Monday, 12 September 2011

Osprey at Ardingly


AR_Osprey_09a, originally uploaded by Christopher Mills.

For the past few days I've been spending every spare moment (which, to be honest, is not that many moments) at Ardingly reservoir.

I'd been to Thorney Island a few times lately, in the hope of seeing the Osprey I knew was there. I picked my spot, set up and waited... hours passed, but just as I was about to head home it appeared over the deeps. I got ready, anticipating the swoop and splash - and it soared up about 100ft, straight over me and out to sea! So it came as a bit of a relief to read on the SOS sightings page that one had been seen at Ardingly.

Of course, knowing where a stopping-over Osprey is located is one thing, getting the shot you want is another matter! No doubt it would be easier to haul myself up to Rutland Water or a Scottish loch where they nest, but the usual factors limit those possibilities. Migrating birds, fuelling-up before making the trip to Africa, gives a small window of opportunity at minimum expense.

Whilst the shots you'll find on my flickr stream aren't world-beaters, they're certainly my best Osprey images yet (my only previous experience of these wonderful birds came last year at Weir Wood). As with any animal with highly contrasting markings, they're tricky subjects to get the exposure right. A crop sensor helps with getting close, but it also increases the depth of field, something that isn't ideal when the subject rarely comes closer to you than the background it's set against. You end up with nasty, cluttered backdrops that do the image no favours at all. Switching the settings between getting as much of the Osprey in focus as possible and isolating it against the background caught me out once or twice, as did keeping the shutter speed in check. Shooting in manual with these conditions makes it all the more difficult, but it feels foreign when I try to use shutter or aperture priority now!

In an ideal world, the bird would come down for the fish right in front of me (looking very suspicious, flat out under a scrim net at the edge of the reservoir!), in consistent light either just before sunrise or just after sunset. Bright sunlight is not ideal - you end up with blown white highlights or areas that are too dark, resulting in "noise" when processing. This was another occasion where I found I was pushing the D300 to it's usable limits; I don't think it did a bad job overall. I just hope the Osprey hangs around a little longer, work has intervened so I won't be able to spend much time there this week.