HE’S SNAPPED SNOWY OWLS IN AN ISOLATED ESKIMO FISHING VILLAGE AND TRACKED 15 FOOT BEARS THROUGHOUT ALASKA. BUT SHORTLY NATURE PHOTOGRAPHER WILL EADES WILL TACKLE HIS BIGGEST CHALLENGE YET WHEN HE TAKES ON TORNADO ALLEY.
Will Eades was still a teenager when he successfully shot his first photo of an electrostatic discharge. “I’ve had an interest in the natural world for as long as I can remember and got my first point and shoot when I was 18. The next day a huge storm blew over our house and I managed to fluke my first photo of a lightning bolt by continually pressing the shutter. The image was terrible, but it was still exciting to freeze that split second moment.”
Twelve years and several cameras later, wild nature photography remains the 30-year-old’s favourite way to pass the time. In 2015 Will beat 12,000 entrants to take out top prize in the ‘At the Water’s Edge’ category for the International Outdoor Photographer of the Year Awards after documenting a huge storm that hit Port Macquarie and more recently he beat 2500 others to place in the top 15 Landscape photographers in Australia for the 2016 Photographer of the Year Awards.
Shooting largely for his own enjoyment, Will says his biggest commercial success was a storm image that was licenced to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology for use in an advertising campaign. Yet despite having a lifelong affinity with the wilder side of nature, the self-taught snapper says it was only six years ago that he began taking a more critical approach to his work.
Will, a former ferry skipper whose day job now is as operations manager of a small fleet of vehicular ferries, says his first lessons came from the manual of his Nikon D60, which put into words how light travels to the camera’s sensor in physical terms. This he found “fascinating”, he says, prompting the self-taught photographer to spend up to two hours each day shooting, reading about photography, or getting inspiration from other photographer’s images.
His association with Nikon began with a basic D60 that was picked up second hand. A few years later he upgraded to a D7000.
“The D7000 really opened my eyes to what was possible. Then I made the jump to full frame with the D600, and it wasn’t long before I had to have the D810, which is what I shoot with now. It’s a remarkable camera.”His current lens line up includes the NIKKOR AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR, the NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/4, the NIKKOR AF-S 50mm f/1.8G and the NIKKOR AF-S 300mm f/2.8 VR II. He prefers to match the big telephoto with a Nikon AF-S TC-14E III 1.4x Teleconverter and Nikon AF-S TC-20E III 2x Teleconverter for “added reach”.
Will says it’s almost guaranteed that the one lens a photographer always wants is the one he or she has left at home so to counter this issue, he insists on always carrying all lenses with him.
“Lens selection depends on the subject of course, but I always try to shoot the same subject with at least two different focal lengths. It keeps my mind working towards new compositions and I often surprise myself. I normally start as wide as possible and work my way inwards. I’ve shot one storm at 20mm, and then zoomed all the way in with a 300mm. Both shots gave great results, so it’s really a matter of conditions and your creative perspective as to the best lens to best lens for the job,” he says.
Having grown somewhat tired of shooting nature scenes around his home town, recently Will has begun taking his camera further afield. His initial trip was to Alaska where he spent six weeks trekking around with his camera bag, shooting in a diverse range of locations including a trip to the Kodiak interior amongst the giant Brown Bears.
“I took a seaplane inland for two hours where I met my guide who lives on an island far from any form of civilisation. We took his small boat up river for another few hours to our campsite, which was comprised of two tents, a log for sitting, and a sack of supplies hoisted five metres up a nearby tree. During our days spent hiking, we tracked the bears from sunrise to sunset by following their trails. The terrain was wild, with shoulder high grass, freezing streams, and dense woodlands. I was lucky enough to encounter over 30 bears in their natural habitat, with our closest encounter placing us within 10-15ft of a big male.”
It was during this same trip he achieved what he considers the “hardest won image” of his career to date where he was required to travel to Barrow, a small Eskimo fishing village perched on the edge of the Artic Ocean where he spent five days searching for the elusive Snowy Owl.
“Over that time I managed to see five owls out on the tundra. Of those, two allowed me to approach close enough for a photograph, but only one encounter had a brief moment of good light, which lasted for two minutes. Due to the owl’s incredible vision, I had to crawl on my stomach for half an hour, trying to stay hidden to get close enough for a shot.
“When I was within range the sun broke through some clouds and the Arctic tundra was lit up in autumn tones – I couldn’t believe it. The resulting contrast against the sheer white of the owl was more than I could have hoped for in my search for a decent image. The experience definitely opened my eyes to the extreme lengths that the pros must go to day after day.”
However shooting animals in their natural habitat has proved a far safer venture than his penchant for chasing wild weather patterns. Just two months ago he was caught in the middle of an electrical storm with a large amount of lightning strikes. The strikes became so intense he was forced to retreat to his car until they had passed because “No shot is worth getting struck!”.
Later this year Will will again attempt to photograph some of the most dramatic and hypnotic weather systems in the world when he travels to the Southern United States to chase storms through Tornado Alley.
The chase will take place over 14 days, with each day starting early at around 2am to check weather forecasts and radar maps. “We then plan our route and hit the road before the sun is up. We drive for as long as it takes to try and put ourselves in the path of these storms, some having the potential to produce tornados.
With all storms, the lack of time has to be the greatest challenge. Weather changes so rapidly when its unstable, so brilliant lighting conditions and shifting cloud structures can be fleeting – sometimes lasting less than a minute. During that time you might only get one lightning strike – so it’s a split second moment in time that you’re trying to capture, or its gone forever. “Hopefully we can capture something spectacular.”
Words: Tracey Porter