Great Grey Owl portrait
Great Grey Owl at the International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP), near Newent, Gloucestershire; 2 July 2014.

This large owl is not found in Britain, more’s the pity; its a denizen of eastern Scandinavia and lands further east.  And its one of two species that Collins Bird Guide specifically warns against approaching during the nesting season – when it can unleash ferocious attacks.  The other species is the Ural Owl, which I hope to illustrate here in due course.

Where I can, I like to get in close when I’m photographing living things, to show their fine detail and, in some cases, characters.  I like them to fill the frame, or at least to be the obviously dominant feature.  I’d rather do this than merely take shots that show them in their entireties – after all,  countless thousands of such portraits, and record shots too, already exist.

With that in mind, I went up to ICBP yesterday to get up close and personal with birds of prey.    I was an enthusiastic birder for decades – 1967 to 2002, I suppose – and so going to see these magnificent creatures was a special pleasure.  Knowing there’d be many failures, I fired off over 300 frames.  How many usable shots emerge from this (non-motor driven) barrage remains to be seen ….

My mother became very interested in owls at one stage late in her life, and I took her to ICBP many years ago – from which time I thought I’d remembered that all of the birds could be freely seen on perches in the open.  But the reality is that while some diurnal raptors are observable in this way, all of the owls, and many of the eagles, vultures, etc were in cages consisting either of bars or, worse, wire mesh.

But there was no option but to go for it – up close and personal, with no hint of either cages or wire mesh – or the jesses, the thin leather straps by which free-flying birds are tethered to perches or human wrists.

This bird’s eyes and beak are yellow and this colour could have been restored – but to me this would have overdone and cheapened the image.

D700 with 70-300 Nikkor at 300mm; 5,000 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Strong Infrared Low Contrast preset.

About Adrian Lewis
Photographer working in monochrome, colour and combinations of the two - with a great liking for all sorts of images, including Minimalism, landscapes, abstracts, soft colour, people, movement, nature - I like to be adventurous in my photography, trying new ideas and working in many genres. And I'm fond of Full English Breakfasts and Duvel golden ale, though not necessarily together.

19 Responses to BIRDS 56 – GREAT GREY OWL (MONO)

  1. Sonali Dalal says:

    simply superb! your mastery over close-up of birds and animals is really something.


  2. LensScaper says:

    What an expression! Quite extraordinary, Adrian


    • Adrian Lewis says:

      This bird was perched up above me initially, and really quite close. And it was bending and peering around just like a person. It was in a cage of course and how I’ve avoided the effect of the thin bars I don’t know. Played out in total silence, this was a very moving and fascinating experience. A


  3. An absolute stunner both in image and bird! The processing has brought out the texture of the longer face feathers and sharpness of its eyes wonderfully. I’m glad you didn’t do selective colour – you’re right, it would have cheapened it 🙂


    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Lisa, thank you very much for your good words! Yes, selective colour reintroduction is a very delicate thing, its easily mis- or over done I think. I saw a good mono waterfront on Freshly Pressed, it was a good photo. But restoring the red hulls of some boats tied up at the quay just ruined it. I hope your winter is being clement. Our summer is just about getting itself into gear – at least its warmer now! – but today’s rainy. Cheers, Adrian


  4. RobynG says:

    Such incredible detail, Adrian! Those eyes, and the composition adds such strength.


  5. Meanderer says:

    Excellent portrait, Adrian; really excellent. I can almost reach out and touch him. What a beautiful bird.


    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Yes, beautiful, absolutely beautiful, but as I’ve written to firstandfabulous here, I wasn’t totally at one with the cages – although how else is one going to keep and display such creatures? I felt sorry for them, although that didn’t stop my photography. How’s that for honesty??? I’m glad you like the shot – thank you – I do too, it is just the sort of image I’d wanted to take. A


  6. Magnificent!!!
    He looks a little quizzical. What did you say to him? 😀


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