All photos on this page, and more, can be seen and purchased here. Proceeds from the purchase will go to the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
The Wildlife Center of Virginia has many educational ambassador animals at their facility. Everything from screech owls to bald eagles. Most of the time the larger eagles and red-tailed hawks get most of the public interest, but the Peregrine Falcon has always been a raptor that completely amazed me. Chayton, one of nature’s most amazingly beautiful and deadly creatures, was one of the most loved of WCV’s educational animals.
Unfortunately Chayton had to be humanly euthanized on January 24, 2013 due to major problems with his feet. He will be missed dearly by WCV staff, fans and me and my family who got to meet Chayton during our photo shoot (I’ll speak more to that below).
Did you know that the Peregrine Falcon is the fastest member of the animal kingdom?
It is very true, Peregrine Falcons are the Ferraris or the Lamborghinis of the animal world. Many years of evolution has turned the Peregrine Falcon, like Chayton, into a sleek work of art. When they perform their typical “high speed dive” on their birdly prey, they can
reach speeds in excess of 200mph! Imagine those talons hitting you at that speed, ouch!
With that speed and beauty, the Peregrine Falcon has been used in falconry for more than 3,000 years. Falconry is the hunting of wild quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of a trained bird of prey, and the Peregrine are highly sought-after and generally used by experienced falconers (which I hope to be one day!!!). Falconers often use other birds of prey like the Red-Tailed Hawk and Harris Hawk as well. Peregrine Falcons are also occasionally used to scare away birds at airports to reduce the risk of bird-plane strikes, improving air-traffic safety, and were used to intercept homing pigeons during World War II.
Chayton was a big part of the WCV Educational family. Here is what Amanda and Raina at WCV had to say about him:
“Despite his recurring foot issues, Chayton had to be the most patient and tolerant bird ever! Chayton was another bird who loved to eat – he was housed inside, and each afternoon he would listen for the sound of the hospital door opening and closing. He knew that meant a rehabber was walking towards him – and once he heard that sound, he’d crane his head around the corner in anticipation of the incoming meal! Most of our birds are pretty good about being weighed, Chayton included – although he liked to move to one end of the perch [edu raptors are weighed by placing a “T” perch on a scale] and sometimes he’d get overly excited about jumping back on his handler’s glove. Always a fun feeling!”
During the photo shoot
I have always had a large want and desire to photograph a Peregrine Falcon. They seem like such majestic birds. Knowing that they have been revered for thousands of years for their abilities. Just knowing the speed, agility and deadly capabilities of this bird just makes you respect it. I also remember growing up that I knew of Peregrine Falcons, but it was very rare to ever see one. They have made a big comeback and just the other day I noticed a flock of pigeons in a supermarket parking lot take off and fly one direction to suddenly change to another. My first thought was that they looked like they were evading a predator. Looking around, sure enough, there sat a Peregrine right there just biding his time, much like Chayton did before he broke his wing and found his way to the WCV.
In going into the photo shoot Chayton was probably my primary goal. This was for a multitude of reasons, and for different projects and individuals. I’m sure there will be some Chayton items at this year’s WCV Gala. So Mr. Chayton was first to go. I probably took twice as many photos of Chayton as I did any other bird, it was like he was happy to be there and did some great posing. I have never really been around Peregrines very closely before, but I can only imagine that Chayton was true Peregrine during the shoot. Those large eyes keeping a very close eye on what I was doing, turning his head side to side up and down. Seemingly always aware of what was going on, what was moving, and that he had the control. But he was a fantastic model, a great boy. He actually seemed to enjoy the attention. I go into every shoot wanting to make photos that looked
different, be Scott’s style. Today, I wanted to take photos that showed the personality of that very amazing bird of prey. As we took Chayton’s photos, Raina was telling us tidbits about him, his mannerisms, his stories. It was an absolute fantastic experience, and we are so thankful that we got the chance to get some great shots of him before he left.
I actually utilized 2 different photo setups for the photo shoot. We were outdoors in bright sun, so I need to find a spot as shady as possible while still keeping a nice woodsy background behind. I always shoot at a wide aperture because I want that shallow depth of field. The goal for having the two different setups was to get two different effects.
Photo setup 1: I used my Canon 7D and Canon 70-200mm IS f2.8 lens. I figured the birds may move slightly or a breeze may come so I want to have a nice high shutter speed to freeze the action. I had plenty of light so I went with 1000 for my shutter. I did want a shallow depth of field, but not so shallow that only an inch of the bird was in focus. Again, with plenty of light I decided to go with an aperture of 6.3. Since I did have plenty of light I went ahead and set my ISO to automatic. I noticed it hung right around the 2000 mark, so I was perfectly fine with that. The goal of this setup was natural light with the brownish woods blurred out behind the subject.
Photo setup 2: This setup was going to use the same equipment, but adding in 2 speedlights on tripods and some pocketwizard remote flash triggers. My goal with this
setup was to now make the background as dark as I could and let the flash illuminate the subject. An advanced type of photography known as high speed sync. My flashes were all set to the ETTL setting to talk with my camera (I’ll go more into high speed sync and what it does in a later post), and my 7D was now at the following settings: ISO 400, F3.5, shutter of 4000(blocks out the light). It produced exactly the look and feel that I wanted.
To make things a bit easier for me, I quickly set each photo setup’s camera settings into a custom program so I could switch back and forth throughout the shoot, as I saw fit. It worked like a charm.
All in all, everything about the shoot went great, and we had a blast! I’d like to extend another thank you to both Amanda and Raina at the Wildlife Center of Virginia for being so accommodating and helpful during the session. We got some great photos, some of which you’ll be seeing on their website.
But in the end, everyone will miss Chayton. One simply amazing showpiece of mother earth.
Please make sure you view all of the photos from this shoot at my Wildlife Print site.