The story about the photo of the DOY winner 2015
The winner of the 10th edition of the “Digiscoper of the year” competition is Claudio Montuori from Italy. His photo impressed both the expert jury and the general public with his breath-taking shot of a Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) in flight, carrying its prey. What was particularly outstanding was his ability to photograph a bird flying directly toward the camera, which is considered to be a particularly challenging technical achievement.
Claudio’s story about his photo is at least as impressive as the photo itself. In the end his persistence lead him to the photo:
“The story of this photo dates back at least 3 years, or that’s how long it took to produce it.
From the first moment I wanted to photograph this perfect little creature until I did it, I had to endure various disappointments: the subject didn’t make an appearance, the weather was terrible, and I was the wrong distance from the subject – too close for digiscoping.
Not that I’m saying my desire to produce a “short” focus in digiscoping depends on this subject. But it does to some extent.
In fact, during my third attempt, the hide set up by my Spanish friend David didn’t offer any great guarantee of success. Before this attempt, David told me I shouldn’t assume that the Kite, which had nested nearby, might visit the perch he had set up in front of the hide.
Slightly discouraged, but still with a glimmer of hope, I got up at some ungodly hour and am once again sitting still in a straw hide, in the pitch dark, with only mice for company, running around, almost indifferent to my presence.
David insisted I go for a single camera as he didn’t want any distracting movements caused by replacing lenses (or in my case, eyepieces) and cameras.
The Kite is very sensitive and suspicious. A distance of 18 meters (59 feet) between the perch and hide means you must be as quiet as possible, without moving a muscle.
What should I do? Go for my trusty Panasonic LX3 and 20x60 eyepiece… or else try the new combination of the Olympus M5 and my new Kowa TSN VA3 eyepiece with just 14 magnifications?
I’ve only used it once. Also, 18 m is too far for a shorter focal length!
I can already sense a potential new disaster!
I decide to go for the new kit – fingers crossed! “What the heck,” I think!
After reaching the hide in the pitch dark, moving like special forces ops to avoid making a sound, David leaves me, telling me to avoid any light source, camera or otherwise. Not even the comforting glow of a cigarette during the long wait.
With mice scurrying around and the minutes dragging, the new day slowly dawns to give a magnificent, clear sky… That’s at least a good sign.
Soon after, the sun beautifully lights up the La Mancha countryside in total silence.
I set up my kit in the dark, so I’m ready. Just waiting for the subject to arrive.
Then silently, as if by magic, without even hearing it arrive, I see the male bird in front of me...
I’m so excited. I try to take a few clicks without making any noise. Great. He doesn’t notice. He flies off after a few seconds. I check the shots I took… All duds!
All that white. They’re overexposed. I meant to use a closed aperture for the field depth… Not good. Then I notice that using these settings with the new lens/eyepiece combination distorts the background. Just great! What if it doesn’t show up again?
I open the aperture, reduce the exposure times, do a few test clicks – all working fine… but against a white background? Search me!
But my luck is obviously in today, as the air is filled with the sound that the Kite makes when capturing its prey, to let its adversaries know.
I know it’s about to land. So, I focus on the perch, and here it comes! Just perfect….
I click like mad, and by some miracle, the speed of the Olympus lets me snap it just as it arrives on the perch, with its wings opened. Unbelievable! Thankfully I opted for the Olympus, and for my new kit too. I love you, Olympus!
I click for a few minutes with the Kite on the perch, then it flies off to the nest.
I look at the snaps. Its wings are open in every one and are not completely captured in the photo. But it doesn’t matter. I like them. They’re totally in focus and the white is perfect… and the dynamics.
But my good fortune doesn’t stop there today. In fact, the Kites land on the perch seven times. They are incredible, highly efficient, swift hunters, catching different prey in succession.
I focus on the perch as my reference point, and alerted by their cries, I try to photograph them as they land and fly off.
During this, something unexpected happens. As a result of clicking like mad, the shot I had given up any hope of taking appears on my monitor – a direct picture of the Kite head on, as if it were at my height and looking right into my eyes. I can see it frozen mid-air, with its prey in its talons. All the key parts of the photo are in focus. I look at the shot and am completely dumbfounded. Did I really take this photo?! I couldn’t imagine taking it any better than that. In the end, I was right this time, not him.
The whole scene ends just as quickly as it started. The babies are full now. The sun’s oppressive heat is beating down on the landscape, and the Kites disappear, heading for the shade, with perfect silence restored.
I’m just buzzing with excitement. Once I’ve calmed down, I look at my photos that I’m delighted with!
It worked! See you soon, my little winged beauty!” Claudio Montuori