Wildlife Producer Photographer

Could wildlife producer photographer be the best job in the world?

Indeed, the job of wildlife producer photographer encompasses:

spending lots of time with beautiful wildlife,

promoting the love and respect for wildlife

and as a consequence having a large positive impact for conservation...

...all while living a life of adventures!


anemone-fish

Anemone and fish by wildlife producer photographer Lucy Trippett

Wildlife people are amazing: Lucy Trippett

Such a lucky wildlife producer photographer is a great friend of mine, Lucy.

Yes I am sure there are not only:

  • special privileged moments shared with wild animals,
  • amazing adventures on the most beautiful or remote parts of the world (Lucy has worked in Antarctica, Papua New Guinea, Greenland...)
  • or the feeling that you are changing the world for the better,

when you work as a wildlife producer photographer...


Yet when I look at Lucy this is the only thing I can think of, and thus I can't help thinking "I want to be you!!"


crabeater-seal

Crabeater seal in Antarctica, by Lucy Tripett

Obviously, with a job with so many positive aspects, I know it can't be that easy to be a successful wildlife producer photographer.

And sure enough, Lucy is extremely talented.

She has a special sensitivity and obviously a very artistic nature, she also is open to differences, compassionate with people and wildlife, a great communicator and able to share her passion through many different medias.

Lucy has used her natural talent, trusted her luck, she's been brave, bold, adaptable and hard working, and these are probably qualities you should have to be a wildlife producer photographer.

Her energy and motivation are boundless and nicely complemented by a solid sense of humour and a touch of craziness.

Yes, I most definitely want to be her!


Lucy is a wonderful ambassadress for oceans and sea life, and indeed wildlife is very lucky to have her on its side.


In the interview she gave to Wildhelpers, the most amazing Lucy Tripett shares some of the best moments of her life as a wildlife producer photographer, and gives some tips and life lessons to help other succeed in this dream job.

Interview with Lucy Trippett

The interview is separated in a few blocks:

Underwater world in Papua New Guinea, by Lucy Trippett

What do you do as a Wildlife Producer Photographer?

I’ve only recently moved from Production Management and Co-ordination to wildlife Producer Photographer and even a sometime Projectionist.

Film Production Managing or Co-ordinating in a small Natural History Documentary company involves organising film shoots:

  • all the way from booking accommodation and travel,
  • to setting up tanks and animals in a filming space,
  • to then liaising with scientists and cinematographer to get the sequences of animal behaviour. 

Usually my job would extend further to research, animal wrangling and sometimes even shooting the sea creature… ah, with a camera. 

Producing on the other hand involves raising funds to finance a film project and engaging a team – editor, writer, shooter etc depending on the project, to deliver it.   

My recent projection ventures, which have been screened on cliff faces, a council building and possibly soon Federation Square in Melbourne, are a side project and a fun and artistic way to show people the underwater world.

lionfish

"King of the Jungle" by Lucy Tripett

Who can you work for as a Wildlife Producer Photographer?

In the past we would do jobs for:

  • Discovery,
  • ABC,
  • National Geographic
  • as well as sell stock footage to companies like Qantas, Sony or Telstra. 

Currently I pursue grants to put on projections and am aiming to work with government funding sources to create short educational marine modules for children.

What is the best part of being a Wildlife Producer Photographer?

It’s been incredibly varied, I’ve found myself at the bottom of the sea off the Western Australian coast surrounded by sharks, or in a pretty coral garden in Papua New Guinea photographing a pair of Mandarin fish courting and spawning. 

Or in Tasmania filming a King Crab for Discovery showing it’s strength by shattering a glass bottle between its claws, to the magical egg laying ritual of the rare Tasmanian Handfish, as it delicately wraps its “hand” around an ascidian stalk and hops around on one fin extruding a pearl necklace type egg mass as it goes.

curious-fish

"Who's Looking At Who?" by Lucy Trippett

What is the worst part of being a Wildlife Producer Photographer?

With the variety of jobs comes a little financial instability, not knowing where the money is going to come from next.

How do you become a Wildlife Producer Photographer?

I studied Geography, Economics and Japanese at Monash University and then started a Post Graduate Diploma in Environmental Science, which was not completed as I left to work as ‘a bookkeeper’ with a Marine Natural History Documentary making company. 

It was quite a jump.

I was in Townsville at the James Cook University and bored with study, so for some reason I started flipping through the Yellow Pages looking for an interesting company to work for. 

All of a sudden my eyes alit on an ad for a small company called ‘Coral Sea Imagery’

They sounded perfect, based locally they made films and were advertising themselves to do marine shoots on the Great Barrier Reef (how exciting!).  I had never done anything like this apart from a little work for the ABC Natural History Unit, but I was in a mood for change and taking chances. 


Surely they might need a Japanese speaking Environmental Economics expert! 

Hmmmm.  


So I rang them up with my heart thumping, as for some reason I could feel that by doing this my life was going to change direction forever

I was invited in on Monday for an interview, (where I possibly might have exaggerated my accounting skills…) and got a job doing the books.  I was then to spend nearly the next 20 years working underwater.

Dave Hannan [Wildhelpers' note: Dave Hannan is a famous wildlife documentary maker] was the head of Coral Sea Imagery and in him I found someone who loved the sea even more than me.  His passion for the ocean and its inhabitants is contagious and affects anyone he comes into contact with.  Dave’s enthusiasm and drive to get marine films up, was, and still is relentless. 

We formed a relationship, a new company and went on adventure after adventure.

Underwater world in Papua New Guinea, by Lucy Trippett

What helped you most in becoming a Wildlife Producer Photographer?

Being flexible and always having plan B and plan C in the back of your mind for when plan A takes a dive. 

Of course the people you work with are one of the most important factors for anyone to get anywhere.  Over the years I have been struck by a trend in the type of people involved not just in filmmaking, but with the sea in general. 

From Oceanographers to Coral Scientists, Aquarists, Divers, Fishermen and Conservationists, for most of them it’s not just a job it’s something more.  People who are involved with the sea seem to really love it and there is a factor at play that I think inspires innovative problem solving and promotes thinking outside the square

The sea is an unpredictable element – it can be soothing or calming and then dangerous and unpredictable, you have to think quickly, calmly and innovatively at times.  So perhaps the sea is a catalyst or a draw for people who think on their feet and respond to situations with a can do attitude. 

I think this headspace, gathered from a myriad of ocean people, has contributed to mine.

How long did it take to become a Wildlife Producer Photographer?

I was lucky enough to get involved in the film industry right after University, but there has been a fair amount of on the job training and courses completed since.

Anemone and slug by Lucy Tripett

What is your advice to someone that would like to become a Wildlife Producer Photographer?

Open the Yellow Pages look for the company you want to work with and then call them! 

No seriously though, while following your gut instincts and taking a chance is great, furthering your education really helps. 

For attaining documentary making skills, the best film school in the country is The Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) in Sydney and I’ve done a number of short courses with them over the years.

AFTRS offers both Undergraduate and Post-Graduate courses in all aspects of the film world including, Cinematography, Producing, Sound, Editing, Screen Writing and so on. It is a school primarily aimed at people with some experience in the industry, who want to learn new skills or round out their ‘on the job’ skills base with specialist training.  Some of their Post Graduate courses are really quite prestigious and hard to get into. 

Years ago I thought I’d try for their one year Producing course, I managed to get all the way through to the final interview stage where you have to do the professional “pitch”… and well that didn’t go too well!  They were very encouraging however and advised me to get more experience, do some short courses and re-apply. 

As it turned out I found their summer courses to be just fantastic and I can’t recommend them highly enough. 

Another fabulous institution is the Swinburne University of Technology where Dave learn Cinematography.  There you can get Bachelor Degrees or Diplomas either on campus or remotely via the Internet, they also offer short / summer courses. 

For anyone considering moving into the film world, I would definitely consider doing a few two 2 month courses at either of these institutions to get cutting edge training and to narrow down which part of the film world is for you.


anemone-fish

Anemone and fish by Lucy Trippett

More often than not, people tend to move into documentary filmmaking after gaining experience in other jobs such as being an accountant, writer, photographer, biologist etc. 

It isn’t common to go to film school and then straight into a job, as the better industry oriented film schools tend to want mature students with extensive life experience to apply.  (Of course if you want to be something like an Editor, it would certainly be advisable to do a course first up!) 

Another plus is that many common jobs such as being a secretary, an office manger or a bookkeeper entail skills that are directly applicable to the film industry so you might already have what’s required to get started.

So, look at using the skills you already have to get a foothold in the industry, identify where you want to end up within it and then move forward with on the job training and some specialist courses to get yourself to where you want to be.

How do you spend your time as a Wildlife Producer Photographer?

When on a marine natural history field shoot you spend most of every day underwater and sometimes well into the night. 


When filming in a studio environment, say at Heron Island, we would set up the studio space with the camera, motion controller, screens and multiple tanks or giant buckets into which we would place the coral that was to spawn or the animals that we were going to film. 

Heron is the perfect location as the research station has running salt water, sea creatures and scientist on tap!  All the animals are collected from the reef with permits, kept for a short period of time in holding tanks then transferred to a filming tank for their starring performance and then released back to the wild. 


Conversely out of the field, boring office time involves researching, organising trips, helping write proposals or treatments, creating websites, promotional material and DVD covers.  (Actually it’s not all that boring…)


"Dark and Stormy" by Lucy Tripett

During an “average” year a doco filmmaker might spend:

  • a quarter of the year researching projects and writing treatments,
  • another quarter trying to raise funds for projects,
  • hopefully up to another quarter filming at sea or in a studio environment
  • and then the rest of the time making the project. 


This all sounds very organised but unfortunately it is usually anything but and the aforementioned estimates are general. 

You might spend 2 years in the office, trying to get a project up or selling stock footage, with short field trips interspersed, or maybe a whole 6 months in the field shooting for a doco, as we did ages ago in Tasmania and WA.  

It really depends on the projects you’re involved with and how successful you are at getting them up.

One thing you really have to be is flexible and it’s a good idea to have a ‘bread and butter’ income such as selling DVD’s or stock footage, to keep you going financially during the unpredictable lulls.

And so, how much time do you spend with wildlife and/or in their environment?

Over 20 years I’ve been lucky enough to spend a huge amount of time underwater, which has of itself been a huge learning experience. 

At the beginning of my career I saw fish as these rather pretty but facile, simple creatures that swam from left to right and sometimes got swept up in nets, however my perception of fish and where they live has changed. 

You see the little male dragonet (fish) proudly perched on his pectoral fins, periodically raising and lowering his beautiful dorsal fin for the nearby female to see and hopefully be impressed by.  You go back to the same crevice in the reef the next day and see him under the same ledge, vainly waving away and you realise that, is his home. 

You see a school of Bi-Colour Parrotfish, the single brightly coloured male jauntily parading and showing off in front of his group of females.

(Funnily enough he was once a female himself as these parrotfish are sequential hermaphrodites. The dominant female of the group or ‘harem’ changes sex into a male for reproductive reasons, if that ‘male’ then dies, the next female in line changes sex to be the man).   

Anyway I digress, you then go back a month later to the same reef and see that same male Parrot Fish prancing around with his girls and you realise that this, is their home. 

You see Moray Eels inhabiting reef crevices alongside nervous Gobies on the sand, their symbiotic mates the Burrowing Shrimp continuously and helpfully digging out a bolt hole for the Goby to retreat to if snapped at by the Moray.  

At the same time another species of Shrimp is calmly picking the detritus from the teeth of the same Moray in order to feed.  Blithely gliding by are brightly coloured Nudibranchs or sea slugs, secure in the knowledge that their poisonous toxicity renders them safe from attack from both Goby and Moray.

You realise that the undersea community is extraordinarily complex and fascinating and the level of interspecies communication is staggering. We humans seem to have difficulty communicating effectively with each other let alone another species. 

So I think understanding the behaviour of aquatic creatures, results in a respect for their individuality and that these beings have a home, the sea, a place where they have daily life and death struggles just like we do.

Moray and shrimps by Lucy Trippett


How much difference to wildlife conservation can a
Wildlife Producer Photographer make?

Through the medium of film and showing people the complexity and beauty of the undersea world, I hope other people will come to the realisation that the sea is the home of trillions of interesting individuals and not just a resource to be plundered ad infinitum by air breathing bipeds. 

This is not to say that we should not sustainably harvest sea creatures, as millions of people in the Asia and the South Pacific region depend on seafood as their primary source of protein, however we do need to be sensible about it and try to strike a balance.


Organisations trying to achieve this balance are the fabulous Australian Marine Conservation Society and the PEW Foundation both of whom I support through campaigns such as ‘Save the Coral Sea’.  My photographs were displayed on billboards around Australia and as part of a travelling print exhibition to promote awareness of the situation in the Coral Sea.  They do a fantastic job of getting the message out about the state of our oceans.

Can you describe one or two of your “pet projects”?

I’m working on producing some marine educational modules / audio visual teacher supplements for schools as well as a children’s book that blends a fantasy / “city of coral” aspect of the undersea world with humour and facts told by some anthropomorphic and quirky sea characters.

I’m also managing an online shop called ‘Ocean Art Alliance’.  It consists of a group of ocean inspired artists and photographers who have come together to sell artwork with a portion of the profits going to conservation.  

Ocean Ark Alliance is another great website that promotes awareness of the issues of Ocean Acidification among other things.  It is a not for profit organisation that provides open access marine education resources and supports Dr Charlie Veron’s Corals of the World Legacy.  

"Under the Jetty" by Lucy Tripett

What's your Favourite animal?

The Mutton Bird as they make the most ungodly howling racket all night, nest underground in burrows and crash into trees, buildings and people when landing, yet at sea they are one of the most graceful and hardy of birds.

What's your most powerful source of inspiration?

Nature, aw how corny but it’s true.

What's your most important reading?

‘Sea Sick’ by Alanna Mitchell

A great overview of the ecological crises the ocean and humankind are facing.  It covers bleaching, pollution, acidification and the imminent crash of wild seafood populations, so sounds cheery hey!  No really, it’s a fabulous book to get the lay person across the issues, written in a really engaging style.

And to finish, a few of Lucy's favourite cartoons...


You can find more info on Lucy Tripett's work as a Wildlife Producer Photographer and her beautiful photographs and amazing wildlife documentaries.

You can even be privileged enough to own one of Lucy Tripett's wildlife photographs!

Buy Lucy Tripett photographs online (with some of the profits going straight back to conservation).