Eye on the Prize

ECOLOGIST MATT MCINTOSH ONLY DEVELOPED AN INTEREST IN NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY SIX YEARS AGO. BUT AN ENCOUNTER WITH AN ORANGE-EYED TREE FROG HAS GARNERED HIM INTERNATIONAL ACCLAIM.

Matthew McIntosh

Former apprentice fire technician Matt McIntosh grew up believing a career in the visual arts was highly unlikely to be his calling. He failed art at high school and showed little aptitude for other creative endeavours.

But one day in 2009 all that changed when the Queenslander picked up his first DSLR Nikon camera kit, containing a D3000 and two lenses, from which he intended using mostly to capture significant events, family holidays and images of his rescue dog Megg.

Less than 12 months later he found himself switching careers to zoology and ecology and entertaining a sideline interest in nature photography. From that point on the 26-year-old Townsville native has never looked back, earning himself a spot on the shortlist in the animal behaviour category of the 2015 Australian Geographic ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year Awards and just recently taking out the big one – the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year Competition – for his image of two mosquitoes atop an Orange-Thighed Tree Frog.

Matthew McIntosh

“When I found out I had won I was astounded, it took a while to sink in but eventually I was ecstatic. I had been scrolling through the shortlisted images and had pretty much ruled myself out after checking out the formidably talented competition,” Matt says.

In naming him the winner, the judges described Matt’s picture as “a striking photograph offering layers of impact and intrigue”. “It calls the viewer in for a second look. The bulging orange eyes grab your attention and the mosquitoes add a layer of complexity.” They also praised him for his “adept storytelling, bold colours and impactful image design”.

Not a bad effort for an amateur photographer who has no formal training and whose interest in wildlife photography can largely be traced to a YouTube tutorial by Thomas Shahan on high-magnification macro photography.
“Although a lot of my time is devoted to my profession as an ecologist, I do try to get out and take photos as often as possible. Whether this is as a concerted effort to photograph a particular species or a casual outing with friends,” he says.

Matthew McIntosh

“I have spent a majority of my free time tramping through salt marsh ridden with mosquitoes, rainforest laden with stinging trees and leeches, arid desert with more flies than you can count all in search of the beautiful and intriguing creatures that call these sometimes inhospitable places home.”

Armed with a comprehensive Nikon kit featuring the Nikon D7000, Nikon D500 and Nikon D810 camera bodies, a range of lenses that include the NIKKOR AF-S 24mm f/2.8D, NIKKOR AF-S 50mm f/1.8D, NIKKOR AF DX Fisheye 10.5mm f/2.8 G ED, NIKKOR AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8 G ED, NIKKOR AF-S 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 G IF ED VR and NIKKOR AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR together with speedlights, tele-converters and other accessories, Matt admits he finds it difficult selecting just some of his equipment to take on wildlife and landscape shoots as he is never sure what opportunities could arise out in the field.

Which lens Matt selects depends on what he’s photographing but generally speaking he uses his 28-300mm lens for photographing birds, mammals, plants and some landscapes. His lens of choice for high-magnification macro photography is his 24mm and 50mm lenses while he also uses his 10.5mm fisheye for some landscapes.

Matt admits there are many obvious challenges pursuing his passion for nature photography while based in the top end. “My biggest challenge is generally the weather, terrain, and uncooperative’ wild animals in adverse conditions. I try to overcome challenging weather conditions, such as rain, by using lenscoat raincovers, carrying a microfiber towel and using drybags for my camera equipment, other than that you generally have to work with what you’re given.

“Terrain can be a challenge as a lot of areas and species are in remote locations that are only accessible by foot. Photographing wild animals can be [quite a struggle] as they are often difficult to find and typically even more difficult to approach. To overcome this I try to learn as much as I can about the wildlife I intend to photograph, including their behaviours and where they can be found. This allows me to firstly find the animals and then approach them from a respectful distance.”

Already fortunate to have enjoyed the diversity of species and landscapes across a range of locations including the rainforests of Borneo, the remote islands of the sub-Antarctic region, Australia remains Matt’s favourite place to shoot.

Matthew McIntosh

In Queensland alone there is such a complexity of different habitats and areas to photograph nature, he says.
“Being based in Townsville a lot of these areas are relatively easy to access and not too much of a drive – well not for someone that has grown up in the North anyway.”

Early morning and late evening remain his favourite time of the day to indulge his passion largely because they offer a soft natural light that “doesn’t cast harsh shadows”. In addition, he says, it is often when birds are most active and plants are fresh before their flowers wilt.

Words: Tracey Porter

In Matt’s bag: