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Sven Začek

photo: Triin Začek

I have several hides as high as 20 metres for my Ural Owl project, and I am able to climb them in seconds when the opportunity presents itself.

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Featured Photographer

Sven Začek


Sven has been a professional photographer for five years, concentrating mostly on nature, but also having to do some advertising stuff to get by in the tough world of working freelance. In addition to taking pictures and writing about it (Over 100 of Sven’s articles about nature and photography have been published in Estonia and Europe ). Sven is also an Editor-in-chief of Estonian national nature photography magazine LoFo (www.lofo.ee) and co-founder of the most visited Estonian nature and photography related website, www.looduspilt.ee.

Sven has finally reached a level, which enables him to take his passion and concentrate on the subjects he loves most. This year he spent more than 40 days with an Ural Owl family.

Website: www.zacekfoto.ee/


Why nature photography?
I always say this, when one of these questions pops up. As one of Estonia ’s well known nature photographer said, “Nature is always honest!” I feel the same way. There is so much dishonesty in today’s world that I feel I need to escape all that. All the showing off that stares at you on every step you take. Going to nature provides me with a refuge, where I can be completely alone, with my own thoughts.

What's best about it?
The best thing is getting to know something new, experiencing something you have not even read about. That can make you feel very special and you know that your hard work has been rewarded. With the current pace of my work I get that feeling two to three times a year. Be it due to a great photograph or just a great experience in nature. Although the experience is always a bit stronger when you can view it on your camera’s LCD.

What's worst about it?
Well the worst is coming out from a truly wild place (luckily we have plenty of such places in Estonia ) and finding a new issue of BBC Wildlife in your mailbox. Opening it excitedly and seeing all the images taken of captive wildlife and it can really get to you. The worst thing is that it’s not mentioned that the creatures on those pages are captive. Sadly many photographers, even some associated with this project are the authors.

"The directors of this project would like to stress that taking pictures of animals in captivity or under controlled conditions is not at all necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary - powerful, high-impact images of captive animals can also support conservation efforts and be used to reach people's hearts. Sometimes even better so than many images taken in the wild! And in some cases with considerably less risk of endangering the breeding success of wildlife species. But the audience should have the right to know how a picture was taken. The disclosure of the circumstances in which such pictures have been taken is part of the responsibility of the individual photographer, and of who ever publishes the images. None of the images taken during the WILD WONDERS OF EUROPE missions are to be of captive wildlife. We want the WILD WONDERS shown in our books and exhibitions to be WILD.

If however, any WILD WONDERS OF EUROPE photographer during her/his mission secures images under 'captive' conditions, this information will be made available to editors and to the public, using a C as in Captive, in the caption linked to the image.”

Favourite species and places in Europe?
My absolute favourite species is the Ural Owl and my absolute favourite place – Estonia . I have spent most of my time outside photographing Ural Owls in the past two years, wild Ural Owls, who have come to accept me as being their second shadow. And in Estonia you can never get enough of the nature. We just have such diversity and there is not a better place for your soul than a Boreal forest, many miles away from nearest household.

What's in the bag?
The bag has gotten pretty full over the years. My favourite piece of equipment is my 300mm F2,8 VR lens and tele-converters. It’s a fast lens that allows handholding when needed and is sharp as hell. I am a recent convert to Nikon equipment. The bag now contains a Nikon D3, but I am eagerly waiting for the D3x or whatever it’s going to be called, because I am a fan of big files. So is my stock agent.

Your specialities / skills?
I tend to be pretty good with action and flight shots. That is thanks to my Ural Owl family, who has offered me plenty of opportunities to practice. I also like climbing very high trees. I have built a hide on a 30 metre high spruce tree for photographing Grey Herons. I have several hides as high as 20 metres for my Ural Owl project, and I am able to climb them in seconds when the opportunity presents itself.

What will you do in your next life?
I hope I won’t have to come back and live the film days. My whole photographic career has been with digital. Although I have shot with film in recent history (panoramas for an example, or Photo traps) I would hate to having to do that exclusively. The waiting will just kill me.

3 tips for beginners
1) Even though you might think you are wandering around with your eyes open – you are not. The most important thing in nature is seeing. Seeing and hearing all the signs that might lead you to something extraordinary.

2) Know your equipment! Know what every button does and learn to press the buttons without looking. Murphy’s law says that the one button that slips your mind will be the deciding factor in your greatest photograph.

3) Know when to back off! Remember that nature is not there for you to take pictures of it. Every creature has its own needs and responsibilities. Your photography should not intervene with that.


My first mission is to go to Poland and photograph Hamsters. I have not shot so tiny creatures before if you discard birds, so it will be a tough challenge. Much of what I can do will depend on the surroundings. Luckily I will have Grzegorz Lesniewski giving me a helping hand and making me feel at home in Poland . I hope I will be alright because my great-great grandfather came from Poland , I am even bearing the same last name. Sadly I don’t know a single word in Polish and probably cannot expect to get by with only my last name.

Best Picture

Best Picture
Roe deer leaping

Well there are a few that I am secretly proud of. Okay, who am I kidding, I have been proud of them even publicly.

What's cool about it?
Well, it’s just a fleeting moment to witness a Roe deer leaping over the sun isn’t it? Out of three frames this had the perfect pose as well. Usually the images you imagine will somehow escape you, or turn out in a different way. This is definitely one that I couldn’t have imagined even in my wildest dreams.

Could it be better?
Well I think it really couldn’t !

Behind the Scene
I was actually finished for the day, because the deer family I was photographing were already well in the shade, and back in 2005 the high ISO performance of my 20D was not anything special. Plus the wind was also shifting and I decided to leave quietly without disturbing the animals. So I was trotting back to the car with my tripod and camera over my shoulder, when I saw this deer coming straight at me. I crouched but the shifted wind got to it and moments later it was standing on the hill and paused. That gave me just enough time so set up my tripod and dial in sufficient exposure compensation for the sky. And then it leaped. I was praying that something even remotely exciting as I saw through the viewfinder would be on the memory card. And there it was – the perfect moment.

Date: 1st November 2005
Location: Tartumaa , Estonia
Gear: Canon EOS 20D, Canon 300mm F4 IS + Sigma 1,4x EX converter. F5.6, 1/8000, ISO 400. Manfrotto tripod.

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