By Andy Wasley
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Lockdown has been tough: I’m a freelance journalist and photographer, and at a stroke, the restrictions killed several travel magazine commissions for a long hike in Scotland. Already a long-time E-M1 Mark II user, I took my enforced downtime as an opportunity to upgrade to the E-M1 Mark III. But I was left with a challenge: what to shoot?
The answer lay just a short walk away from home: Beddington Farmlands, a 400-acre wetland in south London. With my new camera and a new pair of Olympus binoculars, I made it my project to learn about some of the incredible wildlife just on my doorstep.
Allow me to take you on a pre-dawn tour of the Farmlands, as I head there at 04.30 am to make the most of the early morning light. I am carrying my E-M1 Mark III and M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO – an excellent lens for catching wildlife just as the morning mist clears. I make my way through a dappled landscape of long shadows, tangled brambles, and cobwebs lit like spun gold by the late-spring sunrise.
I spot a fox resting in a patch of wildflowers, gazing at me warily. I have my camera in-hand, ready to catch this brief encounter. Olympus kit is light and robust enough to be hand-carried for hours in all weathers, so I can be quick when I lift the camera to my eye to catch these fleeting moments. I make a series of pictures of the fox’s morning break while barely missing a step.
Once I reach the Farmlands the sky is a cacophony of birdsong: greenfinches’ trills, Cetti’s warblers’ excited chattering, long-tailed tits’ minute peeps and a song thrush’s strident verses mingle in the cold air. Reed warblers chunter endlessly next to a wide flat lake, steel-blue beneath a spotless sky.
I switch my camera into movie mode, capturing the birds’ dance and chatter in crisp 4K. I use my kit for freelance video journalism and commercial work, and these morning walks help make sure I’m fully acquainted with the camera’s powerful film capabilities quickly. Fitted with a compact top mic and variable ND filter, the E-M1 Mark III suits me whether my job needs stills or video – and all with a quick twist of the mode dial.
The more time I spend with birds, the more I appreciate the need to work calmly, quietly and at an appropriate distance. Using my E-M1 Mark III’s silent shutter and the time-warping Pro Capture mode, I’m sure never to miss a takeoff or a treetop battle between kestrel and blackbird. And now that I have every button and dial set up to my own needs, I can use the AEL-AFL button with my thumb to switch between AF and MF modes once I have a sharp focus, so I don’t need to re-engage AF between shots of the same scene. As the sunlight grows stronger I fit my MC-20 teleconverter, giving me greater reach: this set-up is perfect for creeping close to a resting kestrel to make a striking portrait.
The E-M1 Mark III also proves handy for catching some of the Farmlands’ insect life: using the camera’s focus-stacking function, I make macros of a huge black-tailed skimmer dragonfly as it basks in the morning sunshine. All done: I’ll use Olympus Workspace at home to blend the pictures – a quick process, and an effective way to turn my attention to smaller creatures’ beauty.
Increasingly, my visits to Beddington Farmlands are more about enjoying nature than about making photographs. An increasingly committed birder, I spend as much time looking through my binoculars as through my viewfinder, and I’m using my walks to help record the area’s diverse birdlife using the eBird website. The E-M1 Mark III turns out to have been my key to a new passion.
Lockdown has been tough, sure. But I don’t doubt that when the magazine commissions come back, and I set off on a long lonely hike through the Scottish Highlands, the past few months will have made me a better and more attentive photographer.
Until then, the birds will still be calling in Beddington Farmlands – and I’ll still be there to see them.