Bob Croslin Campaigns for Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary

July 3, 2012

By Jacqui Palumbo

© Bob Croslin

Florida-based photographer Bob Croslin spent twelve years in newspaper photography and internet media before starting his freelance career in 2006. Now his commercial and editorial work can be seen in publications like Time, ESPN The Magazine, Men’s Fitness and Forbes, and his expanding list of commercial clients includes Burger King and The Discovery Channel. Since the first time he picked up a camera in the late 80’s to document skaterboarders in the Tampa Bay area, one thing has not changed: his desire to do hard work.

Croslin is the definition of driven. When he is not shooting, he is cycling more than 200 miles a week around Florida. He brings the same type of energy and commitment to his work, and he knows that photography is more than just a good eye and raw talent. “It’s about the ability to wake up every day and do whatever you have to do to make the next image,” he says.

When it took three months to secure the trust of a client for a passion project, Croslin was not deterred. He saw the opportunity to raise awareness for local bird rescue Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary and he gunned for it. Having dropped off injured birds there himself over the course of twenty years, he saw the value of their mission and wanted to contribute more than just a single monetary donation.  The marketing director was often contacted by bird enthusiasts for personal photography purposes but it was not something they generally allowed. Croslin had something bigger in mind, a public awareness campaign and gallery show to benefit the sanctuary.

After three months of persistence, Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary opened their doors for Croslin. He worked with their on-site bird handlers over the course of several shoots and brought a friend and fellow cycler Andrew Bridgman to assist him. Though not a photographer, Bridgman was the choice because he wasn’t scared of getting pecked, scratched or dirty.

Croslin wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. “I wanted to photograph the birds in a way I’d never seen before by bringing my skills as a portrait photographer to the subject,” he explains. By using a similar lighting set up as the one he typically uses for athletes and entertainers, he aimed to bring out the personalities of the birds while documenting their injuries in an honest way. “I had no idea what the birds would look like lit with a bunch of Profotos, let alone if they’d even stand still long enough for me to capture them,” he laughs.

He and Bridgman quickly learned that the birds were more resourceful than anticipated. The birds were acclimated to humans but not to studio lights and gear and had no desire to pose for the camera. With the help of the bird handlers, they created a pen with mesh panels around the black seamless backdrop so the birds couldn’t run away. Croslin says, “They would inevitably always find a hole to escape through.” He learned to adjust his shoots to include a fair amount of time to habitualize the birds to the equipment and reduce as much anxiety for them as possible.

When Croslin came face-to-face with the sanctuary’s Reddish Heron though, a much more elaborate pen system was required. An “ornery little guy,” the Reddish Herron was fond of pecking, making a mess, and hatching escape plans. After several escapes, a huge enclosure of mesh panels was set up, with sheets hung on c-stands around the mesh and several people guarding the area to keep him in. “It was almost like a game to him,” Croslin recalls. “He’d sit for a minute and then rush towards us and squawk.” After putting a decent sized hole in Croslin’s leg, he finally got the shots he wanted that captured the personality of the bird, who he affectionately calls “a little devil.”

Croslin shot the entire project with a Canon 5D MK II with 24-70 and 70-200 f4 IS lenses, with EF 12 and EF 25 extension tubes. He set up at Profoto 600b as his main light with a beauty dish and 10-degree grid, and used a Profoto 7b and two heads with grids for edge. 

Overall, Croslin simply wants people to know about the work the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary does, and to shed some light on an issue that he cares about. “I want to raise awareness of the problems these birds face due to human encroachment on their environment,” he says. He is currently working with a creative director on the public awareness campaign and aiming for a September opening for the gallery show. In addition, he is planning on producing a short documentary video on the volunteers and rescue operation and looking into Kickstarter to continue funding the project. His series was recently recognized by the LOOK3 festival and was projected during the SHOTS exhibition last month.

For more of Bob Croslin’s work, visit his Web site.