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Plane and fire wall

Why this wildlife photographer is fired up by flight

A dual passion for aviation and nature fuels this former airport manager’s work. Wildlife photographer and Fenton Medallist David Osborn FRPS selects five of his favourite images

1. ‘Firewall’, 2012 (above)

Anorak or not, I’ve always loved photographing aircraft and for me, similar to birds, they’re always best when doing something. Aircraft were built to fly and they’re best in the air.

This image, one of my all-time favourites, was taken at an air show in Florida where I had media access. The Americans ‘do’ air shows very well and they love their pyrotechnic displays. This fly-by in front of the wall of fire is an absolute classic. Not an easy shot to take – you get one fast flypast and as such it did take some thought and planning. Positioning and panning technique were vitally important.

I had to be directly in front of the firewall, and since the aircraft would only pass before me for less than five seconds, I needed to have the camera set correctly with the right lens combination to ensure an efficient capture. All prepared and ready, I managed four shots.

Hand-held panning action. The settings: 1/2000sec to freeze the action and f10 to ensure the aircraft was sharp but also to give definition to the flames. 420mm.


2. ‘Black-browed albatross and chick’, 2014

Black Browed Albatross and chick

This was taken on the Falkland Islands, a location I’ve been lucky to visit on a number of occasions. I’d always had this image in mind so planned one of my tours to coincide with the albatross chicks having hatched and being between two to four weeks old.

The black-browed albatross is a truly wonderful bird. It may be large, but it’s delicate and caring in its nature and I wanted to capture that.

I knew the image I wanted, so it was just a case of settling on a location with a number of suitable nests and waiting for a parent bird to return to the chick on the nest. The chick expects a meal and will tap the adult’s bill begging to be fed, and if you wait long enough your patience will always be rewarded.

The camera was tripod mounted. The settings: 1/800sec – fast enough to ensure any delicate movement is frozen and f11 to ensure enough depth of field to keep both birds in focus. The image wouldn’t have worked if either bird had been soft or out of focus.


3. ‘Herbert Lake, Icefields Parkway, Alberta’, 2009

Herbert Lake

I may be a nature photographer, but I love landscape work and I’m always excited about capturing beautiful sunrise and sunset images. For me they’re timepiece records of nature and the elements – you’ve no idea of what you’re going to get and you’re never going to get the same image twice, so a ‘classic’ sunrise is exactly that, something that can never be repeated.

This image was taken at Herbert Lake, on Alberta’s Icefields Parkway, one of my all-time favourite locations. It’s only a small lake but it’s beautiful and picturesque. As with all sunrise images prior to your arrival, you’ve really no idea where the best cloud and colour will end up coming from and, as you’ll be arriving in the dark, it’s always best to be familiar with the location.

On this morning I was shooting in the other direction hoping for strong colours to illuminate the mountains opposite but soon became aware the strongest colour and interest was coming from my right-hand side. I quickly moved 50 yards to my left until I found this log lying in the water, which gave me a nice lead-in. I began shooting for an intense few minutes before the colour faded.

Camera tripod mounted. The settings: 28mm with a 0.9 soft edge graduated filter to balance the light differential between the sky and the lake.


4. ‘Bee orchid and hoverfly’, 2020

Bee Orchid & Hoverfly

This was taken at our local supermarket car park, showing there are images everywhere as long as you look.

It is a modern image made possible by the technologies available in the latest cameras. Old school, this would have had to have been taken at f22 to get the depth of field to keep the flower in focus, which then would have resulted in an incredibly distracting background from the surrounding grasses. If I had wanted the hoverfly in focus, the flower wouldn’t have been, so an almost impossible shot. Thankfully these days that’s no longer the case – the features available particularly in the Olympus cameras allowed me the option to stack and merge a series of images while maintaining the integrity of the scene.

The settings: to allow for a nice diffused background I needed a stack of 25 images taken at f4 to get the bee orchid in focus throughout. I then switched modes and focus points and waited for the hoverfly to arrive, then added it to the stack when they were merged together.


5. ‘Coltsfoot’, 2020

05.Coltsfoot 4040605

Another local patch shot. This coltsfoot, among the first plants to flower in the spring, occasionally grows directly out of the sand on the beach – an unusual occurrence and one I really wanted to capture. The beach in this area is quite messy and taken in the traditional method I would have needed f16/ f22 to keep the flower and stem in focus, which in turn would have resulted in a messy, distracting background, making the image pretty unusable.

Modern technology used once again. The settings: this image is a 12-shot stack at f4 to keep the flower in focus while rendering a pleasingly diffuse backdrop that keeps the attention focused firmly on the main subject.



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