I enjoy sharing knowledge on photographic questions. When I am out in the field I am approached numerous times with various inquiries, probably due to my camera setup. A tiny mirrorless with a big lens on the end. My latest question was about Osprey, Hey, where are the Osprey at? For Osprey you need access to areas where freshwater fish thrive. Osprey feeds solely on fish or at least I never seen them take other prey. If you can drive to fresh bodies of water during April - July you most likely will find Osprey nearby.
Let me explain the lead photo, it is of a Cooper's Hawk, so why include it here? This is to demonstrate you can obtain great photos with a small lightweight set up. This Cooper's Hawk was taken with a Nikon 1 camera and lens - read more on the system here.
That being said, we will concentrate on OSPREY Photos: some of my recommendations ring true for other raptors such as Eagles, and Hawks and even the turkey vulture.
Location: First the Osprey (Fish Hawk) is a fish eater, and this means this bird needs to be near a body of water with fish in it, necessary for survival and young raising. Osprey also migrates and the species is a widely distributed raptor which makes finding Osprey is somewhat easier than say an Eagle. Here in Northern Virginia, the Osprey can be found to occupy most areas around the Potomac River region from Early April through late September. Your best bet for getting the best photos is during this period especially during the nesting season (April - May)
Coming In for a Landing
Osprey's are great parents, If you find an active nest just wait until a returning parent fly's in. I waited for about 45 minutes until the parent returned: be in position, with your camera on the ready.
The Osprey will build a nest in mature trees, man-made platforms, and will renovate last years nest if the opportunity arises. In Eastern Virginia area you can expect to find Osprey couples busy with nest building and tending to their young from late March through June. Which correlates to the best time to get great photos. The Osprey will hunt, and return to their nest throughout the day If you run across an active nest, It is only a matter of time before one parent will make a landing. Be Patient, get into position, and you will have a great photo opportunity.
As stated your best opportunity for acquiring great Osprey Photos is during breeding and chick-rearing season. Find the nest, pick a good angle and wait. The parents will take turns and go hunt for food to raise the young (normally 3).
If you missed the breeding season, and show up late June, you have a few treats in store. The young have fledged or about to. Unlike the parents, the young Osprey are more tolerant of humans and also have spectacular plumage, and normally nice and fat.
So how do you get close to non-nesting Osprey?
I see You
The Osprey have exceptional eyesight.
Osprey have exceptional eyesight, so sneaking up is very difficult. Hopefully, you choose a path that places the sun behind your back for optimal photos. Here is my Technique: I sometimes use Auto ISO with a high shutter speed like 800 or 1/1000s just in case the bird takes flight. I move slow and keep my eyes up at the tree line, look around occasionally for signs of partially eaten fish. Once you spot an Osprey resting in a tree, you have about 10 seconds to get a photo. Once I make the initial photo, I then try to move a bit closer, and get a better viewing angle; this ensures you get at least one photo before he takes off - don't try to get the best angle first or you will likely lose a picture altogether.
Path to Food
I discovered an area Ospreys were crossing for fish hunting, I waited, and waited and finally one flew right over head.. A bit too close! Awesome!
The Osprey In-Flight: Bird in flight photos requires some planning, like your panning technique., shutter speed (you need it high), my best results have been 1/2000s. Shooting at the sky may require some manual composition I normally use +3ev, depending on the direction of the light, and speaking of which optimally should be from your back toward the subject.
Osprey needs food, and this means if you are patient and find a favorite feeding spot - it is a matter of time. A sure sign is when you see the Osprey kind of circle above an area then slow down- this is an indication of a pending fish dive - and all the while you should be snapping photos.
Practice: More than anything you need to practice with your gear and also your technique. I recommend trying A setting with an ISO of 800 on bright days for birds in flight and Also experiment with the auto ISO settings.
Young and Dumb
Not really, but this is a young Osprey and in most cases are more approachable than the older 2 / 5 yr birds. You can tell by the dark rich colors of the plumage he is young, maybe a 1 year.
One other question is Tripod or no-tripod and do I need a proper ball head. If you are comfortable with carrying your equipment freestyle then you should be fine as such A Tripod takes the tedium of carrying pounds of equipment off your neck, and allows for rest periods, so if your going to be out for a few hours you may want to invest in your gear weighs more than three pounds. I carry a tripod for my 400 and 600 due to weight, my system allows for QUICK disconnect when I what to manhandle the gear, flick of a lever (Really Right Stuff), and the camera/lens pops off in an instant.
Awesome experience with birds.
- Nikkor 300mm f/4 PF ED VR
- Nikkor 600mm f/4 FL ED VR
- Nikon D500
- Nikon D810
- Nikon 1 V3