Olympus Ambassador Tesni Ward shares the good and bad of photographing wildlife, as well as how she got on with the new OM-D E-M1X.

It’s been a while since we last spoke to you, what have you been up to over the last year?

Oh you know… this and that. I’ve been on a couple of trips abroad, but the majority of my time over summer has been spent on my main project with Eurasian badgers. I had a reasonably successful trip to Norway looking for black grouse and, despite exhaustive efforts by my guides and drivers, an unlucky trip to India with badly behaved tigers! Such is the nature of wildlife photography; nothing is ever guaranteed.

What was it that first sparked your interest in wildlife photography?

I’d loved being outdoors since I was young, so when I began doing photography as an occasional hobby, it was a natural transition into landscape and wildlife. As time progressed, whenever I was given the choice between the two genres, wildlife always came out on top. I love the challenge of working with a subject where you have little to no control; seeing their lives unfold before you.

Image by Tesni Ward

Do you have a favourite animal that you love to photograph?

Anyone who knows me can answer this with ease and my summer project is certainly a hint – Eurasian badgers! For nearly eight months each year, I spend most of my evenings with one family that I’ve become extremely attached to. It has 12 members currently and I know each one individually, watching them grow from tiny bundles of fur into impressive adults. It gets more difficult to capture new or unique images, but the experience itself is more than worthwhile.

What has been your most memorable wildlife outing and have you ever had any really bad experiences?

There are simply too many occasions to choose from! Every time I see a new species or a new behaviour, I lose it a little bit. The first times I saw a badger, chimpanzee and grizzly bear would all rate very highly on the list. Unfortunately, I’ve had many bad experiences seeing or hearing things I don’t want to, but seeing an animal I’d worked with extensively killed by a dog was difficult to stomach. While I didn’t see the actual act, I saw the aftermath. The area had clear ‘dogs on leads’ restrictions, but unfortunately people don’t abide by this. It’s led to numerous animals being killed due to a dog’s curiosity.

Are there any specific animals that you find particularly challenging to capture? 

Foxes have been one of my biggest challenges to date. In the Peak District where I’m based, persecution of these animals means that they can be incredibly difficult to locate, let alone photograph. I will keep working to find sites, but I hope to head towards London at some point to work with them, as there’s a higher density of foxes the further south you go.

Image by Tesni Ward

Is there a photo that’s come out of endurance that you’re particularly proud of?

An image that has by far taken the most time to capture is an image of Lyssa, a badger I’ve seen grow from being a couple of months old into a stunning young adult. Badgers pride themselves on keeping clean and presentable, spending up to 30 minutes each night grooming to remove parasites and ticks. Despite it being a regular behaviour, it’s been incredibly difficult to photograph as they almost always do it out of sight, in poor light or in awkward positions. It took over 2000 hours working with them to have just five minutes of this behaviour, so it definitely felt hard earned.

If you could travel anywhere to photograph any animal, what would it be and why?

This is a really difficult question to answer as there’s several animals I’m really eager to work with. If I was forced to make a choice, I would say polar bears as I worry we may not have much longer to see and photograph these animals if global temperatures and conditions continue to change.

Image by Tesni Ward

You’ve been out with the new OM-D E-M1X, how have you found it and what particular features are of use to you as a wildlife photographer?

I absolutely love it! I’d naturally heard some of the rumours flying around social media that it would be uncomfortably large, heavy or cumbersome, but it feels right to me. The size isn’t noticeably larger from using the OM-D E-M1 Mark II with a battery grip, and I absolutely love some of the new features. Is it a bit sad to say one of my favourite new inclusions is the joystick?

Olympus is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, how does it feel to be part of the family?

I’m extremely grateful and honoured to be working with Olympus, especially during this incredible milestone. Every single member of the team is so welcoming, friendly and genuinely eager to help at any given opportunity. Using the equipment has given me new possibilities and I look forward to the future as the company continues to innovate and develop new technologies and equipment.

Image by Tesni Ward

What lenses do you use and how do you decide which to use?

You will always find the M.ZUIKO 300mm f/4, 40-150mm f/2.8 and, depending on what I’m capturing, the 7-14mm f/2.8 and/or the 12-40mm f/2.8 in my kit. I also always have the 1.4x TC with me. Lens selection is dependent on what I’m out to capture and how close I anticipate I may get. Often with the badgers, I take the 40-150mm and one or two short lenses, whereas if I’m out for more elusive or smaller animals I will almost always start with the 300mm.

When photographing wildlife what steps do you take to ensure you don’t intrude on their habitat and how can other people follow the same steps?

Wildlife might not be able to verbally tell us how they feel, but they do communicate in their own way. Body language is an extremely important tool when it comes to assessing an animal’s comfort levels. Each species has its own subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) ways of telling you and being able to understand this helps you to judge what to do next. If an animal tenses up, looks visibly upset or even runs away, you’re likely too close or doing something wrong. Learn as much as you can about your subject before you start working with them. It’s also important to recognise that no one is perfect, and we will all disturb wildlife now and again, but it’s important to try and minimise this.

Image by Tesni Ward

You regularly do wildlife workshops, what questions do you get asked and what can people expect from the workshops?

As my workshops are tailored to every individual person, questions can vary from basic settings and understanding your camera to fieldcraft and ecology. I have a relaxed, no pressure approach and work hard to ensure you leave with new images, new knowledge and renewed enthusiasm for photography and wildlife.

What steps can our readers take to get involved in wildlife photography?

Start with the more accessible wildlife that doesn’t necessarily require fieldcraft or a deep understanding of the subject and their environment. When you’re trying to get to grips with your camera, settings and composition, you don’t want additional variables added to the mix. Google can be your best friend, as well as going on workshops or visiting hides, depending on your preference.

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring wildlife photographers?

The welfare of the subject must always come first; don’t intentionally disturb or harm an animal or damage its home and habitat in the pursuit of an image.

What have you got planned for 2019?

I (hopefully) have a couple of trips to Africa, Greece, Canada and lots of projects at home, too. Only Greece is confirmed currently!

Image by Tesni Ward

Article featured in Olympus Magazine Issue 61 – to see the latest copy of this free digital magazine click here.