Gemma Ortlipp

Melbourne-based photographer Gemma Ortlipp enjoys getting creative with her photography. She has a penchant for capturing a variety of animals, with African wildlife and dogs stealing her heart.
Photograph by Gemma Ortlipp, Canon Collective Ambassador

The Canon Collective is a group of passionate photography Ambassadors dedicated to helping you grow your skills in relaxed, down-to-earth environment. In this article Gemma Ortlipp — one of our Melbourne-based Canon Collective Ambassadors — shares a bit about what makes her tick.

Gemma Ortlipp, Canon Collective Ambassador

Describe yourself in 25 words or less:

Passionate, introverted and endlessly observing. If there is a dog within a 10-metre radius, I’ll be cuddling it.

Tell us about your photography journey so far:

My first camera was a gift from my parents once I graduated from university and it sat in a box under my bed for six months before I attempted to figure it out.

I started with images of my dog in the backyard and small photo walks around my neighbourhood to teach myself the basics. Then things truly kicked off for me when I took my camera to Taronga Zoo on a trip to Sydney. The images were average looking back on them now, but at the time I thought they were wonderful, and I was hooked on the experience of capturing a wide variety of animals.

I started visiting the zoos in Melbourne on a weekly basis and delighted in seeing my skills grow exponentially. I was fortunate to be mentored by the Zoos Victoria photographer at the time. Unfortunately he suffered an injury that meant he couldn’t bare the weight of his camera, and as fate would have it, I was asked to step in for a few jobs. This only grew and I’ve since furnished venues with images for zoo exhibit signage in addition to their media platforms.

My first experience with the Canon Collective was visiting Lady Elliot Island in 2015, and it was life changing. All I wanted to do was to create images I loved and share them with others and to see everyone else’s images too. Then when I heard about Canon Collective’s Safari Experience to Africa, I signed up immediately.

I’ve since returned to Africa twice, the most recent helping guide Collective attendees and to assist in their wildlife photography. It was one of the highlights of my life so far.

Share the story behind one of your most memorable photographs:

Not my best photograph but definitely one of my most memorable was taken on my mentor’s camera at Melbourne Zoo. It was my very first experience using a full frame DSLR, and he owned and used the incredible EF600mm lens. It was mounted on a monopod and I was absolutely terrified that I was going to drop it. So much so that when I finally let go, my fingers felt permanently bent into position.

We were taking images of the tiger in the middle of the zoo, and the photographer was sharing some of his tips for the light in this exhibit. I waited until the tiger was near the reflective surface of the water and the light bounced back up into its face perfectly.

Image of tiger by Gemma Ortlipp

Explain your go-to gear and why you rate it so highly:

For my professional Wildlife Photography work I require fast and accurate AF tracking and high frame rates to account for the dynamic shooting environment. But I don’t always want to take this kit with me while I’m travelling or just shooting for fun. So I have two preferred kits. The first is my Canon EOS 1DX body paired with my favourite lenses:

EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens
EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II USM lens
EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6LIS USM lens
EF 24-70 f/2.8L II USM lens
EF 100mm Macro f/2.8L IS USM Lens

My second kit is the EOS R paired with the RF24-105mm f/4 L IS lens. I didn’t anticipate loving the EOS R as much as I do, but it’s just made photography especially spontaneous family shots, or street photography such a joy to create. Whilst a foundational knowledge is key, the live exposure simulation means that you are left with mainly playing with your shadows, highlights and compositions. It just makes it so easy! The smaller weight and size means I can take it with me wherever I go, and therefore capture images I would have otherwise missed.

What's your favourite part of your job as a Canon Collective Ambassador?

I absolutely relish the moment when someone goes from complete confusion to just ‘getting it’. It’s such a revelatory experience and I never get tired of seeing people gain confidence in a creative industry where self-doubt is so common.

If you weren't a Canon Collective Ambassador what would you be doing?

I would probably setup up a home studio and photograph pets fulltime. I know I’ve been fortunate to photograph so many amazing wild animals, but dogs really have my heart, I love them all!

Vikrum the Dog by Gemma Ortlipp

What's the first thing a new photographer needs to learn?

It’s not even about photography per se, but something I have told myself many times working in a creative field. It’s ok to fail when you are learning. In fact, fail as much as you can, it’s the only way you can ever learn what you did wrong. Then adjust and make your images even better. Also, we are all our own worst critics, so be kind to yourself.

Who inspires you?

Anyone who is true to their vision, and open and vulnerable about their creative process, their struggles and their triumphs. I appreciate artists who are honest, rather than ones who only show the highlight reel.

Where is your favourite location to shoot and why?

Africa would be an obvious one, but ultimately my favourite locations are anywhere there is a beautiful animal to capture, or a family member where I can create memories that last forever.

You can create one more image before you die – what is it of?

Anyone who knows me knows that baby animals are my weakness. I’ve yet to photograph gorillas in the wild so if I had the chance to photograph these creatures, it would be my dream to capture a tiny baby gorilla with their mother in its natural habitat.

Image of baby gorilla by Gemma Ortlipp