“Maybe it’s my Viking ancestry.”
Trying to explain his passion for ocean swells and isolated marine environments, nature photographer Kim Westerskov jokes that it might stem from his Viking roots. He specialises in what he calls “ocean wilderness” areas – in the seas, sea life and coastlines from Antarctica to tropical seas.
“I’ve had a long love affair with these wild, wet, cold and lonely places and an equally strong commitment to capturing some of the wonder and beauty and of these places.”
Campbell Albatross over a stormy ocean © Kim Westerskov
He is the only photographer ever to have won five first prizes in the world’s largest nature photography competition, the BBC/Natural History Museum (currently Veolia Environnement) “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” competition.
This prestigious competition is essentially the “Olympics” of nature photography worldwide – the last round of the competition attracted over 40,000 images from 95 countries.
Photographic assignments have included work for the BBC, TVNZ, New Zealand Herald, New Zealand Geographic magazine, and the Department of Conservation. One of his largest assignment saw him take 25,000 photos in Antarctica for the $7 million Visitor Centre at Christchurch’s International Antarctic Centre.
Lone Adelie penguin in field of jagged, jumbled sea ice in Antarctica © Kim Westerskov
Emperor penguin chicks 'socialising' with their parents in Antartica © Kim Westerskov
Along the way in his photographic assignments he’s been “cuddled” by a humpback whale, caught in a diving sperm whale’s downdraft, dived under the Antarctic ice and photographed at minus 50 degrees Celsius in Antarctica.
Humpback Whale mother and baby © Kim Westerskov
Humpback Whale surfacing underwater © Kim Westerskov
“I’ve always loved nature. When I was a child, I spent as much time as possible by myself in the hills and forests. Later my family moved to a coastal village near Dunedin and then I spent most of my spare time in the sea: surf lifesaving, swimming, surfing, diving… After I graduated from university (with a Ph.D. in marine biology) I was faced with either getting a “real job” or doing what I liked best and trying to make it into a job. So that’s what I’ve done ever since – photograph and write about the sea and the many animals that live there.
Blue shark © Kim Westerskov
“Eighteen books have resulted, and a career that has been exciting, rewarding, and successful enough to support my wonderful family: my wife Vivienne, son Gareth and daughter Anne.”
“In recent years I’ve become a teacher too, sharing techniques and insights with a steady stream of keen photographers through the various photo workshops and field trips that I run.
“A part of me always wanted to be a teacher, so I find these times rewarding – and fun. I’m meeting some great people. Sharing with others – by photography and writing and teaching – some of the beauty, wonder and excitement of the sea is what I like doing best. On a good day, surrounded by whales or dolphins or sea lions or seabirds – or just the sea and sky – it’s the best job in the world. Then the wind and swell come up… and up, and it’s not quite so good. Still, even then I keep photographing – the cover photo on the first edition of the book “The Perfect Storm” was one of mine.”
“I love being a nature photographer. I love nature and I love mooching around by myself and I love art. Nature photography allows me to combine all three. Eventually it even allowed me to make a career out of it.”
Asked how he honed his craft, Kim says it was just ‘by doing it’.
“Specifically by taking my camera to the places I loved – wilderness places and underwater – and trying to capture the essence, the special moments of what I saw. I also spent a lot of time analysing the photos I had recently taken, so what worked, what didn’t work, and how could I do better next time. And by reading photography magazines and books, talking with other photographers and going to workshops.”
“My best piece of advice for people looking to develop their photography skills or forge a career out of it is to do it. Do it, enjoy the journey, and keep doing it. Learn from anybody and everybody. Keep learning – I’m learning new stuff faster today than at any other time in my career [my head hurts]. As in most endeavours it’s those people with the most passion that will eventually succeed.”
Orca whales © Kim Westerskov
“Learn whatever technical skills you need, but don’t get too hung up over the technical stuff. I believe that good photography is perhaps only 20% about the technical stuff, and maybe 80% about ‘the other stuff’ – passion, love, commitment, a good eye, knowledge of [and respect for] your subject and understanding what aspects of photography can create emotion and connection in photos.”
Kim will be sharing his portfolio and more insights into photography tomorrow at Auckland Museum at 2pm (Saturday 18 August) or you can visit his site to learn more http://www.kimwphotography.com/