Hello my name is Ben Cherry, I’m an environmental photojournalist and Fujifilm X-Photographer.
Currently I am midway through a groundbreaking conservation expedition called Flight of The Swans. The project is hoping to raise awareness of the Bewick’s swan, which has a declining European population, that all sounds pretty normal for a conservation project, but here’s the twist. Sacha Dench, a paramotorist and Wildfowl Wetlands Trust (WWT) employee, will fly the entire migratory route of the swans (over 7,000 kilometers), from their breeding grounds in arctic Russia back to the UK for overwintering. The purpose is to engage communities along the flyway and to work with partners across the 11 countries. To help build better action plans and awareness to conserve this charismatic species that first encouraged Sir Peter Scott to set up WWT in 1946.
I am part of a six strong media team covering the project; my primary role is stills and social media management. For this I am using the Fujifilm X-Series from the X-T2 to the X-Pro2 as well as lenses across the range, I’ll talk about these in more detail shortly.
But first an update – Currently we are racing through Western Europe, having spent over a month in Russia, and passed through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and Denmark. The project hasn’t been without its setbacks, from two-multiday border crossings between Estonia and Russia, to poor Sacha dislocating her knee just outside St Petersburg! It has been worth it though; to see remarkable sites, interact with fascinating people and to of course witness Bewick’s along the flyway.
Sharing the Experience
When I found out I had been selected to be part of the expedition team my first thought was how was I going to share this experience? Because the project is seeking to engage both local communities and a wider audience, in as real a time as possible, it is also my responsibility to share high quality images as quickly as possible. This is where wifi functionality is huge!! Sending images that I can lightly edit via the inbuilt raw converter means that I can tailor the images before I’ve even sent them to my phone. To be honest I don’t do anything to them after that as the jpeg engine for the X-Series is so good. Again helping to streamline my mobile sharing.
It is amazing that I can sit in a hide, take a photo of a swan coming in to land and then within five minutes have shared it across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Add the likes of the SP-1 printer into the mix and I’m able to leave behind little mementos with people we meet along the flyway. I think Instax is fantastic, a simple way to leave a lasting impression. Now that nearly everything is stored digitally, it is increasingly novel to receive a print.
An example photo essay I’ve pulled together is from a section of the Taiga forest crossing in northern Russia. Having just passed the tundra test, Sacha had a new challenge, where to land!? Having had ample places to land while out on the baron, remote tundra, it was now a serious issue as generally the only places not covered in forest were the handful of dirt roads. This is where the ground crew, consisting of the media team, medic, mechanic, back up microlight team and coordinator came to the rescue.
The team would briefly block off a small section of dirt road to let Sacha land, refuel and take off again. It was fascinating to see this process all come together as Sacha continued her push to get to Arkhangelsk to reach some key events.
Kit – shoulder bag
My primary cameras are the new X-T2 and X-Pro2. I use them for very different reasons. The X-Pro2 is generally attached to the XF35mm F1.4 with the XF16mm F1.4 and XF56mm F1.2 in the same shoulder bag. The other camera I have in that bag is my trusty X100t, what a camera! Was my grab camera until I recently reacquainted myself with the XF35mm F1.4. This is my go to bag when we stop somewhere and are meeting people, or general stuff is going on and I want to document it. Inside the same bag I’ll have my SP-1 as well as misc. items like maybe a flash and a portable beauty dish. Fantastic compact light modifer, particularly when I’m doing some environmental portraits.
Kit – full backpack
In my backpack I carry a X-T2 and X-T1, with those I have the XF100-400mm, XF50-140mm, XF16-55mm and XF10-24mm. Other things include teleconverters and an extension tube. I now only carry 77mm filters to try and save time and limit faffing, of course I’d love to use top of the range filter sets but this set up works great for this project.
That all sounds like a lot of kit, but each item offers a unique benefit and warrants being along. To many this will be a crazy amount of stuff but I will regularly have all four cameras out working, say one or two running timelapses while I have a long lens on another, with the X100T never far away.
(the timelapse above was taken with X-Pro2 and XF16mm F1.4, in Kimzha, northern Russia
Social Media content
My purpose is to use photography to help engage as wide an audience as possible with varied interests, from animal lovers, to travel addicts and extreme sports enthusiasts. We live in such a visual world, particularly on the internet, it is my job to try and create content that gets viewers attention just enough for them to be interested in investigating further. Whether that is some incredible 360 virtual reality and timelapse compilations, or top end edited 6K footage (unfortunately put out as highly compressed HD to upload from the field), to a variety of stills.
Combined with wider messages from WWT to promote wetlands conservation, I hope that our social media accounts will help to promote this dynamic project alongside the international news coverage it is receiving.
Flight of The Swans has been an incredible experience so far and it isn’t finished yet! It is a wonderful feeling to know that you are somehow contributing to the conservation of a species, even if that is just through a greater social media presence… I believe that photography, particularly when combined with other types of multimedia can prove exceptionally powerful in reaching and engaging international audiences across a variety of fronts. The future is looking very uncertain for the Bewick’s swan, as well as the wider conservation of wetland sites, I hope that this project will give enough momentum to the tireless work of conservationists all along the flyway, to guarantee safety for wetlands and species reliant on them. You too can help us by signing our petition to guarantee this in the UK.