This week, the shortlist for the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year was announced and I am honoured to have another two images accepted this year. One of those two images is of a brushtail possum looking down on a caravan with a teenager sitting outside who is surprise, surprise, spending time on their phone.
I have had a few enquiries since the shortlisted entries were announced as to how I captured the image and what is the whole story with them living in the roof space of a building right next to my caravan. Because of the interest in the image itself and the story behind it I thought I would explain as much as I can.
Firstly, I think it is important to say that for me, one of the biggest joys of wildlife photography is the storytelling that can be achieved without the viewer knowing anything the image, yet gathering all the information they need simply by looking at it. I believe it is an art form that many social media platforms have contributed to its downfall simply because many people choose to show images that have a wow factor rather than telling a story. I have to say though, photography is not all about storytelling, it can be whatever you want it to be. What you photograph and how you do it is a personal choice.
The possums that I photograph, live in an area in the south-west of Western Australia where there is a high number of this particular species of possum. Every year, I take my caravan to a caravan park where they live in the treetops, and also, as I found out, in the roof spaces of some of the buildings there. One year I was sitting in my camper chair enjoying an afternoon drink when I noticed two little faces peeking out of the roof space of the ensuite building situated only a few metres from where I was sitting. I was amazed at the sight at first because it was such a surprise to see them in there and then my feeling turned to delight as I realised I could really tell a story with what I was seeing.
It has taken a few years of travelling to this particular location to work out how to photograph the possums without encouraging them to interact with humans and also pointing bright flashes in their faces to capture images. In my latest series of possums images, I ended up reversing my vehicle up to the tree that they exit the building from before they move up into the treetops. I then either set up a tripod or sat my camera on top of my vehicle. I realised early on that I could not leave my gear out there all night as the curious possums would probably knock it over or chew through some of the cables.
It also took me a couple of years to work out how to gently light up the possum as well as throw a heap of light onto my caravan to really complete the story. I ended up using a Godox remote flash triggering system where the flash that I positioned on the ground to light up the caravan would fire the same time as the low powered flash that illuminated the possum. Once I worked this part out my images really started to take shape. As I said earlier, I didn't want to leave my gear out all night. That would have been easier because I could have used a PIR (passive infrared sensor) so the possums would have triggered the camera without me being there. This meant I had to use a long remote shutter release cable and wait until the possums came down the tree and hopefully look at the caravan and not at the camera. It took quite a few images to get it right but I feel in the end, the image that was accepted into Australian NPOTY was the strongest out of all of my possum images so far.
As you can imagine, I have quite a few images that I would love to show, but there are just too many. In this blog post, I have added a few that I believe compliments what I have written and should give anyone interested in this image a more accurate idea of how I managed to capture that particular possum image. In my image gallery titled "Urban Wildlife" on this website, you will find more images of the possums who live in the roof space and hopefully will give you a better understanding of what I have been seeing over the last few years.
This December, I will be heading back to the exact location with my caravan and with any luck, I can add more images to the story.