FRITZ PÖLKING PRIZE 2017

Winner: Karsten Mosebach | Germany

Karsten Mosebach (1969): Since a friend took me along to a photo “hunt” 30 years ago, I find hardly anything more exciting than being out and about with my camera. Whenever there is a chance, I take my camera out to photograph nature with great enthusiasm. It especially delights me when I get the chance to watch and photograph particular species over an extended period of time.

In the course of one and a half years Karsten Mosebach photographed owls in the loft of a neighbouring farm for nine months overall. "Everything is a bit crooked, it is a farmyard that that seems to have "dropped out of time"", Karsten explains. While initially aiming at a few in-flight shots of the owls there, he soon fell in love with the place and started to include the barn itself in his images. Florian Nessler: "This portfolio does not only provide us with a captivating insight into the life and habitat of barn owls, it also strikingly shows what you can do once you have conquered your weaker self and mustered enough courage and energy to turn a small idea into a great project."

Project: The realm of the barn owl

Not far from where I live, there is a farm that seems to have "dropped out of time". Everything is a bit crooked, there is no modern equipment to be found. Sheep, goats and ducks are housed in the barn; hay and straw and corn is stored in the loft. While the nest box in an adjacent building is used as a breeding site, the barn owls hunt in the loft of the main building or just sleep away the day there.

In the course of one and half years I photographed the owls in and around the building for nine months overall. While in the beginning I was only after a few flight images, I quickly fell in love with this wonderful place. So I started to include the barn itself in the photographs, and in the end, I came away with a portrait of barn owls in their habitat.

An old broken window, through which the birds often entered and left the building, plays a central role in many of the photographs. To help me actually see the birds at all, I let them grow accustomed to a soft light that was switched on every night in the loft during the entire period. Initially, I photographed from out of a hide, but as the months passed, the owls got used to my presence to a degree that allowed me – sitting very quietly – to get along without it. I used one or several flash units for most of the photographs. On evenings when I could not be there, a light barrier was employed.

The photographs in this series originate from the years 2015 and 2016; this year, too, the owls have raised their young.

Auf dem Balken

On the beam
This timber beam was often used as a first post after entering the barn. Nikon D800, 2.8/14-24mm, ISO 500, 1 flash, triggered remotely synchronous with camera, tripod

Schleiereule-2

Approaching
A heavy duty 500-watt floodlight resting on a specially made scaffolding illuminates the wall. By using a rather long exposure of 1/6 second, the owl leaves a "light trace" behind. In addition, a fill-flash lights up the animal. Nikon D800, 2.8/70-200mm, ISO 640, 1 flash, triggered remotely synchronous with camera, tripod

Perfect symmetry
Detached from time and space, the gaze focuses on the beautiful bird. Nikon D800, 4.0/16-35mm, ISO 400, 2 flash units, light barrier, tripod

Schleiereule-5

Framed
The owl pauses in the window frame. Nikon D5300, 4.5-5.6/80-400mm, ISO 2500, tripod

Im Anflug

Contours
I triggered the camera with an electric remote control. There is a flash installed on top of the camera that creates indirect soft frontal light and triggers a second flash that outlines the owl at an angle from behind. The dust in the barn is visible as a soft veil in the left of the image. Nikon D800, 4.5-5.6/80-400mm, ISO 1600, 2 flash units triggered remotely, tripod

Sternenhimmel

Starry sky
I released the camera manually, standing at the foot of the gable. The flash is reduced to 1/32 of its full power and directed at the predicted flight path; thus the wall itself does not get any light. Nikon D800, 2.8/24-70mm, ISO 800, 1 flash, tripod

Geistereule

Ghost owl
The floodlight is positioned outside the window. Exposure is set to 1/6 second, a soft flash lightens up the owl. Nikon D800, 2.8/70-200mm, ISO 400, 2 flash units, tripod

Bauernhof

Farm yard
The owl flies across the dung heap to enter the barn. I captured the owl in a first shot and then photographed the starry sky another 23 times. Nikon D800, 2.8/14-24mm, ISO 800, 1 flash, 24 single images, tripod

Auf dem Balken

Darkness
Shortly before harvesting begins, the loft is empty except for a few bits and pieces of hay. Nikon D800, 3.3-4.5/24-50mm, ISO 400, 2 flash units, tripod