Going to any depths for a story
MOST would be nervous about diving into the ocean to photograph the world’s largest mammals, however The New
Zealand Herald’s Richard Robinson says he has had more close calls with humans as a news photographer than the animals on the other side of his lens.
“Like everything you have to plan for the unexpected and I have to try and eliminate the possibility that these things will happen,” Mr Robinson said. “I photograph a lot of mega fauna. It’s very important to plan carefully and have escape plans. However, Mr Robinson says that it is more likely that he will get into a sticky situation with people rather than with animals. “It’s exactly like that working for the paper; over the years I’ve had more close calls at the office.”
Photography is in Mr Robinson’s blood. His grandfather, Richard Marshall was part of the business for 30 years, as chief photographer at the
Daily Telegraph in Napier. Yet it wasn’t his first choice as a career. He started studying science at the University of Auckland, but the lure of the camera proved too much.
“I was at university doing a science degree and didn’t really enjoy it but all my friends were in arts school and I just always had a camera and everything just fell into place,” he said.
“Eventually a job came up in Hawkes Bay and I moved back home and with the Hawkes Bay paper being a part of the APN group I was able to move to the
Herald in 2000.” After six years at the Herald, Mr Robinson decided that he wanted to take his passion for photography one step further,
“Probably in the last six years I started to concentrate more and more on underwater photography,” he said.
“Growing up in Hawkes Bay, which is right by the sea, I always was a keen sailor and surfer. One of the things working for the Herald was I wanted to tell these stories around the ocean but everything kind of stopped when you got to the water’s edge. So, I got myself an underwater houseman so I could tell the stories going on underwater just as well as above.”
While you don’t have to deal with people underwater you do have to deal with a myriad of other challenges when photographing in the ocean. Mr Robinson explains.
“Shooting under water straight off you lose the colour spectrum, so you start to lose your reds, yellows and oranges as you start heading under the water,” he said.
“Once you’re down really deep you just get a monochromatic blue. So we need to use big underwater strobes to get the colour back into it, to light up what’s there. Even the clearest water isn’t that clear, so when you start using strobes you start getting back scatter.
“Still the biggest problem is you’re always at the mercy of compression limits and your amount of air. That can mean even if something really good is happening you may have to bail out, even if you want to stay.”
Mr Robinson says that his work as a news photographer with the Herald helps his underwater photography be as powerful as it is and vice versa. He says it’s all about being quick on your feet regardless of the environment or the job.
“In one instance, we had just come up from a couple of hours dive and my memory card was full. I had no strobe in my flashes and no air in my tanks and a big pod of a really rare type of whale came past and I had to make the few frames on the camera I had left really count.”
This year Mr Robinson took out the PANPA Award for Feature Photograph of the Year for his photo essay entitled ‘The Great Migration’.
“PANPA is a great competition to win. The essay was shot up in Tonga in the breeding season. I was up there for a couple of weeks,” he said. “It was really exciting to be in the water with these beautiful mammals some of the nice beautiful shots were mother and calves so they were really calm and serene photography.”
Instead of feeling daunted by the size of his subjects or the sheer vastness of his working environment, Mr Robinson feels thankful for his opportunities and the teams that support him.
“It’s a real privilege. At the time it’s exciting, but at the end of the day I’m just really lucky that I am able to get in these positions and get in the water and photograph. It’s a great team at the Herald that backs me but I also have a great team that accompany me on the dives.”