Photographer Owen Wilson

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Owen Wilson spends a lot of his life on the road, visiting many places around Australia in order to capture our country’s magnificent scenery and wildlife. His work has been published by magazines and is often used for calendars and websites. The world through Owen’s camera lens is a place of the most remarkable beauty …

Hi Owen. What originally brought you to the Port Macquarie area?

Family. I grew up on a farm myself, and since my parents are ageing, I had the opportunity to come and live on the land again, bring my son up as I was brought up, with plenty of space and animals. My wife, son and I decided it would be a great time to make the change. 

Port Macquarie area is a great place to live, with an even climate all year round. Being approximately halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, photographically it is ideal for me and my photography.

What led to your initial interest in photography … and how has this interest developed over time?

When I was 11 years old, my brothers and I used to watch a series on TV, The Rovers. This lady was travelling Australia on a yacht, The Derwent Hunter and taking photos; this sparked my interest in travel and photography, along with Nature Walkabout and Vincent Seventy and all his documentaries. 

Too young to pursue this at the time, I was interested in making documentaries; 16 mm cameras and equipment were very expensive, so I started taking wildlife on our farm with an old plastic camera I had. I soon realised this was not going to cut it for great photographs. So, I saved up and purchased a Practica 35 mm camera with interchangeable lens; this worked out perfect for a 12 – 13 year old’s point of view.  

I joined the local camera club at age 16 in The Hawkesbury area, in my home town. I entered my photographs in the local shows and in the Royal Sydney Show, where I received first for my age 15 – 17 years and won a gold medallion, treasured to this day. 

The photograph, ironically, was a black and white photograph, 20 in x 16 in of the surf patrol boat, Flynns Beach Port Macquarie. In those days, you had to develop and print it yourself. For all the camera buffs out there, I used a Soligor 800 mm telephoto lens, being nearly a metre long, considered a slow lens of F8 aperture. 

I stopped photographing for a few years, as my interests were going in a different direction, like going out and having a good time. I met a mate from the camera club, who had travelled around Australia and was making a living out of photography, being published in books etc. This sparked my interest again, and I thought I would like this lifestyle too. 

From there, my camera kit grew; 35 mm was not considered good enough for publication – the go  was medium format cameras and transparency film. I purchased my first medium format camera, a second-hand Mamiya RB67 camera; the image size is 6 cm x 7 cm (in old school it’s 2¼ inch x 2¾ inch image size), this being ideal format for publication. This camera remains the best camera I have ever used; from landscape to portrait, you only had to rotate film back. 

I have used Hasselblad, Mamiya range finder, this being my last film camera bought in 1997; the full kit in those days was around $22,000 worth. 

I knew digital cameras were on their way, but at 2 MB, this was nowhere near good enough. Digital has come a long way. My first digital was Nikon D100; I shot a few test shots, and the publishers said yes, this would be suitable. A good camera, but a bit noisy in low light; this did the job until the new Nikon a few years later – a D700 full frame 35 mm. I shot with this camera for around four – five years; it probably made me the most money out of all my previous cameras. 

Technology progressed to D800, D810 – Nikon have produced a D850, but I haven’t purchased one yet. My Nikon outfit consists of a D810 body, lenses 14 24 mm – I call it my flower lens, great for wide angle shots;
24 – 70 mm, my most used lens; and a
70 – 200 mm, which is a nice telephoto lens. I do have a 300 mm 2.8 prime lens, mainly used for wildlife. The first three lenses are considered the perfect kit for professional photography.

You appear to have travelled extensively! What are some of your favourite places to visit and photograph (and why)?

I don’t really have a favourite place, but I do enjoy photographing in the Cairns region, mainly because of the tropical rainforest, and only a  two hour trip and you are in the savanna and dry areas – very diverse, as far as photography is concerned. 

I liked aerial photography over the Whitsundays Islands and around the outer reef. In saying that, I do also love the city skyline, such as Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne etc.

What is still on your bucket list as far as travel destinations go?

To do a complete circuit of Australia. New Zealand would be up there, along with Tasmania.

Your photographic portfolio is amazing. I was taken with your “Teddy’s World” shots … How/why did you come up with this concept?

I shoot for Bartel Calendars. He put it to me that he required some teddy shots for a calendar he was going to put together. He provided me with an example calendar, which was basically a teddy bear put into the middle of a shot such as on a bookcase etc. and that was it. 

I took a different approach to this, by making the teddy come to life in the real world. He was most impressed with my concept, and the collection grew from there. I shoot the teddy in the studio and deep etch a scene from somewhere in Australia in the background. This gave birth to Teddy’s World. This calendar sells all over Australia and around the world also.

What types of shoots/clients mostly keep you busy these days?

Today I mainly shoot for Bartel Calendars. I also sell my work to advertisers, web designers, magazines etc. Most of my sales are generated from my website: www.owenwilson.net.au

What are some projects you’ve worked on/achievements you’ve had in the photographic world that you’re especially proud of?

I shot a 30 page booklet for Currumbin Bird Sanctuary on the Gold Coast, a Fun over Fifties bus company shooting the autumn tour, plus the inland New South Wales tour, sold images to Qantas, numerous book publishers etc.

I have photographed everything from a spacey looking sponge to medical equipment, bottles, trophies etc. 

I have never been interested in the awards and competitions for photography, apart from my earlier days. I consider my achievement in photography as having my work published and recognised; I like to create the image and see it published, be it on a calendar or whatever. Also, to meet my clients’ expectations as to their wow factor. 

I do occasionally get a surprise when someone has acknowledged one of my images in a special event, such as
earthporm.com’s most marvellous list. 

My image of Grafton’s Jacaranda Trees ranked 9th out of 20 most marvellous streets shaded by trees and flowers, and then to have it published in the Grafton Daily Examiner with an interview from me … This, to me, means more than any award; someone thought my image was deserving enough to enter it into the competition.

One thing I would like to achieve is to have one of my images published on a stamp. I almost reached that achievement last year, when I was put on a short list for caves of Australia; my image of Undara lava tubes was, however, used for the maxicard, but not the stamp. Still time for this to be realised!

You have a blog too. What are some topics you most enjoy writing about?

The blog is new, as is the website; my previous website was old technology and had to be updated. It is a work in progress. The blog is mainly to keep our clients interested in my work, and to let them know what I am up to, just like Facebook and Instagram.

What plans do you have in the pipeline for the future?

Retirement, so I can have a holiday ha ha!

Travelling this great country with my wife and finally to do the entire country, because when I photograph, I only go by myself, and I usually am away for two – three months at a time.

Where can we find out more about you, or contact you?

You can visit my website: owenwilson.net.au and all my details are there.

I am also on Facebook and Instagram.

Thanks Owen.

Interview: Jo Robinson.

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