Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

July 13, 2010

Turkey Vulture

Filed under: Birds, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, comparisons, composition, favorite places, light, style — richditch @ 12:51 pm
Turkey Vulture on the rocks

Turkey Vulture on the rocks

The weather here in Phoenix is still dominated with oppressive heat, and we will likely reach 115 in the next couple of days. but I managed to get out for a few hours on the weekend when a friend suggested a trip to Boyce Thompson Arboretum. This is about the best place close to Phoenix that has slightly lower temperatures and a chance at some different species, but getting there at 6:00 am when they open during summer hours means I need to get out of bed at 4:30 am.

There weren’t many birds to photograph, although there was some interesting behavior from mating Vermilion Flycatchers and a striking juvie Yellow Warbler still showing mostly white feathers. So I ended up looking at the Turkey Vultures that roost on the large rock outcrops on the edge of Picket Post Mountain that overlooks the arboretum.

I’ve tried taking photos of them on many previous visits, but usually they are to far away and too high for interesting shots. So I was happy to see this solitary bird on a rock a bit lower in wonderful light. I enjoy light with an obvious directional component to it (as compared to the often boring front light you get when you “point your shadow at the bird”). This directional light helps separate the vulture from the soft grasses in the background, plus it picks up the texture of the rock the vulture is resting on.

I have no issues with the vulture being relatively small in the frame: I find the setting here visually interesting in its textures, colors and complexities. The vulture is large enough to be easily identified anad to act as a center of interest in the overall composition.

With a distant subject like this I will take a series of frames if the subject cooperates. It is difficult to judge critical focus on a subject this small in the frame, and taking more shots gives a better chance of finding one a bit sharper than the others when I review the results.

I will also experiment a bit with the composition in such a situation. Here I’ve placed the vulture lower in the frame to show more of the background texture, but I don’t think this shot works as well when I had to sacrifice the rock texture.

Turkey Vulture on the rocks

Turkey Vulture on the rocks

This wasn’t the only vulture that caught my eye. Just before taking the two shots above I saw this bird a bit higher on a different outcrop near an interesting cactus.

Turkey Vulture and cactus

Turkey Vulture and cactus

Although this final TV was taken closely in time and space to the top two images, it just doesn’t have the appeal for me of those two. Perhaps the cactus is a bit more distracting, but I really think it is the quality of the light that makes the difference for me.

I’m interested in what others  think of these three images, so feel free to let me know in a comment here.

Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E(2x), Gitzo 1325 tripod, RRS BH-55, Sidekick, ISO 400, 1/350th @ f/5.6, cropped on left edge only.



  1. Rich, I like the bulk of the rock in the first picture, and how it anchors the shot. The light is great, and the composition works for me. A good example of breaking the rules (bird is looking out of the frame) working.

    Although the light in the 3rd image isn’t great, it is still a striking image. The TV superimposed on the cactus seems like the quintessential desert shot, and I like how well the head stands out. I’d crop it to a vertical and sell it.

    Comment by Brian Gatlin — July 14, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

  2. Rich

    Of the three images, I prefer the first image you posted. I love the setting, the textures on the rok and the vultures size in the frame. I don’t mind at all the direction the bird is looking.

    I like the second image for the setting and how low the rock is in the image leaving so much of the lovely OOF background. But I’d wish for a bit more of a headturn from the vulture.

    I like the third image but I do think the cactus in the background adds a bit of distraction.

    Comment by Mia — July 15, 2010 @ 9:29 am

  3. I’m really happy you talked about the rock, because it’s striking, and helps set that first picture beautifully.

    I think the difficulty with the third is that somehow the cactus doesn’t set off the bird’s head as well, maybe?

    Great shots, all of them, though!

    Comment by bardiac — July 24, 2010 @ 12:37 pm

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