©Ray Hennessy

Undercover Birder

For years, wildlife photographer Ray Hennessy photographed birds while lying on the shoreline. But he says he was always nagged by the thought that if he could just be out there, in the water, he’d have the ultimate shot. So he set out to create a flotation device that would enable him to wade into the water and photograph his subjects without being detected.

Inspiration: He wanted the water-level lens view. “There were circumstances where I didn’t need to be that far out in the water, but the shoreline was so steep there was nowhere to lie down to get the water-level perspective,” he says.

Design challenges: He needed to build a flotation device that would support his camera as well as some of his weight if he were holding onto the float. It also needed to be easy to assemble and break down to be stored in the trunk of his small car and thin enough to float in very shallow water. Finally, the height of his camera needed to be adjustable in the blind while he was using the device.

“I wanted to be able to lift it up higher when moving around so I wouldn’t splash water on the camera or lens and then lower it to about two to three inches off the surface of the water when I’m shooting to get that very low perspective.” Ultimately he used boogie boards, table legs, and a tripod column for the construction.

©Ray Hennessy
Ray Hennessy

How it’s used: Most of the time, Hennessy is in water that’s one to three feet deep, so he can sit in the water and be at eye level with the camera. Being in four- to five-foot deep water is nice as well because he can stand and be at eye level with his camera. He doesn’t take the blind into deep water because it’s difficult to operate if his feet aren’t touching the bottom. 

Opportunities: Thanks to his invention, Hennessy was able to capture a photo of a yellow-crowned night heron catching a crab from shallow water—a difficult shot to get from the shore (opposite page, bottom left). “I was shooting with a friend who was on a tripod in the water and we both saw this heron start stalking along the opposite shoreline of the pond we were in,” he says. “I was able to slowly approach and put the sun behind me, and when I got rather close is when the heron launched its attack on this blue-claw crab and pulled it from the water. If I had been on a tripod or lying on the shoreline I would have never been able to approach this bird as it was hunting.” 

Amanda Arnold is associate editor of Professional Photographer.