This spring and summer I’ve devoted quite a bit of time going down to the river to photograph Ospreys in order to gather up enough resource material to feel comfortable painting them.
I just completed my second Osprey painting entitled Out on a Limb. This Osprey was frequently perched on a bare tree, thirty feet or so from its nest in a Cypress tree surrounded by water. Many times as I approached, the bird would take off, trying to lure me away from the nesting area. I would wait for long periods of time for the bird to come back and land on the same branch or in the nest, often with a fish.
In this painting the light is coming from above, causing the Osprey to cast a single shadow on the end of the branch. Highlights on top of the bird’s talons and beak along with the brightest white on the Osprey’s head are all subtle indicators of the light source. Since the great majority of the bird’s underside was in shadow, I decided to help create definition of the feathers by adding texture.
It is a simple composition, but a painting like this can be much more challenging than it looks, beginning with the photographic prep work.
Photographing Ospreys presents a number of challenges because there is significant contrast between an Osprey’s light and dark feathers. I took many photos with washed out white feathers and when I compensated the darks would get so dark I couldn’t make out the detail. Combine these challenges with not always having the best lighting and the fact that they are moving targets, it really makes you work on your photographic skills. Having clear, detailed pictures to work from significantly reduces the frustration level when reproducing the image on canvas.