The Eagle Hunters – Working a Composition

Eagle Hunters Image-1 © Art Wolfe

This, the first series of images in a new section on our blog, involves Kazakh eagle hunters in western Mongolia.

These are a very strong people that have a strong sense of culture. One of those cultural icons is hunting with eagles. I wanted to get a shot that really conveys the sense of spacious land in Mongolia, the power of the eagle, and the traditional dress that seems to be seen less and less in the historical cultures of the world today. This first photo basically establishes where we are – two eagle hunters, a horse, and the eagle traversing an open slope on the border of western Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

Eagle Hunters Image-2 © Art Wolfe

In this second photo you actually see how close I am to my subjects. I am using my Canon 1Ds Mark III camera with a 16-35 wide angle zoom lens, which allows me to include a strong foreground subject (the hunters) as well as the dramatic sky in the distance. Also note that the light looks a bit flat in this shot, but from the viewpoint from which I am taking the photo things look completely different.

Eagle Hunters Image-3 © Art Wolfe

In my third image, which is at a right angle to the direction of the sun, I have attached a polarizer to my wide angle. You can see how much more dramatic the light appears. This image also highlights the problems of working with dramatic light – very harsh shadows were cast every time the eagle moved its wings.

Eagle Hunters Image-4 © Art Wolfe

The wing of the eagle is now down, but the man that’s controlling the eagle is casting a shadow on his assistant.

Eagle Hunters Image-5 © Art Wolfe

I decided to get lower and shoot upwards to bring in some of the openness of the sky in hopes of creating  more of a story than in the previous shots.

Eagle Hunters Image-6 © Art Wolfe

The result is that I don’t have nearly the problems of the previous images with the shadows. This is a very satisfying image to me, but in an effort to see what else is achievable, I begin working the scene a bit more.

Eagle Hunters Image-7 © Art Wolfe

I’m standing at eye level again with the hunters, but the problem with this shot  is that the man closet to me is staring straight at me. I try to maintain a little anonymity when I am taking pictures, and would prefer that the subject is not staring straight into my camera.

Eagle Hunters Image-8 © Art Wolfe

I ask him to look straight ahead, but now with movement of doing so, the eagle is staring straight at me. This isn’t necessarily a bad composition, but I would prefer the eagle in a different position.

Eagle Hunters Image-9 © Art Wolfe

I move a little bit further around and discover I love the way the light is falling across the main eagle hunter and his beautiful fox fur hat. However, as you can see, I have moved in too close to get all three in the frame.

Eagle Hunters Image-10 © Art Wolfe

I decide to back off a little bit, and now I am getting what I am looking for. I love the fact that the man in the middle is kind of looking my way, the assistant is looking off to his left, and the eagle is conversely looking off in the opposite direction. There is a nice balance to this image, with no shadows on their faces. In addition, the eagle has nice light on his eye. This to me is a winner.

Eagle Hunters Image-11 © Art Wolfe

I also like this last photo because it has a nice sense to it; the eagle is looking further opposite now, and is even more absorbed in what is going on in the landscape, rather than in what the photographer is busy trying to achieve. Both of these final two images are very strong photos for me, and I am very happy with the results:

good balance of compositon, dramatic light, openness of the land, traditional wardrobes – it all comes together in a very nice way in these last two images.

mountain ridge