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Meet Our Resident Wildlife Photographer, Ricardo Simao

If you've ever fallen in love with a photo of a cute critter on our Instagram or Facebook pages, chances are it was taken by the Manager of Environmental Systems at Cranbourne Gardens, Ricardo Simao. We chatted to Ricardo about how he got into wildlife photography, some of the trickiest creatures to photograph, and tips and tricks we can all use to try wildlife photography ourselves. 

When did you start working at Cranbourne Gardens?

"I began working at Cranbourne Gardens in 2011, after moving from managing nature reserves in a nearby council for about nine years. I started out as Manager, Land Management & Infrastructure, and took on the role of Manager Environmental Systems in 2016."

Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor

Were you a wildlife photographer before starting at Cranbourne Gardens?

"Not at all. I took up photography about two years ago."

Southern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus)

How did you get into wildlife photography?

"I was interested in cataloguing and learning more about the species I was encountering both in my professional life and as an avid naturalist and bushwalker. Trying to commit wildlife, like insects, to memory to try and identify later is limiting. Having a photographic record allows you to match down to a species much more easily."

How has working at Cranbourne Gardens encouraged your passion for wildlife photography? 

"The diversity at the Gardens is amazing, and being surrounded by it means endless opportunities to capture animals and plants through the different seasons, and of course, more chances to encounter the more cryptic species."

Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera)

How do you take photos? 

"I have a couple of cameras I use. One is a compact digital that goes with me everywhere as it fits in my pocket. The other is a DSLR, and I have both a macro lens and a telelens that can be attached to the camera body, depending on what I think I'm likely to encounter – macro for insects and flowers and the telelens for birds and reptiles. The DSLR is pretty heavy, so not suitable for all occasions. The telelens allows you to take photos of animals that are shy and scare easily. Moving slowly and quietly is imperative to get photos of most animals. Sometimes sitting very quietly and motionless in a hideout gets the results – lots of patience!"

Spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus)

Which photo was the hardest to capture at Cranbourne Gardens and why?

"Probably a photo I took of a Boobook Owl. I knew one was in the area and I had been out on a couple of evenings just after sundown, got lucky on the third night when I heard one owl calling out to another."

Which photo is your favourite captured at Cranbourne Gardens and why? 

"Taking photos of rare or endangered species is always a highlight. We have been lucky to have had visits by a Powerful Owl pair and recently a single Glossy Black Cockatoo as well."

Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua)

What's the funniest story behind one of your photos at Cranbourne Gardens? 

"This one time there was an echidna near the works yard gate on the edge of the road. I started videoing, standing on the opposite side of the road to where the echidna was. Slowly the echidna turned towards me, crossed the road and walked right to my boots. Gave them a sniff, decided that it wasn't worth eating and walked around me to the other side of the road into the bush. I wasn't expecting that! Echidnas don't seem to have the best eyesight."

Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

What is your favourite animal to photograph at Cranbourne Gardens? 

"No favourites! But always enjoy encounters with reptiles and bandicoots because I find their behaviour very interesting. Getting a photo is just a bonus."

Jacky Dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus

What has been the most difficult animal to photograph at Cranbourne Gardens? 

"The birds of prey are most challenging, usually because they never let you get anywhere near when they are perched somewhere, and are very fast when in flight. I do have a soft spot for birds of prey and have a million photos of Black-shouldered Kites and Wedge-tailed Eagles – mostly blurs with the occasional lucky shot."

Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris)

What are your tips for people looking to get into wildlife photography? 

"Mobile phone cameras can take pretty good pictures these days, and take fine photos of still, close up subjects – start here! Get out in the backyard and find interesting flowers and beetles. To photograph birds and other creatures, invest in a compact digital camera with at least 40x optical zoom capability, as well as macro capability. They’re a quarter the price of a DSLR set up but allow you to start practising with manual mode. You can only go so far with auto mode regardless of your camera set up. Once you have mastered playing with the three parts of the exposure triangle (shutter speed, aperture and ISO) you can look around for a DSLR. Practice on common species like wattle birds or noisy miners to start with, before moving to other species. Soon you will find your niche!"

Blue-banded Bee (Amegilla cingulata)

To see more of Ricardo's amazing photographs, follow him on Instagram.

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