With an unwavering respect for his subjects, Melbourne-based photojournalist Doug Gimesy captures the beauty, power and sometimes painful reality of life in the wild, bringing some of the world’s most pressing conservation and climate concerns into focus.
Have you always had an eye for photography?
Yes and no. I first picked up the camera when I was in high school around 1977, but I put it down in the mid-’80s and didn’t pick it up again until 2012. There were many reasons for that – mainly skill and confidence, but I also needed to earn a living. As I often joke: “How do you become a conservation and animal welfare photojournalist with $10,000 in the bank? Start 10 years earlier with $100,000.”
What is the most memorable scene you’ve attended and photographed?
From a natural wonder perspective, probably the massive penguin colonies found on South Georgia and Macquarie Island. But you also don’t have to go far from home to experience some incredible wildlife. The Grey-headed Flying-fox colony in Melbourne is amazing. At dusk you can see up to 50,000 megabats heading out over the city looking for dinner. Also the penguin colony down at St Kilda is pretty cool. And both of these are within 15 kilometres of my suburban Melbourne home!
Are there certain animals you particularly love to photograph?
Not really, they are all magnificent in their own way. If I could only ever photograph a few animals, though, my list would include platypuses,
flying foxes and penguins.
You have some serious qualifications behind you. How do your studies influence the work you do today?
I’ve always had an interest in wildlife, which is why I initially studied zoology at university. When I started taking photos again after nearly 30 years, what focused me on conservation and animal welfare photography was completing a Masters of Environment and a Masters of Bioethics in the early 2000s. These areas really shaped my thinking as to the type of issues I should be focusing on.
What makes a great wildlife shot?
It really depends why you are taking the photo. If it’s to hang on a wall, what makes a great shot may be very different to what makes a great reportage image. However, being primarily a conservation and animal welfare photojournalist, for me a great image is one that tells a story
– one that deeply engages people’s emotions and, as a result, drives them to make a positive change.
How can budding photographers do better to support and protect animals in the wild?
Learn and be considerate. A simple example would be getting too close to take an image for no justifiable reason. Not only can getting too
close stress an animal at the time, it can also have really bad long-term consequences. If you learn about the wildlife you want to photograph, learn about what might bother it – what’s OK and what isn’t. Then be considerate of the animal’s needs.
You’ve photographed incredibly distressing scenes, from bushfires to roadkill. Why is it important to capture and share these moments?
To make a positive difference. I believe photographs should deeply engage people emotionally. Of course not all images need to be – or should be – all doom and gloom. I take a lot of positive images too, of people helping wildlife, doing things that make a positive difference. Whilst most conservation and animal welfare issues are caused by people, they can also be fixed by people. It’s important to show this and give inspiration and hope.
What has been your proudest moment in your professional career so far?
Three things. Being a finalist in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2016 and 2021, winning the inaugural Wildscreen Photo Story Award in 2018, and publishing a children’s book (through Australian Geographic) on Grey-headed Flying-foxes in 2020.
Do you have any tips for budding wildlife photographers?
Get really good at the basics and practice in other genres so you can build a wide skill base to draw on. Review your work ruthlessly, and have others do the same. Work on projects that you care deeply about and work on projects close to home – it’s cost effective, has a lower environmental impact, and gives you a greater chance of being there again and again for the right moment.
Keep an eye out for Doug’s work in publications such as National Geographic, BBC Wildlife and Australian Geographic, or visit his website for a full list of his recently published work or visit his social sites.
Lead image: Doug by the side of the road on Kangaroo Island, capturing the above image ‘Fast Roads, Slow Deaths’.
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