Making the Change
“Do more.” There’s no better advice for wildlife photographers than that, and it’s a methodology that’s writ large throughout Kaisa Lappalainen’s work, including her latest project, centred on Tasmania’s cool temperate rainforest and its inhabitants.
But do more what, and how? For Kaisa it’s about going further geographically, doing more creatively and having her photography achieve more politically.
© Kaisa Lappalainen | Sony Alpha 9 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/640s @ f/2.8, ISO 2000
An accomplished safari tour leader, with numerous tours of Africa under her belt, Kaisa has been shooting nature since she was 15, starting out on a beat up old DSLR, and more recently graduating to the Sony Alpha 9.
Yet it was something quite different that took her to Tasmania. “I was going out to Australia for a friend’s wedding,” she says, “and I thought, if I’m flying 20 hours, I should do something else on the same trip. I’d never been to Tasmania before but I was fascinated by the environment there, as there are only a couple of places in the world where you have these cold temperate rainforests. I wanted to experience it and see what it’s like first hand.”
© Kaisa Lappalainen | Sony Alpha 9 + FE 85mm f/1.4 GM | 1/2500s @ f/2.0, ISO 100
Kaisa felt an immediate connection with Tasmania because of a conservation issue. “Tasmania is facing a huge threat from logging,” she explains, “and we actually have the same problem in Finland – we both grow forests and we make toilet paper! The big difference is in Tasmania you have companies coming in and cutting down one-thousand-year-old trees, just so they can plant more eucalyptus. The forests are different, but the problems are the same. Species are always endangered by the loss of habitat.” To help spread the message about what’s going on in the area, Kaisa decided to make a project of the region.
© Kaisa Lappalainen | Sony Alpha 9 + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/1250s @ f/5.6, ISO 400
When it comes to sending that message visually, Kaisa has developed a more documentary, storytelling style. “It’s important to have context,” she tells us, “so that people can see the species, but also the landscape and their habitat.”
For this reason, Kaisa stresses the importance of not concentrating solely on close-ups, which is where she believes some photographers can go wrong when shooting animal portraits and action.
© Kaisa Lappalainen | Sony Alpha 9 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/320s @ f/2.8, ISO 320
“I think there are three stages that wildlife photographers should go through,” Kaisa explains. “Stage one is getting as close as possible to the animal and filling the frame, like a portrait. When you’re done with that, phase two is about capturing your subject in its environment, giving it context. In phase three you get more artistic with panning or slow shutter speeds, something that’s more art and less documentary. Together, the variety makes a better project.”
© Kaisa Lappalainen | Sony Alpha 9 + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/1250s @ f/2.8, ISO 400
For this approach, a variety of lenses is vital, and Kaisa tends to rely on three; the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS and the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS, so she’s covered from super wide to super telephoto.
“I like to have it all with me,” she explains, “and to speed things up I have two Alpha 9 bodies. Normally I have the 100-400mm on one body and the 70-200mm on the other, but many of the Tasmanian shots were taken with the new FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS, which is amazing.”
So what are the advantages of using multiple bodies? “Well,” Kaisa says, “I can react much faster than if I was swapping lenses. Animals are fast and their behaviours are fleeting, so I often just don’t have enough time to swap glass.”
According to Kaisa, carrying multiple bodies and lenses is only possible because of her switch to smaller, lighter Alpha kit. “Even the 400mm,” she explains, “which you’d normally expect to be a heavy lens, I can now use it without any supports.”
© Kaisa Lappalainen | Sony Alpha 9 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/800s @ f/2.8, ISO 1600
“Switching to the Alpha 9,” Kaisa continues, “has been a huge step up in performance from my old DSLR. I couldn’t imagine going back now, mostly because of the autofocus performance, which is vital for my wildlife work. I know I can guarantee it’s going to lock on a flying or running animal, and keep it in focus.”
She continues: “I vary between the Continuous AF with wide zone area for action and unpredictable subjects, but I change it up to the Single AF with the pin-point area for portraits, and the amazing thing there is that you can zoom in live to check it’s sharp exactly where you want it. Whenever I take groups of DSLR users out nowadays, I’m succeeding every time, while they’re missing shots.”
And what does Kaisa hope the impact of her project will be?
“Ultimately, it’s all about people realising that their actions will have consequences down the line. We need to realise, whether it’s on our doorstep, or the other side of the world, that the struggle is the same. We have these beautiful environments, but they’ll disappear if we don’t change our behaviour.”