Making Mindful Nature Photos - Interview with Kim Free


Kim Free

Kim, tell us why you love photography...

Ansel Adams said "you don't take a photograph, you make it." this really sums up how I feel and why I love photography.


When I'm looking at a subject or a scene, I can see in my mind how I want the photo to appear and then I set about doing my best to achieve that. The pursuit of that great shot really makes it fun. I love too that         photography gets me out amongst nature and it really lets me see the world in a whole different way, I love the surprising details you see when looking at a photo that you otherwise would have never known were there.


I find this all to be an extremely mindful experience, nowadays with stress levels running high for many people including myself, we are seeking out enjoyment and activities that give us a chance to relax and unwind, and for me this is definitely photography. It's truly a time when I am completely in the moment and thinking of nothing else other than what I'm shooting, I'm fully present, in that one moment, for me its meditative. 


You're a keen wildlife conservationist, how does photography help you combine your 2 passions?


Sharing my images gives me a platform to raise awareness of conservation. Photos can be powerful motivators that help make people care.


Its also a great way for me to be able to contribute to conservation causes. For the last two years I have taken photos of endangered animals and produced calendars which were sold with all the proceeds going towards the construction of a new native bird breeding centre at Orana Wildlife Park.  This centre will focus on breeding native birds like Kiwi, Whio and Pateke for release into the wild. Because of photography I have been able to contribute several thousand dollars towards this new centre which I'm really excited about.  


Motukiekie Beach by Kim Free

How and when did your photography journey begin?

My journey began in 2010 when I got my first iPhone, I became obsessed with using it more as a camera than a phone, it was definitely the start of a new hobby.  I was keen to learn more and decided to enroll in an online photography course, (which I never completed)  it was a requirement of the course to have a DSLR, so I purchased my first camera a Canon 650d with a kit lens. 


I had been doing a lot of horse photography and I was offered the chance to be the official photographer at a couple of local horse events. This was exciting and completely nerve wracking for me.   It was then that my husband surprised me with the amazing 70-200 f2.8 lens.  I did the events and it all went well, people were happy with their photos, but it made me realise this just wasn't the kind of photography for me. I am incredibly grateful  though that I was given the opportunity as it really made me step out of my comfort zone and got me started.


I became really passionate about shooting landscapes and wildlife and I progressed through cameras moving up to the 70D, then my first full frame a 6D, then a 5D mk3 and now the awesome 5D mk4 which I love!  I have various lenses in my camera bag but I am usually switching between my 16-35 and my 100-400. I find these two lenses suit my style and always seem to deliver what I need.


It has been a really exciting time for me, I never imagined when I started out that anything would come of photography, but now I've had images displayed in galleries across the world, I recently won the Ocean Conservancy seascape photography competition, and my biggest achievement to date has been New Zealand Post licensing one of my images for their Rock legends stamp series released in August this year. 



How did you discover NZPhotographer Magazine and how did that lead you to Excio?

It was through Instagram, I hadn't heard of NZP or Excio before but you started following me from the NZP account and I ended up checking out your feed. I really loved the photos shown and decided to follow you which led me to Excio. I've only just started contributing to Excio but love how the app makes it really easy to add and share images.


Tell us the story behind your White Heron photo 


White Heron by Kim Free

I love white herons, and with them being rare and very impressive, I have always wanted to photograph one.  My husband and I are regularly on the West Coast, and have made a lot of  trips down to Whataroa in the hope of basically striking it lucky and seeing one along the way. We saw one once but it was way out in a farmers paddock up a tree, so it was not the photo I was hoping for. I still do have a few photos of a white speck in a distant tree though!  


But this particular day for this photo, was not a day of driving around searching for birds... we had just finished breakfast in a Greymouth Cafe and came out to our vehicle and the white heron just happened to be perched on a fence at the side of the road. I have learnt to always carry my camera no matter where I am going, and this was one of those times it would have been somewhat disappointing if I did not have it! 


This bird did not plan on making it easy for me though! It was flying back and forth constantly and landing in places that were always just out of focus, like out in the airfield at Greymouth Airport.  As incredible unbelievable luck would have it, the heron decided to land on the roof of our vehicle. I could not have asked for a better opportunity to get the extreme close up. It was very calm and just stood while I was only a metre away from it.  The conditions were also on my side as it was a totally overcast white sky, so it really made the bird stand out with no distractions behind it.


As a side note, we have discovered that like keas, herons like to peck at items on your vehicle they think that they can remove!  All in all this was such an incredible experience I feel extremely blessed to have been able to be this close to such a beautiful bird.  

Tell us about winning the 2018 and 2019 Shoot The Frame award .

I was totally shocked that I won the Wildlife Category with my southern white rhino photo, it was on a photography forum that it was suggested as a great competition to enter so I gave it a go and won it.


One of the prizes was to be exhibited in the Indian Photography Festival in Hyderabad, India,  and because rhino conservation is a subject that is very dear to me I was really excited to have the opportunity to write about the issue concerning rhino poaching to accompany my image in the gallery .


To win again in 2019, this time with a landscape photo, has been kind of surreal really. After winning the wildlife section the year before, I had decided to try the landscape category this year.  We drive through the castle hill area regularly and it's always impressive but I was lucky enough to strike perfect conditions for the photo. I love New Zealand scenery and I feel so privileged and proud to live here so any opportunity to promote our amazing country is a real bonus.


Castle Hill by Kim Free

What tips can you share with our wannabe wildlife photographers?

I guess you have to be prepared to put in the time and effort, photographing the same subject multiple times trying to get that one particular shot.


I think a great zoom lens is definitely helpful, sometimes you won’t be able to get close to the wildlife and you also don’t want to disturb them so this makes a huge difference. I've always spent as much as I can afford on my gear and maybe a bit more than I could afford sometimes!


If the animal is likely to move I always make sure to have a high enough shutter speed to capture it sharply before I approach it. Be aware of the background and how it will look in the shot, I like to move around to get a less busy background, it's very hard to save what could have been a great shot if there is a lot going on behind your subject.


Enjoy seeing Kim's photos on your iPhone or Android device by following her on Excio. She has 2 collections which showcase her animal photos and her landscape photos, you can follow just one or both depending on your preferences. While you're there, why not follow other Excio photographers or upload your own images, creating an online gallery with a difference that is seen by art and photography fans around the world.

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