roofed wooden hut with a metal roof, in the middle of a field, in Scotland, during winter, without heating. There were icicles on the roof that were dripping from time to time, so I used lighting modifiers that my lights could sit inside to stop the drips getting to the electronics.


The lighting comprised of a Lencarta 200w/s smart flash inside a brolly with a diffusion layer at the front centre up high, two more smart flash's were used with 60x90cm gridded soft-box at either side. A Metz 50af-1 was also used inside the 60x60cm soft-box on the ground at the front centre (not visible in the photo) to give some fill.


For the shots I used a Pentax k5 with da* 50-135 f2.8, most of the shots were taken at ISO 80, 1/160, f5.6/6.3, with focal length changing depending on the bird and for wide/close ups. The lights were triggered by a radio trigger connected to one light and the rest triggered optically.


The Shoot
Before I start on this section I need to say a big “thank you” to the staff at 'World of Wings' who were nothing short of amazing in their hospitality and help. Without them I would never have captured such images of these wonderful birds.

Tempest - Twany Eagle
Tempest-The Tawny Eagle

Once my setup was finished and the lighting was tweaked they way I wanted, the staff let me select the birds I wanted to shoot.
Each of the birds were brought in and some were tied to the stand, they had a nice selection of parrots, hawks, eagles, owls and vultures all of which were well behaved. I tried to let each bird settle down a little and do a test flash to see how they reacted to the lights, but at the same time I didn't want to keep the birds there any longer than needed with the strange situation they had been put in. Finding a balance between these two forces is important.


Here are more of the images that I produced, and I hope that you all enjoy them and that this article can help you on your own journey. Personally my camera has given me lots of great opportunities to see and do things I never thought I would.

Zulu - Batelleur Eagle


Orion - American Kestral

Loki - Harris Hawk

Kaeto - Gyr x Saker Falcon

Google - Snowy Owl

Einstine - American Black Vulture

Bob - Little Owl

Babs - Common Buzzard

Atilla - Saker Falcon

Ash - Barn Owl

Archer - Turkey Vulture

For more of Paul's work visit his flickr account

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Jason Vinson's picture

i think i would have liked these more on a darker background. still very cool though!

yea, I went for the safer option of grey as I wasn't quite sure what birds I would have the opportunity to shoot :) and they ranged from white to black.

I'm glad you liked them :)

Jason Vinson's picture

 ya, if you didnt have the option of changing out the backdrop then grey would probably be best.

Agreed. Though I like the idea of black or white backgrounds, the main subjects here are well lit and well framed.

Burt Johnson's picture

 You wouldn't really have to change the background though.  Just add a separate light on the background, and flag your other lights so they don't spill onto the background. You can then fire the background light on full power for a white background, half power for grey, and off for black.  Quick single setting change to modify the background for each bird that is brought up.

I love the shots as they are though!  Just an idea for a future shoot...

Thanks Burt,  I knew I could do this but I didn't have anything to flag the lights with or another light spare with me to light the background.  It's one of the reasons I  got a grey background instead of white/black..  I will get more at some point but I'm still acquiring gear.

Also with it being grey it makes it really simple for me to remove the birds from the images if I wish to use them for something later :).

Robin Neilly's picture

I love the grey backgrounds. It gives the shoot a kind of a fashion shoot feel. I love Paul's shots in general and have followed him on flickr for a while. You can really feel his enthusiasm for the subject in each of these shots.

Thank's Robin.

Not sure how I missed you on flickr, some nice stuff there and your from Glasgow too? (I stayed there most of my life).

Tobias Solem's picture

Grey is just right. It's not hard to switch it out if necessary in post.

I've shot a series similar to, at my father's chickens. it is here, if anyone wants to see it

Looks Nice Jacob :D

Thank you and yours to:)

Mike Kelley's picture

Very cool. I would love to do a project like this, thanks for the inspiration!

I would love to see the results if you do :)