Olympus Ambassador Tesni Ward shares her recommended kit and techniques for wildlife photography, and how she prepares…
Hi, my name’s Tesni and I’m a full-time wildlife photographer! Two years ago, I found myself in a difficult position without a job, so I decided to take a risk and try to become a full-time wildlife photographer; I can honestly say I’ve never looked back! At the time, I had dabbled in photography for a couple of years as a hobby and very much enjoyed it, but it was difficult to dedicate much time towards it with a heavy work schedule and other commitments.
Whilst I may have dreamt of becoming a full-time photographer, it was just that: an unreachable dream that very few people ever successfully achieved. The position I was put in was the catalyst I needed to give it my best shot, pardon the pun. As I’ve never had any formal training or attended any courses on photography, my knowledge and style have evolved through making mistakes and learning from them. Photography has also enhanced my appreciation of wildlife – it’s hard to not get immersed in their world.
With wildlife photography, I believe the welfare of the animal must always come first – if capturing a great image will be to the detriment of the animal, find another way to get it. With this in mind, the first stages of any project are more often than not the most important, and involve a lot of work and research behind the scenes. Where is there potential for finding a certain species? What do I need to know about the animal, its behaviour and habits beforehand? What is the forecast for the day(s) I plan on being there? Are there any risks or precautions I need to take? Does the animal have legal protection that I need to be aware of? Understanding all these points will increase the chances of me finding and successfully photographing the animal in question. Sometimes the answers are easy to come by, but sometimes they take longer to crack.
Finding these answers often involves a mix of reading books, scouring the Internet for information and also speaking to people with more knowledge or expertise in the field. Having an in-depth understanding of the animal will not only help you to anticipate and prepare for certain behaviours that could translate into great images, but is also vitally important for minimising any disturbance and stress you may cause. There are some sites where the animals are very much used to people being there, often at viewing platforms or hides where they have become habituated to the sound of a camera shutter, movement and people being there, but outside these set-ups the risk of causing undue stress is much higher and greater care is needed. Understanding the body language and behaviour of the animal will give you a greater chance of identifying when the animal is uncomfortable or stressed, allowing you to adjust your approach. If unsuccessful, the animal will often leave the area and unfortunately you will walk away with nothing, having unnecessarily disturbed the animal!If you’re just starting out in wildlife photography, there is no greater place to practise than in your garden or local park. No matter what the subject, be it mallards, pigeons, garden birds or squirrels, it will help you to get to grips with some of the technical aspects and the equipment capabilities, as well as working in a no-pressure environment.
You’ll find me using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with the M.Zuiko 300mm F4 attached, for 95% of the time. However, there’s always the scope for different lenses depending on the style of image I’m eager to achieve, and I try and take a range with me wherever I go. If there’s the chance that I might get closer, making the animal fill more of the frame, or I want to include more of the habitat in my images, I’ll opt for the 40-150mm F2.8, 12-40mm F2.8 or 7-14mm F2.8.Personally, I couldn’t be without the 300mm F4 for wildlife, but if you’re on a budget or don’t want to start at this focal length, the 40-150mm is a great lens to start with, due to its flexible focal length and great aperture.
Whenever possible, I dress appropriately for the weather conditions forecast, but it’s not always easy to get it completely right so with this in mind I always try to ensure I have extra layers, gloves and thermals in case I’m caught off guard. If I’m heading into the mountains or to remote areas, I always ensure I have emergency bivvy bags, food, water and a GPS watch in case the worst should happen!One of the biggest challenges I have in winter is that I feel the cold keenly, and once the feeling in my fingers goes, it’s nearly impossible to use them to even hit the shutter. To try and combat this, I often also carry a small mat to sit on to minimise heat loss through the ground and have also recently started using hand warmers, which don’t help whilst actually taking pictures but can help to bring the heat back into your hands faster when you’re really struggling. Something that I’ve not yet invested in but have considered is heated clothing, which can really help when working in extremely cold climates, as wildlife photography often involves hours of waiting whilst staying relatively still. If you become too cold, it can become nearly impossible to focus on actually taking pictures, so ensuring that you don’t reach this point is a priority.
If it’s my first visit to a new site, I will often spend more time assessing the area and trying to identify where there’s potential rather than moving straight into taking pictures. What angle will be best for the light? Where will the animal likely appear? Where can I sit/lie to ensure the animal doesn’t notice me? If appropriate, the behaviour and temperament of the animal will dictate how, if and when I approach, but my approach is always cautious and slow, usually taking over an hour to move into the best position. Using the silent shutter on the OM-D E-M1 Mark II allows me to almost eliminate any noise coming from me, and wearing clothes that match my surroundings can help even further.I usually shoot with the aperture wide open as the depth-of-field is already quite substantial, and I begin with portraiture or general images before trying to capture action shots or artistic images. It’s important to ensure that you bank some ‘keepers’ before starting to experiment so that you do walk away with something, but it also means you have more time to observe the animals‘ behaviour to anticipate potential action images.
Article featured in Olympus Magazine Issue 56 – to see the latest copy of this free digital magazine click here.