David Rennie, Nature Photographer of the Year

By Jonathan Ives 7 November 2013
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Find out how David Rennie became this year’s AG ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year.

IN 2013, DAVID RENNIE’S image of a passing moment between a magnificent osprey and spoonbill stood out from more than 1800 images from nature photographers across the region to win the Australian Geographic ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year gong.

For the late-blooming Western Australian photographer it was particularly satisfying that the winning image featured the subject that inspired him to pick up a camera in the first place.

David’s love affair with bird photography began in 2007 at the age of 47, when he became suddenly fascinated with a spoonbill while driving to work. The chance encounter en route to his job as a car salesman in Mandurah, 65km south of Perth, rekindled his passion for nature. 

“I wanted to be a naturalist from a young age. The spoonbill was a moment in my life where I reconnected,” says David. Pulling the car over, he found himself in his work suit following the spoonbill through the swamp until he was waist deep in water.

“I had probably seen thousands, but I’d never noticed a spoonbill before.” Afterwards, David drove himself straight to a store to purchase a camera and lens.

The winning ANZANG image

David’s winning 2013 image depicts a six-month-old osprey nearly colliding mid-air with one of David’s beloved spoonbills.

David Rennie in camouflage photographing birds. (Credit: David Rennie)
“That day [the young osprey] had five cracks at catching a fish in the water, but came up empty. This was her sixth attempt,” he says. “At the same time the spoonbill was coming in to land and its wings came out like parachutes to pull out. The osprey pulled to the left and the birds just touched wings.”


“I’d live to just go and watch birds,” says David. “Over time you see similarities between birds and human beings; they raise their kids, build their homes, fight for what’s theirs.” The key to David’s photography lies in this awareness, and a burning desire to capture the facial expressions of birds.

Another underlying part of David’s journey with photography has been an ongoing struggle with a bipolar disorder. Photography provided an artistic outlet and focus. “I didn’t want to be a record photographer. For five or six years no one saw my photos; they were just for me to help me get through the day.”

How to capture that split-second moment

Often unable to sit still, David finds waiting in hides to get close to birds hard. Instead he often uses a camouflaged sniper suit to help him hide in vegetation or crawl up close and relies on learning the behaviour of his subjects to time his shots.

“I tracked that osprey’s parents for three years,” says David. “I found them when they met and courted. The males would go and bring back fish and present them to the female. For the next three years I would go down almost every day and watch them, study them and take photos.”

Just like a card player, David worked out that each bird had a ‘tell’ that would let him know they were going to dive for a fish. The osprey in his image for example would look left and right several times, open and close its talons very quickly and then dive for its prey.

While David says that all photography has some luck involved, he says that luck is helped immeasurably by the work you put in over time.

“This image is shot at 1/2000th of a second. That moment will never be repeated. You can’t say ‘take two’ or ‘take three’ on a moment like this.”

See our story on the Australian Geographic ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year competition in issue 116 (Sept/Oct) of Australian Geographic.