You may or may not have seen it by now, but hopefully it’s come across your radar either on Facebook, where it’s gathered almost 20,000 likes and was shared more than 5000 times, or on my Instagram feed, which you should be following anyway.

For those of who didn’t see it, here it is, from the shores of White Rock Lake in Dallas, Texas.

a bald eagle perched on a tree branch with the moon in the background

Here’s why I love this image

Bald eagles are incredibly majestic creatures.  As an American, I’ve seen countless pictures of them as I was growing up, since the bald eagle is the national bird of the United States of America (and no, Benjamin Franklin never seriously wanted a turkey to be the national bird of the young nation).

I had never seen a bald eagle in person, though, until last year, when a mating pair of young bald eagles randomly showed up only a few miles from my house in Dallas!  They quickly became celebrities as Dallasites looked on with keen interest and birdwatchers lost their minds.  Incredible images started flowing onto social media from bird photographers as well (including some from me!).

The eagles unfortunately built a nest that failed in a severe wind storm, causing them to lose their eggs.  Ornithologists (I’m proud of myself for not needing to look that up) were worried the eagles would give up on the location but they stuck around the area almost entirely ever since!  You can see them on the east side of White Rock Lake in Dallas most days.  As I always tell people, you don’t need to be good at spotting eagles (which look like footballs sitting in the trees until you see their heads), it’s much easier to be good at spotting bird photographers with their ridiculous lenses!

Here’s how I took the shot

I was out at the lake with my Ultimate Bird Photography Equipment: my Sony a1 and my new 600mm f4 lens.  I was in a location where I usually see them towards the end of the day but they didn’t show up (rude).  They generally perch in two areas if they’re not out hunting, so I hopped in my car and drove to the other spot, and, sure enough, I saw them perched, their mouths slightly open to help them thermoregulate.  I got a few static shots of them sitting there in the tree but I have literally thousands of those.  I really wanted to get a picture of them flying but they didn’t seem to be making preparations (editor’s note: pooping, he means they weren’t pooping, which they normally do before they fly) to do so, so I packed up my gear and started to drive home.

It was just after sunset as I began the drive.  The fading light gave way to beautiful soft blues in the sky…but then I saw the moon rising and I slammed on my Tesla’s brakes.

I had wanted to try a shot of an eagle against the moon and it finally looked like things would line up well!  I turned my car around and drove slowly as I watched the moon and eagle get closer in line.

And then I saw it.  The moment.

Without even putting the car in park I excitedly jumped out with my camera gear in hand (thankfully my Tesla slammed on the brakes and put itself in park).  I ran up a small hill into a field until the moon was perfectly behind the eagle!

Here’s the thing though: I could either get the moon in focus or I could get the eagle in focus.  I couldn’t get both of them in sharp focus in the same shot (since they’re so far apart).  The moon rises quite fast so I had to make a decision: I would use a technique called focus stacking!

Focus stacking is where you take multiple pictures of the same scene but focus on different areas, merging them into a single shot afterward.  There are focus stacking programs that will do everything automagically for you but I did it manually in Adobe Photoshop.  Does this mean that the image is a composite and/or fake?  I don’t think so (although I understand why some might disagree).  I wanted my image to look like what my eyes saw, and I needed to use the focus stacking technique in order to accomplish that.  My eyes saw the image you’re looking at above.

I eagerly drove home and loaded the pictures into my computer to see if it had turned out as well as I had hoped.  It didn’t.  It was better than I could’ve imagined.  

I love that I can see the detail in the feathers of the eagle and that its yellow talons shine brightly from the fading sunlight.  I love that you can see crisp detail in the tree branches and the leaves below.  I love that the eagle’s mouth is slightly open, an unknowingly epic pose.  And I love that the moon was nearly full!

Most importantly, I love that this image resonated with so many people.  I’ve never had a Facebook post blow up so quickly and continue growing the way this one has!  Today is Election Day across the United States so for some the image brought up political undertones while many others just enjoyed a cool picture of a bird (I was in the second camp).

I hope this helps answer some questions for everyone and thanks for the kind words about the image, let’s see what I can come up with next!

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