The migration of the Sandhill cranes through central Nebraska takes place every spring — and one Hastings man never misses it. In fact, he captures it.
There is a stretch of the Platte River that Jorn Olsen knows well. It is where he goes to work, sharing his office with several hundred–thousand Sandhill cranes.
About three or four–hundred yards about the middle of the channel to the north bank.
Walking through the thick brush is a path Jorn has traveled many times. He has been an avid fisherman and hunter since he was a child.
"I always loved the outdoors and I can remember all my life I would rather be out doing something than in doing something," said Olsen.
Tuesday, Jorn does his shooting with a camera. His aim is directed toward landscapes and wildlife.
"The nice thing about about photography is there is no season. It is open season on photos," Olsen said.
The cranes migrate through central Nebraska every spring on their way to northern breeding grounds as far away as Siberia. They are not here long, but when they are, so is Jorn.
"I would say I am there about five in the morning and if I am lucky enough to have them pretty close and stick around, I will stay until 10:30 or so in the morning shooting, so I am out there for about five or six hours," said Olsen.
Then he does all over again at sunset, after he gets off work.
"So yeah, I try to do as much as I can because it is a limited opportunity for them to come through," said Olsen.
The Platte River serves as Jorn's studio. Right now we are within a couple of football fields of tens of thousands of cranes. They are coming in to settle for the night, and Jorn is getting settled in with his camera.
Taking photos of the sandhill cranes is not an easy task. The birds usually stay in groups with some of them serving as look–outs. And they do not let anything or anyone get close.
"It just takes one to give the alarm call in your vicinity and then they are up and gone in the dark and they are a half–mile down river and your chance of getting any really nice close–ups for that morning are gone," said Olsen.
Everything has to be just right to get that just–right shot — the lighting, the sky, the background — and your focus.
"Of course it is not good enough just to get a great portrait of the bird with all the feathers and beak sharp and eyes sharp, it has to be doing something that is pleasing, some sort of posture or attitude that strikes a note of interest and you can identify with," said Olsen.
While Jorn sometimes crawls through the weeds and wades through the shallow waters to get himself in position for the perfect shot of the birds, he is also working hard not to disturb them — for his sake and for theirs.
"It is not fair to disturb them in their roost. They are here to rest and get feed for a long and arduous breeding season up in Siberia or the Yukon or wherever they are going so it is not fair to take advantage of them just to get a shot," Olsen said.
But when Jorn does get his shot, he takes it.
Some days he will take as many as 5,000 photos. He only has a few weeks to take a year's worth of pictures before the cranes move on.
"Then I will have images of cranes and they will be new until next spring," said Olsen.
At which time Jorn will be back on the banks of the river, ready to frame the sandhill cranes with the click of his camera.
Next week we'll spend another "Day in the Heartland" with Jorn Olsen, focusing on the process of turning his photos into art.
Plus we'll find out the one wildlife photo he hasn't ever taken — but hopes to one day soon.
In the meantime, you can check out Jorn's photos on his website at http://jornolsen.com/
Original airdate: March 30, 2010