For years, the image above was the best photo that I’d gotten of an osprey (Pandion haliaetus,) and one of the best bird portraits in my stock. It was largely luck, catching a perched bird on a bridge railing early in the morning and shooting from the car window. It was also the closest I’d gotten to a wild, unrestrained osprey, though I’d handled two in my rehab days (and somewhere I have a couple of photos of one, on negative film.) This one came from the late nineties I believe, shortly after switching to slide film.
Now we jump forward a couple of decades.
Both of these were from last year, and the number of osprey images in my stock has grown radically. What’s the significant difference between the first image and these? Mostly, better equipment in the form of a decent lens with twice the focal length, but also just spending the time in areas that osprey frequent. While not every outing will be productive, there’s no denying that you have to spend time around the subjects to receive the best opportunities – and this is far more important than the equipment, not to mention easier (or at least cheaper) to achieve.
A sharp eye helps a lot too. I spotted the osprey nest from a car in passing, and resolved to return to check it out, then made several return trips to monitor progress. The solitary bird was noticed in a tree in central NY as I was about to drive under it, and I was able to stop almost directly below (I was shooting through an open sunroof, to be honest.)
Add to that, some of that same blind luck that allowed the first image. All you can do about that is be ready to exploit it. But I must note that, in all those years, I’ve never been closer than in that first photo…