The Sony Alpha Art House exhibition is currently touring Australia, showcasing the winning entries from the Alpha Art House competition alongside landscape and nature images from all over the country, shot by professional photographers using Sony’s line-up of mirrorless cameras.
Award-winning surf, marine, nature photographer and Alpha Ambassador Craig Parry has always had a love of the outdoors. We had a chat to the man who scored a selfie with a humpback whale about his inspiration, opinions on selfies and how to get the best out of elements beyond your control.
Image: Craig Parry
Inspiration and challenges
“Nature has been a major part of my inspiration for my work,” he said, speaking with Gizmodo.
“Ever since I could comprehend photos I was always influenced by National Geographic [magazine]. That was always a big thing, looking at the world and what was outside of where I was living. Their [images] are from everywhere and they are things that people haven’t seen before because they’ve been studied for so long. You need a lot of patience to get those shots.”
Photographing the wild presents unique challenges for a photographer, Parry says. “It’s learning an animal’s behaviour. That’s a major component of being a nature photographer, otherwise you won’t get the interaction that you want.”
And it’s not just the animals, he says. “You’ve got to deal with a lot of bad weather and the cycle of nature,” Parry explains. “Say if I go to Alaska, sometimes the salmon run might not happen for a few weeks until after it’s supposed to happen, so you don’t get the bears coming down to the salmon.”
“The environment itself is a major factor in being a nature photographer, and I think that’s what’s so rewarding about it. that you can’t control what you’re photographing. It’s always going to either outdo your expectations or not, and when it does outdo your expectations it makes up for all those times that it didn’t.”
“I get a lot of those moments in Hawaii. I go there every year. I was with a friend and we were the only two out photographing these waves and all of a sudden this storm came through and this rainbow occurred over the mountains. Then the rainbow started passing through us and I was getting photos of these barrels coming, the waves crashing and the rainbow in the background. It just really makes it special.”
Image: Craig Parry
Selfies for a purpose
Being famous, in part, for taking a selfie gives Parry an interesting perspective on what they can do for a viewer as well as the subject. “You’ve got the Kim Kardashian selfies, but when I do my selfies I want to draw my audience back into my experience. I want everyone to be involved in what I’m doing and promote conservation.”
“It’s really important to me for people to understand that animals like whales or sharks aren’t there to hurt anyone, they’re animals and they need respecting, but they’re also just like you and me. I really respect them and that’s why I do it.”
Parry is always looking at ways to teach others about photography. “I’m taking the winner [of the Sony Alpha Art House competition] to Tonga with me, and I’ll be teaching people photography over there.”
“I’m also doing virtual reality (VR) stuff, so the new camera is going to be a major part of that. We’re actually putting our Sony VR equipment on our drones now. We’re also going to be doing VR underwater in September with the whales, so everyone will be able to almost experience what we experienced with the whales.”
If Parry could only choose one landscape to photograph forever, it would be Alaska because of the diversity of the environment. “Up North you’ve got the polar bears, then you’ve got the glaciers, and down South you’ve got the Kodiak Archipelago,” says Parry.
“When I was there, it felt like I was in the Avatar movie. Everything was moss covered and it felt like it was the last wilderness on earth. For me, [it’s] an inspirational place. It’s just a rugged landscape and raw. I think that would be the place I would photograph for the rest of my life.”
Hawaii comes in at a very close second. “Once again it’s got a really diverse environment there too,” he explains. “You’ve got volcanoes, the ocean, crystal clear waters, an abundance of sea life and great people. If you go in June/July you’ll have the best time. You’ll get the clearest water and get to swim with dolphins. It’s incredible.”
Image: Craig Parry
The image that he is most proud of is Emergence (above). “I visualised it before I captured it and it was a really hard image to capture. I’d never thought it would be possible to capture in such a short period,” he says.
“Emergence to be descriptive is a spy hope, it’s a humpback whale that sticks its head out of the water and it does so to look at what’s outside of the ocean. It’s special to me because I spent two and a half to three hours with this particular humpback and its two escorts: two males and it was a unique experience. The guide said he hadn’t seen anything like it in ten years which made me feel pretty special.”
“He said the connection that I had with the female humpback, he could just tell it was different to a lot of other experiences he’d seen. I can’t really describe how it felt but it was like a really conscious connection between the animal and myself, especially being able to swim back to the boat and it [the whale] actually pushing me back to the boat with its nose.”
“I got back onto the boat, changed my lens, jumped back in and I did that three or four times. To have that as a nature photographer is gold, because generally in a natural situation you don’t get to change lenses, so it’s a pretty special moment.”
Parry says being around such enormous animals “you lose perception. When you’re right close to them you gain perception again, or if [there’s a] human next to them and you’re far away you can see how big they are. You get in this little world and because whales are very conscious of what’s around them they’re very gentle.”
Parry’s last word of advice for other nature photographers? “I think half of the successes of a nature photographer, is to be able to tap into that behavioural instinct with the animal, and understand it a little bit better. That way you’ll get the best photos.”
The Sony Alpha Art House exhibition will run in Melbourne’s Federation Square from 4-10 April.