David Tipling has had a passion for birds ever since he first got interested in them at the age of nine, ‘so when I became involved with photography as a young teenager the two came naturally together.’ He says that he knew by the age of 15 that all he wanted to do when he grew up was to be a professional wildlife photographer. It was a matter of time, and today he’s one of the best. David says that to be a successful bird photographer you need the ‘three Ps’: patience, planning and perseverance. And while his laid back nature means that he can often spend hours on a shoot waiting for something to happen, he’s also got the necessary tenacity to hang in there until he nails the shot he wants.
For the hugely experienced bird photographer, his camera of choice is the mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Olympus E-M1 Mkll, which David claims has changed the way he takes photographs. One of the key features he rates highly is simply the size compared with his old DSLR systems. ‘It’s small and very light. So I’m walking farther and creating more opportunities. And I can be more reactive and dexterous when stalking birds.’ On the front of the E-M1 MkII, David uses a 300mm lens and 1.4x teleconverter, giving an effective 840mm in full-frame terms. This is the perfect focal length for impactful bird photography, and with my set-up being so light, I can be nimble and never feel that I am carrying too much gear.’
With birds easily disturbed by clicks, the camera’s silent shutter feature (the camera can shoot at 18fps) has come as a real eye-opener to David, who says, ‘this is a big advantage over noisier DSLRs. I’ve achieved shots utilising the silent shutter that would not have come my way with my old DSLR system.’ The same applies to the Olympus Pro Capture buffering mode that gives a ‘time warp’ option to store 14 frames before fully pressing the shutter. ‘This means that I can capture sudden bursts of action that would otherwise be missed, such as a bird taking off.’ In this respect, David says, ‘the E-M1 MkII is the Ferrari of the camera world.’
Couple Pro Capture with the camera’s image stabilisation and you have the complete bird photographer’s system. ‘The image stabilisation has to be witnessed to be believed,’ says David. ‘I have handheld the equivalent of 840mm at 1/8th of a second and ended up with sharp shots. With a short zoom I’ve handheld for up to a second with razor sharp results.’ Discussing the E-M1 MkII’s Micro Four Thirds system, David says that anyone thinking the smaller sensor would give lower image quality should think again ‘There is no discernible decrease in image quality, while there is the advantage of the smaller sensor giving a greater depth of field, which is useful when photographing flocks of birds.’ Being out in the field can be a physically demanding experience, but ‘the E-M1 MkII has the best weatherproofing I’ve ever encountered on any camera. Mine’s got caked in snow, splashed and blasted in a blizzard, and it never missed a beat.’ When it comes to the impact digital photography has had on taking bird images, David is convinced that the change from analogue is what has brought his genre to the fore. ‘We can now capture behavioural pictures that were simply beyond us two decades ago. Bird photography has transformed from a very niche hobby into a mainstream interest. A recent survey showed 56 per cent of people visiting a nature reserve here in Norfolk were doing so to photograph birds. I would argue it is almost more popular than bird watching.’
No matter how good a camera you have to rely on, great shots are hard to come by. So what does David think defines the best bird images. ‘A good picture is one that makes you look and mutter ‘wow’. It needs to hold the attention and embed itself inside the viewer’s head so that it stays in the memory.’
From Outdoor Photography September 2018