Wild about wildlife
By Excio Photo Community profile image Excio Photo Community
5 min read

Wild about wildlife

Interview with our member Kim Free. Learn about her photography journey and some of her most memorable wildlife encounters.

Kim, what's your background in photography?

I started out in photography back in 2010.  I got my first iPhone and was more obsessed with using it as a camera than as a phone. I was completely hooked so I decided to enroll in a photography course online. One of the requirements was having a DSLR camera so I purchased my first Canon camera and it all began from there really. It has been an incredible journey for me, with achievements I am extremely proud of, such as licensing an image to NZ Post for a postage stamp, winning worldwide photography competitions, as well as having my photos displayed in various galleries around the world.  A highlight also was being contacted by Potton & Burton Publishers.

What inspires you to pick up your camera?

My inspiration is my complete love of all wildlife, it is all the inspiration I need. To be sharing a sunrise with baby fur seals who are play fighting or wanting to check out what you are doing, there is nothing like it. I think looking for really great photo opportunities also drives me, so I will research which animals are breeding at what time and where I can find specific species, its all part of the fun, you never know what you are going to come across or witness. I am lucky to have a husband who loves being out in nature as much as I do, this is what inspires us to get up early for the sunrise, or drive hundreds of kms at a time to head to a location where we may get a glimpse of the animal for even less than a minute.

What is the hardest part of wildlife photography for you?

The fact that it is completely unpredictable. It's not like a landscape, where you can take your time and really compose the photo exactly how you want it to look. With wildlife photography the moment can be fleeting, you can easily miss the shot by not being prepared and I have learned this the hard way. I have had times when I have thought I had the shot captured perfectly only to realise the shutter speed was too slow, or the background was really busy and detracted from the animal. Also, it is all on the wildlife’s terms, you can only watch and wait patiently, sometimes for very long periods at a time.

What are you considering when out in the field?

First, my process is always assessing which lens I need for what I'm going to be shooting. I am using very large lenses, the Canon RF400 2.8 and the Canon RF 600 F4, and often it is not practical for me to be carrying both of these, so I will always decide what animal or bird I am going to photograph, what I am hoping to capture, and which lens is going to get the job done. I like to move around to make sure I have the best background - sometimes just moving a tiny amount can make or break the photo. This is of course if there is time to do that. If it's something like gannets diving at high speed then you just take the shot as it can so easily be missed. I do always make sure to check where the light is and then adjust my position accordingly to avoid harsh shadows on the subject.

Do you have any fun / interesting stories from taking your wildlife photos?

I think trying to find the Fiordland crested penguin down at Munro Beach in Paringa is one of my all-time favourite stories.

We headed off at 3am to get to the track as the penguins head to sea at dawn. We had to hike in the darkness after discovering our headlamps were running flat. It's a 2.5 km walk out to the beach which is great in the daytime but we came across wild pigs which in total darkness is a little intimidating when you can hear them around you but can’t see them! We finally made it though, running to the viewing spot only to see the penguin, which at that time of the morning, looked like a blurry blob in the distance. It made its way to the sea quite quickly and was gone, the moment over. We waited but there were no more penguins going out. So my goal of getting the photo of this beautiful rare bird was over.

Fast forward a few years and we were to finally meet this elusive bird literally face to face when one turned up only a few meters from the door of our West Coast holiday home at Motukiekie Beach. We were just sitting on the beach when the Fiordland Crested made its way over to where we were, and moved within a metre of us, and just stood there staring for the longest time. I'm sure my husband's sprint up to the house to get my camera was record-breaking, but I could not have gotten a closer shot than I did that day. So you just never know what is going to turn up unexpectedly sometimes!! And you don’t have to avoid wild pigs to find it!

Can you choose a favourite photo?

It is hard for me to pick favourites, every animal or bird I photograph I am in awe of so it's hard to select one that is more deserving. I think it's probably easier to pick a favourite experience instead which would be sunrises in Kaikoura with the fur seals, especially the pups. The gorgeous golden light always makes them look like they are shimmering gold, especially when they have just returned from an early morning swim. Their expressions always make me smile when I look at them too. There was one particular seal pup that stole my heart with its very cheeky personality.

I was sitting down, at quite some distance, photographing a large number of seal pups where some were play fighting and others were relaxing. This particular little seal was more interested in what I was doing and cautiously made its way over to me, climbing up over rocks before popping up directly in front of me. I managed to get a photo before it decided to stick its entire head into my lens hood! It had been out swimming so its wet fur really made its wee ears stick out which I found extremely appealing combined with the look on its face.

What else should we know about you and your photography?

My goal is to hopefully make people care about the environment enough to become proactive in protecting the beautiful wildlife we are so privileged to share this earth with.

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