One of the first subjects I went after when I got into wildlife photography was Barn Owls. I was extremely fortunate to have a few at a local meadow. Early in 2019 I went out on some beautiful summer evenings, the fading light catching the mosquitos and tips of the swaying grass. I was very inexperienced at this point, but I knew one travelled along the river so I set myself up there.
My first encounter was incredible, I remember pretty much jumping for joy afterwards. The owl had caught a vole and the kestrel tried to steal the catch. They aren't the best images by any means but I will always remember the feeling after this day.
I came back a few days later on another balmy summer's evening and sat under a tree by the river to conceal myself . This time I was very lucky, with the owl flying straight towards me and the sun setting behind. These two experiences fueled my obsession with these magnificent birds for the next 2 years.
Since then I have learned a lot about Barn Owls and have spent many early mornings and late evenings waiting for them to appear. They can fly almost completely silently due to specialised feathers which alter the air turbulence and absorb noise. They also have insanely good hearing due to their heart shaped face which traps and focuses the sounds. The craziest fact I've learned is that their wings reflect the moonlight to stun their prey.
As much as I have put a lot of time and effort into photographing these owls, I have to attribute some of it to two friends Ewan and Richard who have given me great advice as well as kept me company on the earliest and coldest mornings when motivation is very low.
Tip: The settings are very important when photographing Barn Owls. It is usually low light so don't be afraid of bumping up that ISO (or you can have it on Auto and set your shutter speed). Because of their bright white feathers, I usually have it on -2/3 exposure compensation which helps keep the bird from being over exposed. You want to aim to have your shutter at 1/500 or more. At 1/500 you will usually get movement in the wings but the face will be sharp.
It was a busy year so it was about 10 months later in January 2020 that I got something worth showing. The background beautifully blurred and the setting sun illuminating the tips of the wings. It's no wonder they were thought to be ghosts or spirits.
From March 2020 I wasn't able to work which gave me a lot more time to do photography. A lot of people have told me that Barn Owls are creatures of habit, and thus are easy to predict. I have not found this the case. Due to an abundance of fields to hunt in, they seem to change each time. I can only assume this is because they don't want to overhunt a certain area. This, however, makes it tricky to get photos.
Tip: Don't chase after them. As tempting as this is, it usually means either you spook the Owl and it heads further away or it will go where you were before which will result in lots of cursing. Find a spot you think is good and stay there. You don't have to be that hidden, they don't mind too much about your presence, but it's usually your shutter that gives you away.
Despite getting some good shots early on, the owls became more and more infrequent so I turned to some other subjects. These were two of my favourites:
Fast forward to the end of 2020 and early 2021 and I feel like I am making some real progress with these magnificent birds. Still a long way to go and I would love some more diving and perched shots. I have put a selection of a few of my favourites below: