Tom Putt

WINNER, IPA NATURE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR, 2019

Q: Tell us a bit about your early life and growing up in Australia?

A. I grew up in Melbourne, Victoria (down south). I remember summers spent in the family pool, swimming laps and playing games with my brother. Mum would drag us out for lunch and dinner – the rest of the time we were water babies!

Q: How did you discover your love for photography?

A: From age 9 I fell in love with birds. Through my teenage years I spent my spare time catching, banding and photographing birds as a volunteer for a wildlife organisation. This is where I gained an interest in photography. The leader, Clive Minton, was a passionate photographer and mentored me.

When I finished my university degree in Psychology and Sociology, I decided I wanted to be a professional sports photographer. I was competing in triathlons as an amateur and photographing events on the side. I built up quite a portfolio and applied for a job with a leading sports agency. Thankfully they took me on board, and I was fortunate to photograph over 300 events in my three years at the agency, including the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Q: From sports, you moved on to wildlife and nature photography, with emphasis on your home country, Australia. You have called the wilderness your “office” for the last 20 years. What do you love about this genre?

A: I love being outdoors. Something about it grounds me, fills my soul and makes me more content. The photography is just a way of expressing my creativity, I guess. And yes, I love the Australian outback – there’s a magnetism that draws me back there time and time again.

Q: The recent bushfires in Australia must have impacted you personally in a big way. What was it like to experience this first hand?

A: The fires were a big concern for all Australians I believe. We have fires in Australia every summer, but the scale of the fires this year was unprecedented. It was hard not to be affected even though we live several hundreds of kilometers away. I feel so deeply for those impacted directly. The Australian way is to brush yourself off and rebuild ASAP but it’s the psychological scaring that worries me the most. What some people have gone through is hard to fathom.

Q: Your winning project at IPA 2019 was a series about the landscape of the south-east coast of Iceland–breathtaking photos taken from a light plane. What led you to Iceland firstly, and why did you choose to shoot the images from a plane instead of using a drone?

A: Iceland has been on my bucket list to photograph from the air since first visiting there in 2014. And planes are just so much more fun than a drone! There’s nothing better than flying with a good pilot who can safely take care of you and lead you to the best locations. My pilot Harald is a keen photographer also and was a blast to fly with in Iceland. His local knowledge in helping me get these shots was invaluable. You can cover so much more ground in the plane compared to a drone. The productivity is far higher.

Q: How many times do you have to fly around an area to finally feel satisfied with what you’ve got?

A: Sometimes it can be 7-8 times before I’m confident that I’ve got what I need. Mind you, I never feel I’ve got the shot until I download and see it on my computer screen. But flying like this and orbiting so many times has it drawbacks also. I often suffer from motion sickness afterwards and have to spend several hours lying down to recover after a long flight. My head feels like I’ve sculled a bottle of wine!

Q: What do you think about the direction landscape photography is moving in now? 

A: It’s grown in popularity enormously with digital cameras and social media. It’s fantastic to see. The world is a better place with all of this rich imagery. We’ve seen the genre evolve with the advent of drones and aerial photography becoming popular again. I’m not sure what is next – it’s exciting to see!

Q: Your work has won multiple awards and distinctions. What does winning the “IPA 2019 Nature Photographer of the Year” mean to you specifically?

OMG, the best! I’ve entered the awards on and off since 2013 and never would have dreamt of winning a category. However, I do feel I’ve matured as a photographer and am producing better and more consistent work than ever before. Coming second place in the Aerial Category last year (2018) made me all the more determined to win that category in 2019. Travelling to New York for the first time to accept the award will certainly go down as one of my life’s highlights!

Q: Do you ever travel to beautiful places without your camera? 

A: Ha I try not to! I do allow myself to take time off from the camera and I’ve got better at allowing myself to observe and appreciate the landscape without having to have a camera in my hand. Sometimes I need a creative break to recharge my batteries and allow that hunger to come back!