Share Your Colors: The Birdwatching Photographer

Meet the artist who ditched his career as a geologist to travel the world shooting dazzling portraits of colorful birds. Before becoming a wildlife photographer in 2016, Ondřej Prosický was a geologist. “Photography was just my hobby,” he says. But, after having a family, he had to decide: “What do I want to devote my time to professionally?” Interview for Shutterstock Blog.

How long have you been a photographer?

I have been shooting wild animals since 2006 and I have been working as a freelance wildlife photographer since 2016. I was originally a geologist and photography was just my hobby, but having a family I didn´t have enough time for it and I had to decide what to devote my time to.
Now I earn my living just photographing wild nature, I sell photos, make photographic prints, give lectures, write about nature and about shooting animals, make photographic workshops and travel with my clients all over the world to watch animals.

akal obecný (Canis aureus) Golden jackal, Eastern Rhodopes, Bulharsko , Madzharovo, Eastern Rhodopes, Bulharsko
Ondřej Prosický |, Sony ILCE-9, Sony FE 200–600mm F5.6–6.3 G OSS (SEL200600G), 300.00 mm, f/8.0, @1/500 s, ISO 250, pondělí 11. ledna 2021 11:54:18

What inspired you to pick up a camera?

I know this quite exactly. It was the intention to show the animals and nature in the photographs to the others. I got to places, where not everybody can get and I saw animals, about which many people have not ever heard. I thought and I still think, that if a person sees an interesting animal or a beautiful piece of landscape he or she will desire to protect it.

Sovice krahujová (Surnia ulula) Northern hawk owl, Ramnäs, Švédsko
Ondřej Prosický |, Sony ILCE-7RM3, Sony FE 200–600mm F5.6–6.3 G OSS (SEL200600G), 326.00 mm, f/7.1, @1/25 s, ISO 100, neděle 14. února 2021 17:51:26

When did you start thinking of yourself as an artist?

To be honest, I haven´t thought it so far, though I like to joke about it.  Only some of my photos bring some art surplus value, something new, which might be called an art. My photographs are mostly technically perfect descriptive shots. Art should be more. Unfortunately photographing animals is not arranged photography. I always have to respect and create in conditions, which can be brought to me by good luck in nature. Nevertheless, I think I already have a few well-done shots. However, their value is in the way of post processing and they would be most likely unsaleable in a photo stock.

Vlček etiopský (Canis simensis) Ethiopian wolf, Bale Mountains NP, Etiopie
Ondřej Prosický |, Sony ILCE-7RM3, Sony FE 600 mm F4 GM OSS (SEL600F40GM) + 2X Teleconverter (SEL20TC), 1200.00 mm, f/13, @1/1000 s, ISO 500, pondělí 22. března 2021 8:19:09

Why are you drawn to birds in particular?

I like all wild animals. When I started to photograph, birds were more accessible for me. The opportunity to get them in front of my camera was much bigger. Photographing mammals or for instance reptiles needs much experience from watching them, it is quite rare to encounter them.
Photographing birds is very varied. Varied in colours, shapes, ways of behaviour. There are for instance 340 kinds of hummingbirds and each is quite different in colour of feathers, size, shape of beak etc.

Křeček polní (cricetus cricetus), European hamster, Vienna, Rakousko
Ondřej Prosický |, Sony ILCE-7RM3, Sony FE 600 mm F4 GM OSS (SEL600F40GM) + 2X Teleconverter (SEL20TC), 1200.00 mm, f/8.0, @1/250 s, ISO 1000, pondělí 12. července 2021 12:25:16

Do you practice birding yourself?

Yes, I do. Unlike photography, when I often get stressed about an attractive shot, birdwatching means a relax for me. I must confess, that the longer I do photography, the more exceptionally I really use a camera. Number of unusual chances spoiled me a little bit, so I shoot only at the special moment, when I have the feeling I can bring something different with the shot. That´s why I lately more often set off just with the binoculars to watch birds.

Přímorožec arabský (Oryx leucoryx) Arabian oryx, Shaumari Wildife Reserve, Jordánsko
Ondřej Prosický |, Sony ILCE-7RM3, Sony FE 200–600mm F5.6–6.3 G OSS (SEL200600G), 600.00 mm, f/7.1, @1/500 s, ISO 250, úterý 16. listopadu 2021 14:57:21

What's your favorite bird and why?

My favourite birds are definitely hummingbirds (biological family Trochilidae), because the interest in them brought me to photography. It was in the time, when I used to do my original profession – I earned my living as a geologist - and my big hobby was volcanology.
I am fascinated with the hummingbirds´ colourfulness, activity, life manifestation and last but not least the splendid biotope, they live in. I have shot 140 kinds of hummingbirds out of those 340 which have already been described.

Kozorožec alpský (Capra ibex ibex) Alpine Ibex, Brienzersee, Ementálské Alpy, Švýcarsko
Ondřej Prosický |, Sony ILCE-7RM3, Sony FE 24mm F1.4 GM (SEL24F14GM), 24.00 mm, f/1.4, @1.3 s, ISO 800, středa 16. června 2021 22:22:24

What have you learned about birds through photographing them?

I don´t believe somebody can be a good photographer of birds without studying their way of behaviour and enjoying each moment being with them in the wild. An example of it can be photographing owls, that are always very attractive in the shots. When I was beginning shooting, I thought I was impossible to take a photo of them in the wild.  After about five years of studying their behaviour in their biotope, setting off to find them with ornithologists and helping with monitoring I learned all I need to photograph all kinds of European owls.

Rys iberský (Lynx pardinus) Iberian lynx, Santa Cruz de Mudela, Andalusie, Španělsko
Ondřej Prosický |, Sony ILCE-1, Sony FE 600mm F4 GM OSS (SEL600F40GM), 600.00 mm, f/4.0, @1/640 s, ISO 400, úterý 14. prosince 2021 16:38:45

What's the most challenging part about photographing birds?

For me the most difficult is definitely the study. To recognize all kinds of birds from each other, to find, where they live, when they are active, in which part of the year, to know all their voices. Unfortunately, I must admit, that it is not sufficient just to study or get information from the internet. Experience from the field (optimally with a biologist, who studies birds all his life) is much more efficient.

Puštík bělavý (Strix uralensis) Ural owl, Prachaticko, NP Šumava, Česko
Ondřej Prosický |, Sony ILCE-7RM3, Sony FE 600mm F4 GM OSS (SEL600F40GM), 600.00 mm, f/5.0, @1/15 s, ISO 500, sobota 4. září 2021 19:20:32

What's the secret to getting a good bird shot?

To make a good shot I give five principal tips on my photography workshops, which can be used with all animal shots.
The motive – an attractive kind of bird will attract the viewer´s attention more easily than a less interesting one. That´s why my shots of toucans and parrots on Shutterstock are better sold than shots of birds of blend colour like leaf warblers or tree pipits. 
The light – if I am not photographing birds directly during the dawn or the sunset, I prefer overcast. I don´t like big contrast in sharp sunshine, the photographs don´t look nice.
The action – something should be going on in the image, a story. Birds fight, mating, eating food. Sometimes a gaze focused into the objective, outstretched wings, raised talon or just feathers slightly lifted by wind may be enough. A shot of a flying bird is always very attractive.
Composition – I don´t mean by this the splitting into thirds stated in textbooks. A shot always should respect the whole content. I don´t have problem with a central composition if the bird is shown in detail.
The setting – I always prefer photographing birds in their natural environment, although this is not very interesting for selling in photo banks. The animal in the shot is too small, but the more illustratively you can see where the photographed kind lives – an animal in the landscape.

Gorila horská (Gorilla beringei beringei) Mountain gorilla, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda
Ondřej Prosický |, Sony ILCE-1, Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS (SEL70200GM), 143.00 mm, f/2.8, @1/320 s, ISO 1600, úterý 17. srpna 2021 9:19:19

How do you think about color in your bird photos?

Essential for my photography is harmony in colours. I admit, that I prefer colourfully more attractive kinds of birds, so I shoot more often males than female birds, whose feathers aren´t so colourful.
So I find the most interesting kinds of birds in the tropical area of Latin America, where I often photograph groups of birds like already mentioned hummingbirds or parrots, toucans or tangaras,
that are absolutely full of colours. However, very important is the choice of the environment. I prefer kinds I can see in rich flowers, hummingbirds in America or sunbirds in Africa and Asia.

Rys ostrovid (Lynx lynx) Eurasian lynx, mezi Volary a Lipnem, Šumava, Česko
Ondřej Prosický |, fotopast KeepGuard KG795W, f/2.8, @1/15 s, ISO 800, pátek 10. prosince 2021 20:25:44

How do you start a project and what's your workflow like from there?

Inspiration is very important for me. When I find an interesting animal living in a nice biotope I start to think about an inventive way of photographing it. I study all about the given kind and place, to know in which conditions and in which part of the year is the best time to photograph it. As soon as I notice my journey to my personal organizer there is no way back. I buy the air tickets, rent a car and reserve accommodation. When all this is finished I start to think about suitable photographic gear.

Svišť horský (Marmota marmota) Marmot, Großglockner, Hohe Tauren NP, Rakousko
Ondřej Prosický |, Sony ILCE-7RM3, FE 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS, 90.00 mm, f/7.1, @1/400 s, ISO 160, středa 28. července 2021 9:56:21

What will we always find in your camera bag, besides the obvious?

When photographing birds, I can´t get without some high quality binoculars (Zeiss Victory Pocket 10x25) and a small portable loudspeaker. Playing bird voices can lure some kinds of birds nearer. Indispensable to me is my Apple iPhone, where I loaded all encyclopaedias of birds with their voices. On my journeys I regularly write a diary there. I can´t set off anywhere without my power bank, which makes me possible to charge my phone and also batteries for my mirrorless cameras Sonny. And I also have a small compass in my bag – maybe just for good luck.

Kulíšek nejmenší (Glaucidium passerinum), Eurasian Pygmy Owl, CHKO Brdy, Česko
Ondřej Prosický |, Sony ILCE-7RM3, Sony FE 600 mm F4 GM OSS (SEL600F40GM) + 2X Teleconverter (SEL20TC), 1200.00 mm, f/13, @1/40 s, ISO 800, úterý 2. března 2021 17:55:19

Which is your favorite lens and why?

Currently I use Sony FE 600mm F4 GM OSS, in my opinion the best lens for photographing birds among all rival brands. Its biggest advantage is small weight, ideal focus for photographing birds, fast focusing and perfect optical qualities when using Sony FE 2x teleconverter (with final focus 1200 mm!)  Combination with the mirrorless camera Sony Alpha makes the best set for photographing birds. Also thanks to the fact, that the last body of Sony A1 has an automatic focus on the eyes of birds.

Medvěd hnědý (Ursus arctos) Brown Bear, Kainuu, Finsko
Ondřej Prosický |, Sony ILCE-7RM3, Sony FE 200–600mm F5.6–6.3 G OSS (SEL200600G), 312.00 mm, f/6.3, @1/320 s, ISO 250, úterý 21. září 2021 16:31:31

What's your advice to aspiring photographers?

Perhaps the best advice is not to deal with photographic gear, but to read about the animals and watch them in the wild as much as possible. This will significantly improve the chances for photographing wildlife. When I was beginning, I used to go to library and to buy books, but now everything can be found on the internet, especially if you have a good command of English.
After more than a thousand of photographers had taken part in my workshops or travelled with me to the wild, I dare to say, that it can be very helpful to be accompanied by a person experienced in animal photography. It can save many years of attempts and mistakes, which was my case, when I was starting with photography as a self-learner.
Many photographers excuse not to have time and appropriate gear, but in my opinion the most important is simply to want. Just to get up at midnight, to pack one´s gear, get on the car, to clamber up the locality and believe, that now the encounter with his or her dream kind will turn out well. If you are angry coming back from the wild, because you didn´t capture anything again, you will never be a good photographer. When I don´t manage, I am pleased to have a reason why to return again.  

Slon africký (Loxodonta africana) African bush elephant, Victoria Nile, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
Ondřej Prosický |, Sony ILCE-1, Sony FE 600mm F4 GM OSS (SEL600F40GM), 600.00 mm, f/5.0, @1/320 s, ISO 400, neděle 8. srpna 2021 8:40:19

Can you choose your favorite bird photo from your Shutterstock library and explain why you like it?

It is difficult for me to choose one shot, I have about 10 000 shots of birds on Shutterstock . However, I am always mostly delighted with every well done shot of a flying resplendent quetzal. I tis a beautifully coloured rare bird with an impressive long tail, that lives in a nice biotope of a mountain forest. I travel to Costa Rica every year since 2003 and I always can´t wait to try new shots on the proved localities.   

Sýček obecný (Athene noctua) Little Owl, u Roudnice nad Labem, Česko
Ondřej Prosický |, Sony ILCE-7RM3, Sony FE 600 mm F4 GM OSS (SEL600F40GM) + 2X Teleconverter (SEL20TC), 1200.00 mm, f/10, @1/60 s, ISO 200, středa 28. dubna 2021 18:51:07
Ondřej Prosický
Ondřej Prosický

focuses on wildlife photography. He wants to capture the behavior of animals in their natural surroundings. Photo workshops and expeditions focusing on nature have been organizing since 2006, publishing in the media and having more than four dozen author exhibitions.

Among his greatest achievements is participation in the finals of the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year photography competition. He has been a member of the Association of Professional Photographers of the Czech Republic since 2009. In May 2011, the European Federation of Professional Photographers awarded Ondřej Prosické the QEP (Qualified European Photographer) title in the Wildlife Photography category, and in the same year he received the FEP Landscape Golden Camera award in Brussels. The most recent awards are the nominations and main prizes of the Czech Press Photo, Czech Nature Photo and the Festival de l'Oiseau et de la Nature in France.

13. 01. 2022 , categories: actions, media


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