Hey everyone! My name is Preston Ballard, I am a 16-year-old photographer based in Central Florida. My photography focuses on capturing the wild animals of my area in their natural habitats.

I have been doing wildlife photography for a little over a year now, starting in June of 2019, and it has been a super enjoyable adventure. For the majority of my time as a photographer, I have been heavily focused on birds, specifically owls. Owls still remain a key part of my photography, and are my favorite animal to photograph, but in recent times I have started to shift my photography to include more than just birds, and spending more time targeting the mammals in my area as well!

A big part of my life has involved wildlife, throughout my childhood I explored the woods and spent a lot of time in the woods with my dad and brother. I grew attached to the woods, and formed a love for it. Watching thousands of acres of beautiful land that I love be destroyed and developed has been heartbreaking for me, watching the animals on that land be ignored and displaced, and ultimately killed is very sad and hurts a lot. This love of nature throughout my life, and watching it be destroyed has led me to my project, which is capturing photographs of the native Floridian wildlife, showcasing their beauty and trying to promote conservation to protect these animals and their habitats.

For my photo project, I will be working with the OM-D E-M1 Mark III, with the M.Zuiko 100-400mm F5.0-6.3 IS and M.Zuiko 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO. I believe this gear will help me complete my goals due to its lightweight, yet weather-sealed build. My current gear is not weather-sealed, so I am unable to go out in more “extreme” conditions to capture animals in all conditions and environments.

The Olympus gear is also just a little more than half the weight of my current gear. With my current gear, it can get a little heavy when hiking multiple miles, and it is harder to hold steady when in low light conditions where every little movement counts. In addition to its lightweight build, this gear has really good Image Stabilization which will allow me to photograph even more, and get even sharper images in low light situations.

My mentor is Brooke Bartleson, who is an Olympus Explorer. Brooke has been an inspiration to my photography for many months now. Her style, and way with the camera is something similar to how I want my images to turn out for this project. Brooke also has a really positive mindset, and a great passion for nature which I feel will really help motivate me to push harder for images, and improve my photography.

I think Brooke will help me complete my project because she has a great knowledge of photography, and a great knowledge of animals. Her vast knowledge of photography will be very beneficial for critiquing images, whereas her knowledge on wildlife will help because she can provide me with some information on how wildlife might behave and how to predict where they might be.

I really like the shot from Brooke because I feel it tells an amazing story, showing how these amazing creatures push through the winters, even though it is a struggle they are still able to survive year after year.

I am really looking forward to this project, and am most excited to be able to share my journey, and hopefully spread my love for wildlife and conservation to many people. I am so excited to be a part of Olympus’s “Break Free Program” and am extremely excited to get my project going.