Photographing Bald Eagles in Spearfish Canyon

Photographing bald eagles in Spearfish Canyon has become a passion of mine. I moved to Spearfish less than a year ago and have excited not only see but to photograph bald eagles. I have seen more whitetail deer in and around Spearfish than I ever have seen in my life. I’ve also seen many birds like ducks, geese and turkeys. It’s been the elusive bald Eagle that have I really want to photograph.

Eagles begin their migration south and hang out around the Black Hills area during the winter months. The first eagle I seen in Spearfish Canyon this year was in December and I’ve been hooked ever since!

Photographing a bald Eagle has been a challenge. The best opportunities I’ve had to photograph an eagle has been when they decide to perch in a tree along Spearfish Creek. Trying to catch a glimpse of an eagle has been my favorite winter time sport so far!

Spearfish Canyon is located in the northern Black Hills of Western South Dakota. Spearfish sits right at the mouth of the Canyon. I could not live in a better place as it allows me to get into the nature several times a week. The best time to see eagles is during the winter months. It’s rather tough, but not impossible to see a bald eagle in the pine trees after a snowfall!

Photographing Bald Eagles in Spearfish Canyon

Not only do I love the bald Eagle as the beautiful bird it is, I’ve wanted to expand my photography skills. Any bird can be a tough subject to photograph. In my experience so far, Eagles don’t tend to stay around very long. Trying to photograph a bald Eagle has tested my beginner photographer skills and has been ton of fun along the way.

While having the latest and greatest camera gear helps in getting good photographs of eagles, it’s more important to know how your camera works and having patience. If you don’t know how to use the camera you have, you’re not going to get good photographs.

I use a Canon T3i, a DSLR old enough to be discontinued by Canon but you can still buy it used. This is my first DSLR and it’s been fantastic to learn on. It’s a great camera! I have the 18-55mm lens that came with it and I purchased a Canon EFS 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 IS II lens separately.

I am a beginner photographer. Do I have the best camera equipment? Far from it! It’s not going to stop me from learning photography and doing my best! I love photography! It’s more about learning your cameras functions, what it can do and what it can’t do.


How I Photograph Bald Eagles


The biggest lesson I’ve learned about photographing the eagles in Spearfish Canyon is patience. I could drive through the canyon and see an eagle 3 or 4 days in a row. There have also been stretches of a week where I have seen none. That doesn’t mean they are not there, I just didn’t see them.

Camera settings to photograph a stationary eagle are different the trying to photograph an eagle in flight. If I see a perched eagle, I take a photo in automatic mode and check the histogram. From there I’ll switch to manual mode and adjust my settings and take more photographs. If the eagle is kind enough to pose for me, I’ll adjust my settings and take as many photographs as I can.

I’ve seen eagles all through out the day, so settings are going to be different depending and several factors. Is it morning? Evening? Sunny or cloudy? Automatic mode can be fine for snapping photographs of a sitting eagle, but once they take flight it’s a whole different set of challenges. My goal is to capture eagles in flight. It’s taking me time to experiment with different camera settings in different lighting conditions. Here are my tips for photographing eagles in flight:


Shutter Speed: at least 1/1000th of a sec, faster if you can

Aperture: Try F/8 to begin with

ISO setting: As low as possible to avoid graininess

Set focusing mode to continuous

Shoot with the sun to your back if possible

Composition: Always try to keep composition in mind. Trying to compose a shot while photographing a moving object can be hard. I’m still working on it!


Settings will vary depending on lighting conditions. I take every opportunity I have to test different settings. Every time I go out looking for eagles is a chance to better my photography skills!


Post processing photographs. I use Adobe Lightroom for my basic edits such as exposure and cleaning up graininess. For all the heavy lifting when I want to add my own touch to a photogrpah I use ON1 Photo 10. It’s very user-friendly and I find it just easier to work in then Photoshop. It does work with both Lightroom and Photoshop. Learn more about the NEW ON1 Photo 10.You can try the most popular module of On1 Photo 10, Effects 10 by clicking the banner. It’s FREE and you’re going to love it!

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