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Interview: James Stone

James Stone / Alamy Stock Photo

James Stone is a man with many hats: his full-time job is a veterinary surgeon, but he’s also an award-winning nature photographer, whose work has taken him to both the Arctic and Antarctic. James was born in Somerset, England, in the late 1970s, but moved to Australia in 2002. He is now an Australian citizen and lives in Tasmania. “On leaving school, I studied to become a veterinary surgeon, a career I still follow,” says James, “A few years ago I moved to Tasmania to study marine and Antarctic science to Masters level.”

It was the move to Tasmania that ignited James’ interest in photography, “I’ve always enjoyed photography, but I started shooting seriously when I moved to Tasmania and discovered you could see the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights from here – once I witnessed my first aurora I was hooked!”

James focuses on several genres of photography, “I shoot mainly night-sky images, I love being out under the stars, especially if the aurora is dancing. I also shoot wildlife and landscapes, and enjoy getting involved with local and international conservation and climate change initiatives.” He recalls the first time he got paid for a photograph, “I shoot a lot of time-lapse photography. Google purchased one of my lapses of the aurora in 2015 for use in advertising Asia-Pacific wide; at first I thought the offer was spam!”

P58E0B Bright and colourful aurora display with reflections
James Stone / Alamy Stock Photo

He describes photography as, “An all-consuming expensive hobby. Since 2015 I’ve been having more and more success in competitions and awards, selling the odd print and time-lapse, and I’ve recently moved into stock photography.” James has been involved in a number of conservation projects, “In Tasmania, I have been involved with ‘Tarkine in Motion’, a collaborative arts initiative by the Bob Brown Foundation to increase awareness of the decline of the Tarkine region of Tasmania, a large tract of temperate rainforest under threat from logging, mining and reckless four-wheel driving.”

“Further afield, I was fortunate to be involved with the Ocean Geographic ‘Elysium – Artists for the Arctic Expedition’, a collaborative adventure involving 65 artists from 19 countries, to highlight the impacts of climate change in the Arctic.”

James’ work has appeared in Australian Geographic, as well as Google adverts across the Asia-Pacific region. In 2016, he won two awards in the David Malin Awards, Australia’s premier astrophotography awards, and his work has been short-listed in various other awards, including the 2018 INSIGHT Astronomy Photographer of the Year Awards, run by the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

He explains how he got into stock, “I started submitting to stock photography sites six months ago, I figured I had 200,000 images sitting in my library, I might as well see if I could monetise some of them. It’s a bit of a laborious process key-wording and uploading images, hence my portfolio is still in its infancy, but I’m starting to make some money. I see it as pocket money to help fund my photography addiction!”

P4D95F King Penguin close-up of colourful neck feathers
James Stone / Alamy Stock Photo

Being a photographer has its good and bad points, says James, “I love the push that photography gives me to get out and explore, the greater understanding and appreciation it has given me of the natural world around me. If I can capture a great photograph even better. Forgetting vital pieces of kit annoys me, and I’ll never be a huge fan of post-processing. I’m not a natural marketer, so I probably don’t capitalise on my images as much as I could.”

So how does James prepare for an assignment? “I always try and take a wide selection of lenses to cover all eventualities, spare batteries and memory cards, a tripod, warm clothes and a head-torch. Preparation and planning is essential to maximise the experience and productivity in each location I shoot. Knowing what conditions you are likely to encounter, as well as researching sunrise/sunset/milky way/moon times, and directions in relation to the location are vital first steps.”

Not surprisingly, he has had some memorable assignments. “I’ve been fortunate to travel to both the Arctic and Antarctica. I feel very at home in the Polar Regions and love the harsh brutality of the landscapes, punctuated with an abundance of charismatic wildlife. I’ve spent time at New Zealand’s Scott Base on Ross Island in Antarctica. Flying over the Ross Sea filled with a jigsaw of pack ice, to land on a frozen runway was an incredible experience, but camping out under the midnight sun on the Ross Ice Shelf under the shadow of the active volcano Mount Erebus with views to the frozen horizon in all directions was mesmerising.”

He adds, “Antarctica is a long way from anywhere, logistically and financially difficult to get to. When you get there, it’s such a huge uninhabited space that you can never be alone, having to maintain contact for safety purposes”

P57T77 Close up Polar Bear full frontal to camera
James Stone / Alamy Stock Photo

His visits have revealed the impact of climate change, “I was there just after mid-summer, and the sea ice was breaking out fast, we used to go for a walk amongst the pressure ridges on the sea ice outside the base after dinner most evenings, but this rapidly became too soft and precarious to walk on. At other times on the Antarctic Peninsula, I have experienced rainfall instead of snow, something I was not expecting so far south.”

How does James approach his work when it comes to issues such as pollution, climate change, and wildlife conservation? “I’m always excited and honoured to be asked to be involved in projects with a sound environmental cause, I prefer to shoot what moves me rather than work to a shot-list, and in the environments that these projects are undertaken that isn’t hard, especially after you spend a period of time immersing yourself in the surroundings. I figure if I shoot images I like, then others should find them engaging also.”

What does he hope his work achieves in these areas, and can photography have an impact on issues such as climate change and conservation? “Nature photography is a great tool for opening people’s eyes to the wonders of the natural world around them, I hope that my work inspires awareness and appreciation of nature and the environment (rather than highlighting the negative impacts we are all having on it) and therefore makes people more willing to make little changes to try and decrease their footprint on the world’s sensitive ecosystems.”

P4D95K Weddell Seal coming up to breathe in a hole in the sea ice
James Stone / Alamy Stock Photo

James is a big fan of social media, but he notes that, “I sometimes worry that social media shows so many images of endangered species and environments, that people get the impression they are abundant and easily accessible. There is also the concern that the ‘insta-generation’ may be inspired to go to these wild and fragile places to get a selfie, without understanding or respecting the places they are visiting. I think it is entirely okay (and probably necessary) not to disclose location information of photographs that are taken in sensitive locations.”

Is he optimistic about the future of the planet? “Yes and no. The planet will continue to survive long after humans have left it; nature is incredibly resilient and change is an inevitable part of evolution. The utter disregard, short-sightedness and reckless abandon that most of humankind has for our home is despicable. I think we could all do so much better at reducing waste, reducing consumption and being more considerate of our environment.”

And finally, what one piece of advice would James give to aspiring photographers?

“Photography is a great excuse to get out into nature. It helps you become much more observant and appreciative of the incredible natural world. Don’t worry too much about getting the perfect image; enjoy the experience of being out in nature.”

Check out some of James’ photographic work here

Or check out his mesmerising timelapses here

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