'Darcy' Brown Falcon in situ by Leila Jeffreys | Yellowtrace


Sometime late last year I attended an inspiring talk featuring 6 extraordinary women on the Australian design scene, all of whom pondered the question “Does good design matter?”. Leila Jeffreys was amongst these women, and it was the first time I heard the story behind her work. Sure, her images of birds are super beautiful and visually arresting, but there is so much more to them than that. Leila shared her story and her genuine love for native birds, and how this enthusiasm has lead her to a successful career in art photography. Jeffreys’ coveted portraits of birds are in high demand and for a good reason – they are bloody gorgeous. But what’s ever more gorgeous is knowing that Jeffreys’ is the real deal – she is as obsessed with these birds as I am with design – for reals. I remember being so moved by her story that evening, that I was literally reduced to tears.

Needless to say, we’ve been super keen to feature Leila’s work here on Yellowtrace for quiet some time. Over the past few months she’s kept us in the loop with her crazy adventures, photographing wildlife that hasn’t been seen for decades. Most of us could never appreciate how much effort and patience is required to work with these animals in order to build rapport and capture a very special body of work. So without further ado, please welcome Leila to our pages and read on to find out more about this extraordinary lady.

Featured Project // ‘Prey’ is Jeffreys’ third series of photographic portraits, capturing the unique personalities of Australian native birds. These works fundamentally challenge the common perception of birds of prey as simply being severe, discerning predators. “Prey is a celebration of what makes Australia special and is a reminder that one of our biggest assets soars in the skies above us,” explains Jeffreys.

Why It Rocks // The oversized scale of the works allows the viewer to appreciate these intriguing creatures as equals. Leila hopes this will ultimately lead to greater awareness for the conservation of these animals and their habitats. “These birds are the sovereigns of the skies but they are also at the mercy of misfortune.”

‘Prey’ exhibition runs from today (September 10th) through to September 28th at the Olsen Irwin in Sydney’s Woollahra.


'Tani' no 3 Masked Owl by Leila Jeffreys | Yellowtrace

Tani’ no 3 Masked Owl © Leila Jeffreys.

'Mulga' Black Breasted Buzzard by Leila Jeffreys | Yellowtrace

Mulga’ Black Breasted Buzzard © Leila Jeffreys.


+ Hello Leila, welcome to Yellowtrace! Could you please give us a quick introduction on yourself? When did you first decide you wanted to become a photographer?

In my early 20s I wanted to be a photographer but then I was confused for many years because I just couldn’t work out what kind of photographer I wanted to be. None of the usual categories felt right to me: portrait – I was too nervous photographing people; landscapes – I loved but I was no Ansell Adams; wildlife – I didn’t have the determination to camp for months-on-end wearing camouflage gear, eating trail mix, in a hideout hoping I’d capture some extraordinary moment. Finally it hit me to combine portrait photography with wildlife photography.


Leila & Ivy Portrait | Yellowtrace

Leila & Ivy Portrait © Leila Jeffreys.


+ What was the inspiration behind taking photographs of Australian native birds?

A combination of childhood memories and a slow but persistent love of birds that intensified in my 30s including travelling to places like Christmas Island where the birdlife is so extraordinary. Boobies (a type of seabird), for example, display adorable nervous behaviour around people after living in isolation for so many years. They simply haven’t evolved to know to fly away from danger… so if you approach them they feel anxious but don’t actually know what to do: so they pick up a stick and then they put it down…then they pick it up and again and put it down, just hoping that if they keep busy you’ll go away. It’s heartbreakingly sweet behaviour that was all part of my budding love affair with birds.


'Trinity' Goshawk in situ by Leila Jeffreys | Yellowtrace

A rescued Goshawk called ‘Trinity’, a victim of habitat destruction as a result of land clearing © Leila Jeffreys.


+ What are you seeking to portray in your work?

That animals have feelings and they are an extraordinary life-force that deserves respect, admiration and that they desire and deserve to exist just as much as we do.

+ Who or what are some of your influences? What other photographers and creatives in general do you admire?

Studio portraits that I have seen of animals are often photographed for their physical appearance because they are so majestic but I respond to emotive photographers like Tim Flach, who I didn’t know about when I started my work but enjoy seeing what he comes up with now. He doesn’t just see the physical beauty but goes deeper to showing emotive portraits. For educating people on the technical sides of photography Les Walking is a master. He is freakishly knowledgeable, has boundless enthusiasm and runs great courses.


'Pepper' Southern Boobook by Leila Jeffreys | Yellowtrace

‘Pepper’, a gorgeous Southern Boobook Owl who was rescued and rehabilitated, yet continues to return to Broadwings every time she is released © Leila Jeffreys.


+ Any interesting/ funny/ quirky facts about your work you could share with us?

A Little Eagle I was photographing got up to fly away with some meat in her talons and somehow like a tennis champion flicked it with her wing over my head and spattered it over my jumper and equipment… once a Dollarbird bird thought my lights were the sun and started to sun himself by spreading out his wings. A little silvereye (small bird that weighs 10 grams) landed on my mobile phone while I was checking for emails and looked at me like a mindfulness master – stop being distracted and be in the moment.

Oscar an Eclectus Parrot that I photographed was having so much fun with all the attention and wanting to show off more opened up his wings to reveal his fancy bright red feathers underneath, it felt like he was trying to sell me a stolen watch. (see below)


'Oscar' Eclectus Parrot outtake by Leila Jeffreys | Yellowtrace

‘Oscar’ Eclectus Parrot © Leila Jeffreys.


Let’s Get Real!

+ If I was not a photographer, I would be…

A teacher…something to do with educating kids about conservation and the environment.

+ Three things every photographer needs…

Creative thinking; Unrivalled determination; Know that it’s ok to fail.

+ What’s the best mistake you have ever made?

Stuffing up a job interview in the music industry that I thought I really wanted…perhaps it would have sent me down a completely different career path.


'Darcy' Brown Falcon in situ by Leila Jeffreys | Yellowtrace

‘Darcy’ Brown Falcon © Leila Jeffreys.

'Cleo' Peregrine Falcon in situ by Leila Jeffreys | Yellowtrace

‘Cleo’ Peregrine Falcon © Leila Jeffreys.


+ What’s one thing other people may not know about you?

Every morning I say hello to my hive of Australian native stingless bees. Did you know there are 1500 species of Australian native bees? Most live a solitary life but some are social like mine and live in hives – my species is called Tetragonula Carbonaria. I get an idea of the temperature by observing them. They are Aussie as. Below 18 degrees or when it’s raining they don’t leave the hive (i.e. they chuck a sickie), around 18 – 20 degrees they congregate around the hive entrance (i.e. smoko) and peer out at the world sending a few brave scouts (i.e. over achievers) to check out the weather and on a sunny 25 – 28 degrees they work tirelessly travelling up to 500 metres (i.e. they get there in the end and work bloody hard).

They are great pollinators so they make your garden pop, they don’t sting, they produce sweet honey and they have fascinating and complex social behaviour. I love them – every backyard should have a hive. They take no effort and they help preserve bee populations which are under threat around the world.

+ It’s not very cool, but I really like…

Jigsaw puzzles. I buy them for my son and nieces and have to fight the urge not to push them out of the way to do them. Kids are so slow!


[Images courtesy of Leila Jeffreys.]


About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

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