Prelena Soma Owen

A polar bear cub, standing on its hind legs, attempts to break a sheet of ice in Alaska. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X by Prelena Soma Owen.

Photographing polar bears in Alaska was challenging for wildlife photographer Prelena Soma Owen. "It was difficult from a technical point of view, because you're shooting white on white," she says. "But you've also got wind and snow, and you're sitting there thinking, 'I've spent so much time and money, am I even going to get the shot I want?' So this was really special." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 1/600 sec, f/6.3 and ISO 640. © Prelena Soma Owen

When the African bush is your playground, you can't help but fall in love with the beauty our planet has to offer.

"When I'm in the bush, in the silence, I can watch something for hours, in the same spot," says wildlife photographer and conservationist Prelena Soma Owen, who could be described as an animal whisperer. "I've never been afraid, and I have so much respect for all animals; I much prefer them over humans," she laughs.

Born in 1967 to Indian parents in Durban, South Africa, Prelena grew up during apartheid. As a child, she was not permitted to visit game parks. "My white friends can talk about going to game parks as children, that was their holiday, whereas ours was the yard," she says.

"Even today, though the interest in African tourism is high, it's not cheap," she continues. "Your average African cannot afford the rates at most game reserves. People say they want to take Africa to the world, but no one says, 'Let's take Africa to Africans'."

A portrait of Canon Ambassador Prelena Soma Owen.
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

Specialist areas: Wildlife, nature, conservation

Favourite kit: Canon EOS R5
Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM
Against a stark black background, two zebras gently press their heads together. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X by Prelena Soma Owen.

While Prelena's journey started with traditional wildlife portraits, her photographic style now falls into two categories: creative, fine art high-key or low-key photos, and photos as a tool for conservation. "A lot of my work is high-key in-camera," she says. "I go with an idea, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm, 1/800 sec, f/6.3 and ISO 1000. © Prelena Soma Owen

Against a stark white background, a Cape gannet with cream plumage and piercing blue eyes holds the tip of a feather in its beak. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X by Prelena Soma Owen.

Over the past three generations, the Cape gannet has seen a large population decline. That fall in numbers is expected to continue and the species is now listed as endangered. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 1/3200 sec, f/7.1 and ISO 400. © Prelena Soma Owen

Prelena's passion for nature and photography comes from her father who would take her on drives and then pull over so they could admire the views. She progressed from following ants and observing their behaviour in her garden to winning international competitions, but now invests her energy in teaching the next generation about conservation and caring for wildlife, splitting her time between volunteering at The Jane Goodall Institute South Africa, guiding on photographic safari tours, and mentoring young photographers.

"In my lifetime, I've seen a decline in the number of polar bears, elephants and rhinos, so I want to teach children about the beauty of these animals and how they fit into our ecosystem," she says. "I started with traditional wildlife photography, but I soon realised that you could search the internet for an image of a tiger and get a decent one. My passion now is to tell stories either about endangered species or the people trying to save them."

Against a stark white background, a pair of hands can be seen holding a tiny baby pangolin, in this award-winning image taken by Prelena Soma Owen on a Canon EOS R5.

Prelena's photo of an orphaned baby white-bellied pangolin won first prize in the Creative Digital category at the 2022 Benjamin Mkapa African Wildlife Photography Awards and an award in the Art4Apes Endangered Species photo competition. The pangolin is one of the most trafficked species in the world. "When I was photographing this pangolin, I couldn't help thinking about the plight of these beautiful creatures," recalls Prelena. "This orphaned baby was one of the lucky ones." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/4.5 and ISO 1250. © Prelena Soma Owen

Prelena's photos have won her many national and international competitions, including the Creative Digital category at the 2022 Benjamin Mkapa African Wildlife Photography Awards. She was a finalist in the 2023 Royal Photographic Society's Women Science Photographer of the Year awards, and received an honourable mention in the Environmental Editorial category at the 2023 International Photography Awards.

While this success is welcome, Prelena wants to focus on the educational side of photography. "I want to stimulate children's minds," she says. "Even if they can't afford a camera, I want to help them understand nature. I think people look but don't see, and that's what I want to change."

What does volunteering at The Jane Goodall Institute South Africa involve?

"I see lots of children who are mesmerised by animals but don't fully understand the severity of species decline. They learn that littering is bad, but they don't understand that a piece of plastic will probably end up in the stomach of a fish. When I was teaching at Roots & Shoots [a Jane Goodall education programme], I wanted to give the children a skill, so taught them photography using point and shoot cameras. Learning becomes more fun that way. Change starts with one child saying, 'I remember you and what you taught me'."

Do you look up to any photographers or is there anyone who inspires you?

"All of the International League of Conservation Photographers – Peter Chadwick, Brent Stirton, Chris Fallows, Sylvia Earle to name a few – that whole group inspires me. They're making a difference. My other inspirations include Sir David Attenborough and Dame Jane Goodall, especially Jane – meeting her was one of the highlights in my life."

There's a little elephant statue among your cameras and lenses (pictured below). Is it of any significance?

"I collect a lot of weird stuff, but I bought this at the airport where I met a nun in her eighties on the way back from Zimbabwe. We had a two- to three-hour wait and started talking. She was so inspiring and the elephant reminds me of her. I like collecting things that remind me of certain people or places."

Is there an animal you really want to photograph but haven't had the chance to yet?

"Snow monkeys in Japan, definitely. Snow leopards as well. I would also love to have the luxury to take a month off to photograph whales, and also go back to Antarctica for the glaciers. Last time I was there, I came back with hundreds of thousands of photos of penguins. The silence is amazing – you can actually see the silence. And – my goodness – the shades of blue are mesmerising. I would love to go back."

What's next on your photographic journey?

"I was contemplating getting into underwater photography but unfortunately I have nasal issues. Can you imagine capturing a sardine run underwater, though? It's a whole other universe down there. I would also love to do a series on what happens at recycling sites. Birds are attracted to these dumps, which is a hazard because they're picking up plastic all the time. So, I would love to do a story on that process. I have so many ideas: too many stories, not enough time."

One thing I know

Prelena Soma Owen

"Gaining knowledge and learning from other people is so important. I'm really inspired by what people do. At the rate that technology is progressing, soon you won't even need to know photography, you'll just point and shoot, so think about how you stand out from the rest. For me, it's the stories you tell through your photos, because AI is not going to be able to capture those emotions. It's not going to be able to tell you the story of the pangolin, for example: where it was before, how it got to where it is now. It's important to remember, in the words of Ansel Adams, that a photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense."

Facebook: Prelena Soma Owen

Website: echoesofthewild.com

Prelena Soma Owen's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Canon Ambassador Prelena Soma Owen's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS R3

A camera that lets you photograph sport, wildlife and news like never before by identifying subjects just by looking at them, the EOS R3 has 30fps continuous shooting and advanced connectivity. "This camera is great for action shots and I usually use this with the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens," says Prelena.

Canon EOS R5

Capture sensational 45MP photos at up to 20fps or flick a switch for cinematic 12-bit 8K RAW video using the entire width of the camera's sensor. "The EOS R5 coupled with my Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens is my kit of choice," says Prelena. "It's super light with excellent image quality, brilliant autofocus, eye tracking and super-fast burst shots. Nothing beats this combination for blurred backgrounds and crisp images."

Canon EOS R6

See and shoot subjects in completely new ways and add a fresh dimension to your visual storytelling with 20fps silent shooting and up to 8-stops of IS. "The EOS R6 is great for landscapes and timelapses," says Prelena.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

The ultimate creative toolkit with superb low-light performance, deep-learning AF and 5.5K RAW video. "This is a good workhorse and comes in handy on safari when I need four bodies," says Prelena.


Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM

With a 100-500mm focal length range, plus 5-stops of image stabilisation and L-series build quality, this lens offers performance and image quality like no other. "This is my general lightweight lens," says Prelena. "I love its versatility."

Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM

A 5-stop Image Stabilizer preserves sharpness in low light, while Nano USM focusing benefits photographers and filmmakers. "It's my general all-purpose lens that's always with me," says Prelena. "I love the versatility, whether I'm photographing nature or people."

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM

A professional quality, fast-aperture telephoto zoom lens popular with wildlife and sports photographers, as well as those shooting weddings and portraiture. "It's excellent when subjects approach safari vehicles, and at f/2.8 it performs well in low light," says Prelena.

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

An ultra-wide-angle zoom that offers excellent image quality and a constant maximum aperture. "Perfect for wide-angle landscape and architectural images, and easy to handhold and shoot," says Prelena.

Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM

A high-magnification super-telephoto lens featuring integrated IS technology and a fast f/4 maximum aperture. "I've taken this to the Arctic and Antarctic and walked in knee-deep snow with it on my back; I don't leave home without it," says Prelena. "The f/4 aperture allows for blurred backgrounds while producing super-sharp images."

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

The successor to the lens Prelena works with is a professional L-series super telephoto lens with a wide f/2.8 aperture and image stabilisation. "I love the crisp images I get from this," says Prelena. "It's my go-to lens in low-light conditions."

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

Part of Canon's prestigious L-series, and the first to feature an image stabiliser with angle and shift detection that is highly effective at close focusing distances. "This lens is light enough to handhold in order to get close to the hidden world of insects," says Prelena. "It's very sharp too."

Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Photo

A macro lens designed to achieve a high magnification greater than life size (1.0x) without the need for additional accessories. "Nothing beats this for close 5x magnification of the insect world," says Prelena. "I use it with the Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-26EX-RT. The detail is amazing."


Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-26EX-RT

A powerful, precise and highly flexible twin flash system that recycles quickly and silently for the creative lighting of small subjects where maximum control over light power and direction is essential.

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