I’ve enjoyed messing about with cameras for many years. My first camera was a battered old Yashica twin-lens reflex, in the years when the word digital meant something about fingers or numbers. The Yashica had a ground-glass viewfinder that you looked down into, revealing an upside-down and back-the-front image. To a young lad, this was mesmerising. I remember the smell of the 120 roll film as the foil packet was opened and the film wound onto the spool, as well as the delicate click of the leaf-shutter.

Standing in the flooded Cooper Creek, near Windorah, western Queensland.

Standing in the flooded Cooper Creek, near Windorah, western Queensland.

While the gear has changed over the years, the excitement of photography has not. It’s always been a magical process. My photography developed along with my interest in exploring the natural world, and a camera of some sort has always been in my backpack. Time spent exploring a local patch of scrub or a distant reserve always helps me cope with life back in the ‘real’ world. While I have lost count of the number of photographers I envy for their skill and talent, I try not to get too competitive about it all. Everyone sees the same scene differently, and captures it, whether in their mind, on paper or on film, in different ways. So, it’s a personal journey, but one made all the better by the time spent trying to capture some elusive moment with fellow photographers.

I don’t earn a living from photography — I work with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, an organisation with a long history of protecting and sharing the State’s wonderful national parks. I am fortunate to be able to work with some fine people and to occasionally get to visit some great places as part of my work.

While a good friend once said to me that, “You are either a good photographer or a good naturalist,” I am happy to combine the two pursuits as much as possible. It just makes it harder to travel when you’re juggling photographic gear, tripod, spotting scope, GPS, binoculars and field guides — which is why I go nowhere without two assistants and a caravan (or not).

Mount Moffat section, Carnarvon National Park, Central Queensland. Photo Rob Mancini.

Mount Moffat section, Carnarvon National Park, Central Queensland. Photo Rob Mancini.

The camera has helped me to slow down and take a closer look at things. Lots of hours wrestling with slow, expensive slide film has taught me about the need to take my time with photography, still a good idea even with today’s digital cameras. I love capturing the character of small creatures, and I like looking for the patterns within the apparent chaos of nature. While it’s my idea of paradise to be off in the swamp with a camera, I’m usually to be found at work or home. However, there’s always a challenge in discovering those things that survive in and around our urban areas. If we could only see the track-ways and territories of all the creatures that cover our own spaces, I think we’d be astonished. Humans think that we’re the centre of everything, but we are just one part of the scene.

The modern city … is a zoopolis, with an overlap of human and animal geographies, where a keen-eyed and patient naturalist can find endless opportunities to stimulate the mind and feed the soul. Lyanda Lynn Haupt

As people drive great distances to explore wild places such as national parks, it can be easy to forget that nature lives all around us — in our backyards, bush blocks, parks and reserves, and these places, as well as the larger, remoter areas, are worthy of our consideration, respect and protection. I’ve grown up in the south-east corner of Queensland, a place of astonishing biodiversity, and over the years I’ve seen the bush reserves and corners of this wonderful part of Australia become ever-diminished by development. The future value of these places for recreation and restoration is undeniable. I believe that it is important to strive for balanced development in the south-east, and I respect the many practical conservationists working to achieve this. We need places to live, but we also need to leave places for our fellow species to live.

Photographing Common Bluetails (Ischnura heterosticta), Toowoomba. Photo H. Ashdown.

Photographing Common Bluetails (Ischnura heterosticta), Toowoomba. Photo H. Ashdown.

Nerdy technical stuff? I use whatever gear is at hand, often compact digital cameras. It’s fun, but frustrating, to wrestle with simple bits of gear to see what you can wring out of them (especially if you can’t afford that 600mm f2.8). It’s a tradition that many film users had no choice in — a Pentax Spotmatic and 50mm lens needed to be really pushed to get the most out of any photographic situation. This, however, always helped the photographer to understand the immutable laws that govern photography, and which have not changed over the years. I am reminded of this when I view the photographs that those before me have taken with far simpler cameras and lenses. As has been said, the best camera is the one you have in your hands at the time.

I started my 35mm SLR work with an Olympus OM2N, one of a series of small, elegant, film cameras, before moving on to Nikon gear. My Nikon F4 SLR film camera was the most magical combination of the aesthetic and technical, and every excursion with it in hand felt like an adventure. I’ve also used many compact cameras over the years, particularly the wonderful Canon Powershot G series, and have used Canon SLR gear for work — the EOS7D has been a beautiful bit of gear to work with. I recently returned back to Olympus, buying a small, but powerful, OMD-EM5, a micro 4/3 camera. I’ve even been using a 30-year old Zuiko mf 300mm lens on it, donated to me by a friend, with great results. I’m liking the connections between old and new that this camera is giving me. Using this little camera is fun, and that’s what photography should always be about.

I hope you find something you like on this blog. Please return, and if you have time check my image galleries on my main website. Send a message if you feel inclined, it would be great to hear from you. May you enjoy your own journeys into photography and the natural world, however close to your back door these journeys may be.

Robert Ashdown

Dodgy photos of Ashdown messing about with cameras.

Top row (L-R): Always take a photographic assistant with you (Toowoomba, photo H. Ashdown); Far western Queensland, 1996; About to enter the freezing waters at Girraween in search of the endangered Bald Rock River Turtle (photo R. Neilson); Walking with the junior photographer at Girraween NP; Getting a Carpet Python off the road (Arcadia Valley, photo R. Neilson); In the rainforest somewhere (photo E. Vanderduys). Middle row (L-R): Self-portrait with new arrival, 2000; My favourite bird hide, Lota; On the trail, Conondale Ranges (photo A. Creed); At Carnarvon Gorge. Bottom row (L-R): Photographing for the new Cooloola Great Walk (Photo M. Dargusch); Looking east from Mt TableTop, Toowoomba; Long ago with trusty Olympus OM2 at Moreton Island (photo E. Vanderduys); Central Queensland, near Springsure (photo L. Thompson); Boowinda Gorge, Carnarvon (photo A. Creed).