Osprey - Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge© Copyright David Simchock
"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Seneca
This has got to be one of my favorite inspirational quotes of all time. Now, I have a slight hunch that Seneca (born 4 BC) didn't have "photography" in mind when he coined the popular saying, but it couldn't be more relevant to the craft in the 21st Century (AD).
It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway for the purpose of this blog post), that every photographer out there is looking for a little bit of "luck" in order to capture that extra-special, split-second moment in time. What many photographers fail to realize, though, is that it takes much more than sheer luck to capture those images, and to do it on a consistent basis. You can be the luckiest person in the world when it comes to experiencing those crazy, once-in-a-lifetime moments, but if you're not prepared for them with your camera (and accessories), then they may all go down in history as an opportunity lost. At the end of the day, there is no substitution for understand your gear, including your exposure controls, your auto-focus controls, and anything other tool that allows a photographer to create their art to the best of their abilities. Luck is not enough!
Let me tell you a little story of the osprey and the sheepshead fish, and how my preparation allowed me to capture this lucky opportunity...
I'm a big fan of the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, located on Sanibel Island in Florida, not because I'm an avid birder or bird photographer, but because I'm neither of those and the refuge allows me to have relatively easy access to some awe-inspiring bird life. Yes, I admit, when it comes to wildlife photography, I'm what's commonly called an "opportunist".
Enter, Mr. Seneca.
Spoonbill Roseates - Ding Darling© Copyright David Simchock A few years ago, while doing my annual visit to Ding Darling, I parked my car where there were a few photographers all set up with their 5 billion-millimeter zoom lenses and massive gazillion-dollar tripods, honed in on a group of spoonbill roseates who were chilling out on a small sandbar in the lagoon about a hundred yards from the road. I do not own a "big gun" for wildlife shooting, and I don't even bother to bring any of my fancy Gitzo tripods with me when I visit Ding Darling. What I do bring is one of my Nikon DSLR with a vertical grip, my Nikkor 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens, and a Nikkor 1.7x teleconverter (which turns my 70-200 f/2.8 into a 119mm - 340mm f/4.8). The set-up is still light-weight enough for me to hand-hold, and I can shoot with the aperture wide open at a relatively low ISO in order to get sufficient shutter speed for freezing motion (i.e., I don't want a bird and its wings to be blurry when doing "in flight" shots).
I walked up to chat with a couple of the "big gun" photographers, who were actually looking a little bored since the roseates weren't up to much. While I'm chatting with one of the guys, I looked across the road over to the other side of the lagoon, and I see in the distance a couple of osprey birds swooping down to the water's surface, apparently grabbing some lunch. They were pretty far away, so I couldn't see exactly what they were feeding on. I did, however, think that maybe one would fly towards us, and I wanted to be prepared if that happened.
While I was shop-talking with this guy, I was secretly setting up my camera's auto-focus system (to "continuous" 51-point auto-focus) and drive mode (to continuous shooting) and ISO (set high enough to get my shutter speed up) to ensure that if Lady Luck did, indeed, come my way with an opportunity to capture one of the osprey birds with its prey, I wanted to be ready. And, as fate would have it, while the roseates continued their snooze, an osprey appeared to be headed our way. So, I kindly excused myself from the conversation, stepped away, set my exposure, locked in my continuous focus the best I could on to my moving target, and rattled off a burst of shots (with my D700, which was capable of 8 frames-per-second with the special battery and vertical grip).
The result? Well, I believe that I nailed a full-frame, uncropped shot of an osprey carrying a stunned sheepshead fish in its talons (see above).
Exposure settings: f/4.8; 1/1250 sec; ISO 320; processed in Adobe Lightroom
This is a perfect example of experiencing a very lucky moment, but also being fully prepared for it. I may not have had the big-@ss lenses that others around me had, but I did have a hand-holdable camera and lens arrangement, and knew how to set things up properly to get the shot. The moment was lucky, yes, but the result was not.
Meanwhile, the spoonbill roseates snored.
And, guess who got the wildlife shot of the day?