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Happy snapper . . . Phil Janssen prepares for another big weekend of rugby. PHOTO: HAMISH MACLEAN

He is as tall as a lock but you will find Phil Janssen on the sidelines, not in a scrum. The passionate photographer has become a familiar sight in the North Otago rugby community, and is hoping his talent behind a camera can lead to a professional career. Hayden Meikle talks to him.

Q: How old are you, Phil?
I’m 31.

Q: Are you an Oamaru local?
I was born in Dunedin but my family is from here, and I went to school at St Kevin’s.

Q: When did you first pick up a camera?
Not really until 2013. I was doing film and thought I’d also give digital photography a crack for fun. And I just fell in love with it. I knew it was me. I studied in Dunedin for two years and got my diploma in photography. It was a killer, that course. We had a massive class but by the end of it, there might only have been eight of us left standing.

Q: Do people think it’s easy to take great photos with modern technology?
Yes, totally, ha ha. “All you’ve got to do is push a button.” Or: “Wow, what a great photo – you must have a really good camera.” It doesn’t matter what you use. A good camera helps but it’s mainly the person behind it.

Q: When did you get into rugby photography?
It sort of just happened. A friend of mine asked me to go photograph the Sassenachs in Dunedin. Then somehow I managed to work for the Otago rugby union.

Q: Any simple tips for taking a good rugby photo?
Get low. I’m actually lying down for a lot of my shots. For the most part, I don’t want to see the playing field in the photo. And don’t be afraid to use a high shutter speed. You can take a burst of shots, and somewhere in there is the peak action.

Q: You’ve set up RINO – Rugby In North Otago. What are you hoping to achieve?
Very good question. I have got sort of a five-year plan but I will keep that under wraps for now. Mainly it’s just about the community. When I came here, it was just me photographing Maheno, because my flatmate played for them. That opened up a few other things and I thought, maybe there should be something more. The community has responded well to the photographs, and everybody here is connected to rugby in some way.

Q: Is there one team you enjoy photographing more than others?
Not really. I mean, I’ve always enjoyed the Maheno boys, because I got to know them over the course of a year. But I do enjoy photographing JAB rugby now. It’s a lot of fun, especially getting these young kids to look like big-time professionals in action shots.

Q: What do you do for a day job?
I’m a support worker at IHC.

Q: What’s the dream, in terms of photography?
I want to be a visual journalist. My dream would be to go overseas to photograph areas of human plight, and to see if I could help people through photography. I’d love to do that. I’m not a good writer – I tell my stories through photos.

Check out Phil Janssen’s work at www.rino.co.nz or the “Rugby in North Otago” page on Facebook.