Photograph of Osprey Sitting in Nest

How to Photograph Ospreys

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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.


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