Malaysian-born Sarina Othman qualified as a Chartered Accountant and enjoyed an international career primarily in corporate finance, working in London, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and San Francisco. Sarina swapped corporate life to focus on capturing life through the lens. She is one of the few wildlife and nature photographers that uses a Leica camera.
Sarina Othman's Instagram
Sarina Othman's Webpage
Looking out of her corporate office window, Sarina Othman saw a bigger, wider world.
Her photographic journey was around-the-world travel with first-class wildlife shots.
The cubicle was too cramped. The corner office was too constricting. The ambition was no longer to be in the boardroom.
The life goal was to break free and not be a chasing a worldly life, but to reconnect with what truly matters, like family, self-improvement, helping others, and leaving a legacy.
Part of that was to be out on the open savannah of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, where some of Africa’s most majestic animals roam freely.
Ironically, it was Sarina Othman’s career as a Chartered Accountant that opened the door to Africa and photography.
Sarina went to Africa for the first time on a business trip, igniting a passion for wildlife photography.
Motivated by early success when her wildlife shots were featured on the BBC website in 2007 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/6283508.stm), she started thinking of a future taking outstanding still images.
After a 26-year international corporate finance career working in London, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and San Francisco, she drew up a metaphorical ledger of life to weigh up her future options.
On balance, instinct told her to end the corporate career for a journey of self-discovery with photography as the medium of exploration.
The dramatic decision was made to swap strategic business thinking for a creative art form, to stop analysing megabytes of financial data and work instead with megapixels of colour images.
She resigned from her job at a Fortune 500 energy company in 2015, returned to her roots in Kuala Lumpur, and devoted herself to photography philanthropy, putting the thousands of photographs on her hard disk to good use to benefit others.
“I now spend my days fulfilling my life goals,” says Sarina happily. “I pursue my photographic interests and quest for knowledge by executing with excellence in everything that I do.
“From the mist-shrouded mountains of Bhutan to the dusty plains of Africa and rugged Latin America, I’ve journeyed to some of the most beautiful, remote, and extraordinary places as one of the few that uses Leica for wildlife photography.”
Leica is well-known as the camera of choice of photojournalists and street photographers, with a history of over 100 years of iconic reportage images. It may seem to some a curious choice of camera for a wildlife photographer.
Sarina explains how Leica cameras became her mainstay as she travels the world.
“I take a SL and a M with me. I use a Leica M Edition 60 – a special edition when the M turned 60. I love this camera because it works like a film camera with minimal settings. I started out with film cameras and I’ve always loved film because of the natural colours. To have a digital camera that works like a film camera, it’s a dream come true.
“I use the M Edition 60 mainly for landscapes and some wildlife when I want to get a wide-angle shot with a backdrop. The beauty of this camera is you don’t need a zoom lens because it shoots in RAW and the picture quality is sharp if you focus it correctly. It’s good enough to blow up the pictures without zooming in.”
When a zoom lens is needed, Sarina opts for the Leica SL and an APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90–280 f/2.8–4 lens.
“I have the SL 90-280 zoom and I also use the Leica Noctilux-M 50 f/0.95 ASPH with the SL.
“You do need a zoom lens for wildlife, as you can never get too close to the animals. I was a bit concerned initially that 90-280 was not long enough. However, if you shoot RAW, you can blow up the pictures without losing details. The 90-280 does provide a lot of flexibility. There are times the animals come nearer and a 600 mm lens is too close.
“As for the Noctilux, it’s so compatible with the SL – better than with the M, I would say. The photos are gorgeous!
“All my Leica lenses don’t need a flash. They work well in low light conditions. I love natural light.”
For a photographer who already has a passport full of stamps, a love of life, and an insatiable appetite for travel, what’s next? Where’s the next destination?
“It’s not just about the place. It’s about the journey of self-discovery. I learn a little bit more about myself each time I travel, each time I find myself moving onto something new, somewhere new.”
“It’s about finding my inner spirit of adventure, embracing the privilege of being close to nature, and reconnecting with what matters most – giving back, inner peace, tranquility of mind, and gratitude for even the smallest blessings.
“My photographs are expressions of all those feelings. They’re explorations of the beauty of wildlife. They’re reminders of the joy to be found in our vital connections with the natural world.”
It’s those sentiments that Sarina enjoys sharing with others.
“I’ve worked on projects to self-publish my photos. These were either educational calendars or one-off books as gifts to the places that I visited in support of their conservation work. Some of these publications have been used to help promote their environmental causes.
“These include conservation work in the Ibera marshlands in Argentina; the Olarro conservancy in Kenya for use in their marketing materials; the Solio Conservancy in Kenya that supports rhino conservation, a book that they displayed in their lodge; the Big Life Foundation in their conservation efforts in the Amboseli ecosystem in Kenya on a water project; and the Mara Cheetah Project in Kenya. My most recent contribution was to the Datai Langkawi during the Covid-19 lockdown in support of their Rainforest Newsletter.
“For those who are interested, they can find out more on my website: https://sarinaothman.com/.”
“I’m always planning another trip. Before Covid-19, I was planning a trip to South America and looking forward to returning to Chilean Patagonia in search of the elusive puma. But it will be a while before that happens, as South America is truly devastated by Covid-19, which is very sad.”
Wishing to give purpose to her passion, Sarina hopes her photos are catalysts for unlimited ideas and possibilities, whether educational, inspirational, collaborative, commercial or philanthropic in nature. So, what advice then would she give aspiring wildlife photographers?
“You have to love the subject, the genre. Having a passion for wildlife photography is a must.
“The reality is you can’t ask the animals to come out and pose when you want and how you want. It requires a lot of patience. It can take days before you see what you want or sometimes never.
“Practice makes perfect. Take lots of photos. Learn from experience. It increases your probability of getting a fantastic shot.
“Wildlife will constantly be moving. In a split second, animals can do something interesting, and you wouldn’t want to miss it. This is where the SL is awesome for wildlife photography. I develop thousands of photos. And out of the thousands, only a handful are really good.”
Being in the right place at the right time is vital.
“What you learn from your photos too is where to position yourself – the angle and lighting.
“Weather and light is beyond our control. Sometimes you have to wait for that perfect moment. When it does happen, it’s so worth the wait.
“Always plan for longer stays. It’s possible you’ll not see the mountain or whatever attraction for several days due to cloud cover, or only at certain times of the day would you get a clear view. The longer you stay, the higher the chance of seeing wildlife.”
Some final words of wisdom:
“Know yourself what you want to get out of photography. As I progressed, I had a better feel of what I want from my cameras and I converted to Leica.”
So, like Sarina, take a look out of your window. Ask yourself: how do you see the world, and how do you want to share that view with others?
Your photographic journey starts today. Pick up your Leica camera. Take that first step on an exciting, new visual journey.
Written by Kieron Long
Giraffes gallop across the open savannah.
The fast APO VARIO-ELMARIT-SL 90–280 f/2.8–4 telephoto lens offers flexibility. A longer fixed focal length lens might capture just the rhino, but not the cheetah. It’s not often you get to capture black rhinos (an endangered species) with a cheetah in the same frame.
The Leica SL does a great job of capturing the natural colours of sunrises and sunsets.
Two zebras facing opposite directions. Their bodies appear to merge, giving the impression that this is a mythical two-headed animal.
The lions were quite a distance away and this photo was cropped to zoom in.
Three lionesses on the prowl about to start hunting.
A good example of where a lens with a shorter focal length captures the full body length of a leopard. A longer fixed focal length, say a 600 mm lens, would not be able to capture all of the leopard.
Three giraffes standing to attention, as if posing for a family portrait.
This leopard was hiding under a bush. It was dark. But with the correct camera settings, you can get a clear picture.