Jim Thomson | Photographing owls is a hoot

They are a somewhat unusual subject, but you can get some remarkable shots of the different type of owls in our area.

My interest in owls started in the Atherton Tablelands. After dark on quiet country roads adjacent to the cane fields, owls will regularly sit on posts as they scan the ground for mice and insects. It’s quite common to find a few in one night.

Back in the Hunter they can also be found, but not in the same numbers. Many nights you go out and find nothing.

TIME FOR A FEED: A Barn Owl about to land on a fence post, where it will settle as it scans the ground for food, preferably mice.

TIME FOR A FEED: A Barn Owl about to land on a fence post, where it will settle as it scans the ground for food, preferably mice.

Last season Barn Owls and Barking Owls were prominent. Recently I have found Tawny Frogmouths and Barn Owls. A careful approach is needed when photographing them.

I have tried a few methods, and believe that the method used by some photographers in the top end is probably best.

1: Move your car along in first gear, with the high beam focussed on the posts each side of the road. The owls will stand out clearly.

2: Your camera and flash have to be set – there’s no time once you are on the subject.

Here are my tips to get the best shots of owls at night.

First, park close, I aim for about six metres away, headlights on. With a long lens, 100-400mm is my favourite with a high ISO setting, fire off a few shots as the owl turns its head to look.

A pair of Barn Owls.

A pair of Barn Owls.

A Barking Owl with food.

A Barking Owl with food.

Owls are very tame and pay little attention to you, which allows you to auto focus on the subject. This setting is no good for freezing the subject as it lifts off, which brings us to our next approach.

Another option is to use a high shutter speed – if you use a flash and a high ISO you can reach 1000th of a second and that is ideal. An image stabiliser is a great help if you need to slow your shutter speed. 

The reason for making this change is that you will find you can walk straight up to the owl, probably get as close as 2 meters, before it lifts off. I even had one owl that would not lift off, preferring to keep watching the ground.

In the past I have tried focusing on the subject with a lamp taped onto the camera rather than using the car lights, but it was not as successful.

Finding owls can take many hours, so good luck with your earching.

I should mention I am always interested in readers with information on locations of bird life, on the wanted list especially are Azure Kingfishers.

A Barking Owl swings around at the sound of the camera.

A Barking Owl swings around at the sound of the camera.

Barn Owls are found all over Australia, preferring open wooded country, with the house mouse their chief prey.

The Barking Owl is one of the pleasant sounds of the bush – not at all shy and at home around houses. Mammals and birds are the preferred food source.

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