SHARE
A sprinkling of oyster catchers . . . Ms Willetts is one of 40 finalists in the New Zealand Geographic photography awards with this photo taken at Awaroa Bay in Marlborough. PHOTO: EMMA WILLETTS

Oamaru photographer Emma Willetts is rapidly amassing silverware and gaining national recognition with her striking aerial photography.

Ms Willetts recently won three silver medals, one with distinction, in the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP), or Iris Awards, for her nature and landscape photography. She has also been named as one of 40 finalists in the New Zealand Geographic (NZGEO) Photography Competition.

This was the first time she had entered the NZGEO awards and her four photographs helped make up more than 6000 entries.

She was “shocked” to be named as a finalist.

One image was shot in Marlborough over Awaroa Bay, in June this year, with oyster catcher birds that her fiance, Riverstone Kitchen chef Bevan Smith, likened to sesame seeds.

Another entry was taken of tidal patterns from Farewell Spit during the same Marlborough flight, while the other two were taken while flying with local dairy farmer and pilot Hayden Williams.

“One is from a sunrise flight with Hayden earlier this year over the Waitaki River mouth which looked kind of prehistoric at the time,” she said.

“The other is the Tasman River flowing into Lake Pukaki during some glacial melt at the beginning of the year.”

Oamaru photographer Emma Willetts. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

The winner of the competition would be decided by public vote online. People had to vote for their five favourites from the 40 finalists, and the winner was chosen from there.

The Iris Awards was usually a print competition run in Wellington over five days, with the results out on the day of judging.

This time, because of Covid restrictions, everything was online and entry numbers, which were usually restricted to four per category, were unrestricted – so they had thousands of photographs to score, she said.

“They’re still judging because there’s just so many entries this year . . . but I do know I’ve picked up a few [silvers].”

Ms Willetts’ photography career began with weddings, families and portraits and developed from there.

“I didn’t really get into landscapes until probably about three years ago, and aerial specifically for about two years. That’s definitely my favourite,” she said.

“I still shoot it all, but if I could choose one, then definitely landscape.

“You’re out in nature, and you can take your time and see things a little bit differently – especially from a plane.

“It’s quite abstract, some of it.”

Ms Willetts’ interest in aerial photography was piqued during a flight out of Tekapo in 2017 with Mr Smith and his children.

“I was chatting to the pilot and he said he took quite a few photographers up, and I guess that just sort of sparked my interest. Then I went up with Craig [McMillan] from Heliventures, and did some of the Waitaki, which were more traditional landscapes.

“But then along the way, I started taking some photos of the river, and just sticking my camera as far out the door as I could.

“You just see things differently, and I just like pulling apart the abstract elements of one scene that you wouldn’t normally see.”

The Grassmere Salt Lakes in Blenheim.

Aerial photography often involves hanging out the side of a helicopter or plane, something that does not faze Ms Willetts, who loves flying.

“In a helicopter, they take the door off. Actually, same for the plane. The photo that’s in the NZGEO final, that was a flight all around the Marlborough Sounds, and then we just landed in a little strip in the bush, and the pilot took the door off and we just took off again and circled around all the little inlets.

“Typically, it’s preferable to shoot with the door off – but don’t worry, you wear a harness.

“Other times, with Hayden, he’ll just tip the plane and then I flick the window open and shoot out like that.”

Ms Willetts would love to explore more of New Zealand, especially the glaciers and the West Coast.

“I just need to get out a little bit more, but it’s not cheap.”

Commercial photography was also in high demand, as people were looking more into moving their businesses online.

To vote for Ms Willetts’ entry in the NZGEO awards, go to: nzgeo.com/photography/photographer-of-the-year-2020-finalists