All wildlife filmmakers like to get as close to nature as possible, and Polish-born Tomasz Gladys is no different. It isn't just about coming away with fantastic imagery but experiencing the moment and the presence of the animals he is photographing. “One of the most incredible feelings I ever had,” recalls Tomasz “was watching a huge flock of geese, maybe forty or fifty thousand. I was there with them.”
Tomasz isn't just talking figuratively. He employs and has made equipment that helps get his Sony Alpha 7S III and Cinema FX3 cameras, and sometimes him, as close as possible to his subject.
“I have a floating hide I can put my Sony Alpha7S III and FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 lens on. I wear a diver’s suit and submerge in the water beneath. Only my head is above the water. The hide is camouflaged, and I am underneath with a floating platform to rest my camera and lens. I can clearly see what's going on using the Alpha 7S III's articulated LCD screen.”
That is how Tomasz managed to get the fantastic experience of being in the water as the migrating geese took to the sky.
“I moved very slowly on the lake. It was low tide with thousands of geese standing. Then suddenly, they all took off from the water, thousands of them flying less than a metre over the top of my head. I could feel the wind from their wings. That moment was amazing.”
Tomasz is the first to admit that moments like these are rare. “In the past, I would have a shot in mind that I wanted. I would wait and wait all day, and I wouldn't get the shot and would leave feeling disappointed. But now I appreciate everything that happens. I've learnt to appreciate just being there. Nature writes such a great scenario. You need to spend time observing, and eventually, you will get a great reward for your time and patience.”
Whilst there is always the desire to photograph mammals, Tomasz's passion is to film birds, particularly cranes and geese. “Cranes are connected to happiness, and in Poland, the cranes symbolise hope. They migrate here just before Spring, so they are a sign of the year ahead.”
Tomasz generally shoots with two Sony cameras, the FX3, which is part of the Cinema line-up of cameras, and the Sony Alpha 7S III. The two cameras pair perfectly together to give Tomasz the tools he needs to capture wildlife in moments that may otherwise go unseen. “These cameras are game-changing for wildlife filmmaking because of the possibilities that the high ISO sensitivity offers.”
Being able to push the sensor of the cameras to shoot at those higher sensitivities gives wildlife filmmakers and photographers more time to shoot high-quality footage.
I remember being in the water in the middle of the night. I watched all of the geese sleeping on the water's surface. It was a beautiful scene. But I couldn't film it; it was simply too dark. But now, with the Alpha 7S III, I can shoot such scenes at ISO 12,000 and even higher, and productions by National Geographic and the BBC are happy to use it in their films.
Like any photographer or filmmaker who has to spend extended periods exploring outdoors, size and weight are crucial when choosing a camera and lens, with every gram making a difference. It is one of the reasons why Tomasz prefers to use zoom lenses rather than fixed lenses; zoom lenses offer the flexibility to adapt to the subject and the environment without having to change lenses - something that is impossible when you are partially submerged in water.
“I know the 200-600mm lens only has an aperture of f/5.6-6.3, but I don't care because, with the Alpha 7S III and FX3, I can increase the ISO to compensate without degrading the image. So the combination of the Alpha 7S III and FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 lens works perfectly. I have everything I need in a small package.”
Another of Tomasz's favourite lenses is the FE 28-135mm f/4 PZ lens. This Power Zoom lens has built-in motors allowing Tomasz to control the zoom remotely.
“I use a system that allows me to control my Alpha 7S III from 1km away. I have developed a floating hide that is remotely controlled. It is like a camouflaged remote-control boat with a 3-axis stabiliser gimbal to support the Alpha 7S III. I have full control over the boat, the movement of the gimbal, the camera and the lens. I have a similar setup with a huge remote-control car, but it is quiet and very slow. I had to learn how to use each device to get closer. For example, the creature will notice if you head directly towards it in a straight line. I have to slowly zig-zag and stop and start and take my time to get a great position before I hit record.”
“All these tools allow me to get my Sony Alpha 7S III closer to the animals,” he concludes. “It is excellent that Sony allows third-party manufacturers the utility to create these kinds of products. It gives me so many opportunities.”