Barred Owl Sunrise Portrait

Hello friends, this is my first post here, and I’m looking forward to some constructive, perhaps harsh feedback. This is one of many Barred Owls I’ve seen in recent months, and I hope to have more opportunities to photograph this species in 2019. On this particular morning, I got to watch and photograph this owl from dawn until after the sun came up, giving me some lovely lighting opportunities. I took many photos of the owl that morning, but I think this may be the best, and I’d love to hear your criticism.

What technical feedback would you like if any?

I struggle with composing portrait orientation images. I shoot landscape orientation 99% of the time. I would love to hear whether portrait worked for this shot, or how I could have better framed the subject.

What artistic feedback would you like if any?

In terms of post processing, I feel I may have overdone it with this photo, especially regarding contrast and saturation.

Any pertinent technical details:

Shot with a Nikon D500 and 200-500mm f/5.6 at:

You may only download this image to demonstrate post-processing techniques.

Beautiful job on getting the focus in that busy setting, Kyle. For the most part, I like the lighting on the owl, though I’d be tempted to bing up the shadowed side just a bit, particularly the facial area. While I’m sure there’s nothing but more branches around, this still feels like too tight a crop to me, particularly top and bottom. Lastly, I do wish that darn dark branch didn’t cross the owl, but it doesn’t look like you had a completely clear angle available.

By the way, we try not to “harsh” on this site. Constructive yes.

You have some nice detail in the owl and to me the processing of the owl looks good, though I agree with Dennis about trying to bring out some of the shadow detail in the left face. I wonder if darkening the sky would make the owl stand out more. The branches across the owl are unfortunate, but you have to take what you get and an owl shot is always special (in my opinion).

A wonderful first post, Kyle, and again, welcome to NPN. Wonderful detail in the owl. I agree with both Dennis about the crop seeming a bit tight. I have yet to have the privilege to photograph an owl in the wild, so I would be thrilled with this shot.

Hi Kyle: Thanks for posting your image here. Getting clean shots of Owls is really tough. The environment here isn’t ideal, but it is where the owl was. My first reaction is that the crop is too tight. I’d definitely look at opening up the crop. Yep, will probably mean more branches, etc, but I think that’s better than feeling cramped.

You mentioned maybe going overboard on contrast / saturation. The saturation does feel really pushed, especially with that blue sky. Doesn’t look real and the colors on the owl aren’t what I’d expect to see either. See what it looks like backing off on those a bit.

Glad you posted and hope the feedback is useful. Keep 'em coming.