Category Archives: Osprey

Photographing an Osprey in Flight and Thoughts About AF Point Coverage

Photographing An Osprey in Flight

My camera was set up on a second story balcony overlooking a relatively calm bay side view of the ocean in Southern California. Yes indeed! We left cold and cloudy SW Michigan for a short vacation in San Diego.

Photo of Osprey
Osprey Lifting off a Sailboat Mast Head.
ISO400; f/10; 1/2000 Second

In front of the camera, Ospreys, Pelicans, Herons and Seagulls spent their time combing the shores for sustenance. These are opportunistic sea birds and it’s comical to watch them brazenly pilfer the catch of more successful avian predators.

On this day, things were relatively quiet. Two Ospreys were chasing each other, playfully somersaulting every which way until the larger one perched on the topmast of a nearby moored catamaran. No room for the smaller Osprey, so he flew on.

No Time to Swap Out Telephoto Extenders

On the tripod, I had my 300mm f/2.8L IS II lens with Canon 1.4 III telephoto extender attached to my Canon 7D Mark II 1.6 cropped sensor DSLR camera. The perching piscivore was just a little too far away…. even if he spread his wings taking flight. (NOTE: An adult Osprey’s wingspan is 5′-6′). I had a moment to think about swapping out the 1.4 for the 2.0 telephoto extender. No time. The Osprey spotted a meal, leaped into the air (See photo above.) and circled around to a spot closer to the shore. He momentarily hovered directly above his quarry–and then plunged, maneuvering into a feet first position just before hitting the water.

Photo of Osprey
Osprey Heavily Lifting Out of the Water
After His Dive;
Sadly, Without A fish.
ISO800; f/9.0; 1/1600 Second

This fish hawk plummeted so fast that by the time I dropped my lens into position, he was completely submerged. I did however capture him as he heavily lifted himself out of the water, without a fish.

Tracking A Bird in Flight

Modern cameras make tracking and locking focus on a bird in flight relatively easy, assuming the following:

  1. You are able to hold steady the lens while tracking.
  2. The light and contrast are good enough to achieve focus
  3. You are tracking a bird that is within range of your lens’s magnification
  4. The bird’s flight path is in a relatively open area.

My Canon 7D Mark II has 65 all cross type AF points. After setting the camera to Al Servo continuous autofocus and selecting your auto focus points, the camera will (within a fraction of a second) track movement and predict where that fast moving and erratic bird will go, all the while adjusting focus accordingly. Assuming your lens is up to the task, the technology is blazing fast.

Photo of Osprey
Osprey, Lifting Himself Into the Air.
ISO800; f/9; 1/1600 Second

Auto Focus Point Coverage

Efficiently tracking a flying bird takes all of your concentration. When you look through the viewfinder at a fast moving bird, those densely packed auto focus points are not spread out across the entire frame. Instead, they are mostly clustered in the center area. You must continuously and skillfully manuever the lens so that your subject is at least partially within the center area covered by AF tracking points. If you let your subject wing its way outside the focusing area, the camera lens will try to re-focus on anything it can within the auto focus point coverage area.

Quality auto focus performance is about so much more than the number and spread of the AF points. Still, the newest and most advanced Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras (Nikon D500 and Canon 1D X Mark II to be release in the Spring, 2016) are both proudly touting expanded auto focus point coverage, despite the very real inherent limits of widening the autofocus coverage area.  

Makes me excited just thinking about getting my little hands on a prototype. 

Press this link to read more about opportunistic shorebirds fighting over a fish.


Food Fight - Osprey and Cormorant

Photographing a Tussle over A Fish

Photographing Fast and Furious Action

Let these photos tell a story of 4 species of birds tussling over one fish. I was able to photograph a rough and vigorous struggle between a Cormorant, an Osprey, two Pelicans, and an opportunistic Sea Gull. The Sea Gull mostly stayed on the sidelines, but was close enough and thus ready to pounce, given the opportunity. This scuffle over a fish occurred on Mission Bay, in San Diego, California.

“If Only” Moments in Photography

As with most bird photography, there are always those “if only” moments. If only I had a longer lens attached to my camera…. If only the shutter speed was set higher to sharpen the fast action….If only that Seagull didn’t block the shot. Suffice to say, though this tussle lasted only minutes and the photos could have been better, I was pleased to be in the right place at the right time.

I took more than 50 shots. The 7D Mark II lived up to its specs by providing continuous full resolution shooting of 10 frames per second. I’ve included 9 shots to tell the tale. There’s a lot of splashing action, so be sure to click on each of the photos so you can see the larger image and more detail.


Despite the Sea Gull in flight and blocking the shot and quite a lot of splashing water, you can still see the Cormorant’s beak and the Osprey’s Talons tugging at a rather large fish.


More tugging between the Cormorant and Osprey, with the Sea Gull’s white wing moving away from the center of the action.


Looks like the Osprey might have the advantage as he attempts to take the fish with him and fly off.  The Cormorant holds tight.


The Osprey is suddenly pulled down into the water on top of the Cormorant, who is not about to release the fish.


The Osprey releases the fish and tries to lift himself out of the water. The Cormorant, holding on to the fish, tries to fly away.


The Osprey flies off without the fish, leaving a jubilant Cormorant alone with his prize.


Enter Pelican #1 who appears to take the Cormorant under water.


Seconds later, a 2nd Pelican lands on top of the first. Exit right the Cormorant, without his fish.

Photo of Osprey

 And exit one very wet and pissed off Osprey.

Photograph of Osprey Sitting in Nest

How to Photograph Ospreys

Photographer’s Assistant

Whenever I research the work of Annie Leibovitz (one of the best portrait photographers out there), she is surrounded by photography equipment and assistants. Her assistants do alot of the hauling in of equipment, setup and prepping of the lucky individuals scheduled to be photographed.

So wouldn’t it be a good idea for bird photographers to have assistants as well?

Camera Boy

I have a wonderful assistant. By day he is a competent, hard working attorney and the love of my life, and during my photography adventures, he is Camera Boy! Camera Boy does alot of the car packing and unpacking, and helps with setup. He also does the driving and helps scope out possible locations to photograph birds.

The photographer is generally too busy framing the shot and pressing the shutter to nudge a sitting bird to take flight. Often, the bird is content to just sit there while the sun rises to the point where harsh shadows will dominate the shot. This is where the assistant steps in. On cue, all he has to do is walk toward the bird. With a little luck, the bird will take flight at the exact time and in the intended direction needed for the perfect shot.

Perched Osprey Photo
Osprey Perched and Staring at the Photographer and Assistant. Not Looking Too Worried.

Photographing Ospreys in Florida

We came across 2 ospreys at Fort Pickens National Seashore on Santa Rosa Island, near Pensacola Florida. There wasn’t much gear to carry because I don’t like hauling a bunch of equipment when I travel.  My camera with my 300 mm lens and a monopod was all I brought with me.

The ospreys were perched on trees in and near their nest with a great view of the ocean. Their nest was built on a manmade nest platform not too high up from the ground. No baby birds were visible.

Ospreys are also known as Sea Hawks because they are so adept at diving and catching live fish. I was hoping to get a photograph of one of the ospreys coming back to the nest with a fish, but no luck. These birds were obviously acclimated to humans and seemed content to sit and watch us from where they perched.

In Flight

I was able to take many photographs of both ospreys sitting in trees with the clear blue sky as a backdrop.  Camera boy and I wondered if we could prompt some in-flight action by simply walking toward the birds.

I was in place, as close as I could get to one of the birds with my camera and monopod. I had the camera facing the side of the bird’s body, with the sun behind me. If we were going to prompt him to fly, a side view of him taking off in the direction we wanted him to go would be best. So Camera Boy was behind the bird, ready to walk forward, hoping his proximity would propel the bird forward.

Photograph of Osprey Ready to Take Flight
Osprey Almost Ready. Foiling our Plans, He Turned Away from the Camera Before Taking Flight

Ready!  Set!!  Action!!!

It was mid morning and there was plenty of soft light from the morning sun. On my cue, Camera Boy walked toward the bird. The osprey did indeed take flight at a time when I had the camera focused and ready.

Photography of Osprey in Flight
Finally, Osprey Taking Flight at the Intended Time in the Intended Direction.

The ospreys did not show fear, they did not fly away or move to a higher branch or dive bomb us. They simply flew to another close-by tree, perched and looked down on us.

It’s no wonder that Annie Leibovitz has assistants to help her set up for the perfect shots. Camera Boy and I will have to work out a plan to get a shot of the ospreys diving and catching fish.