Photographer on cloud nine

Top shot . . . Emma Willetts’ birds-eye view of Oamaru Shingle Supplies was awarded runner-up in the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year competition, in the aerial category. PHOTO: SUPPLIED/EMMA WILLETTS

North Otago’s Emma Willetts is on a high, after another accolade for her aerial photography.

Ms Willetts has just returned from Auckland, where the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year 2022 awards took place at the weekend. She came away as the runner-up in the aerial category.

‘‘I was actually really, really shocked. I did not expect to get anything this year . . . ’cos it was such an unconventional image. Not, like, a pretty image as such, but anyway, that was pretty cool.’’

The photo selected was looking down on Oamaru Shingle Supplies, and was taken last year during an early morning Cessna flight with North Otago pilot and dairy farmer Hayden Williams, who Ms Willetts regularly flew with.

‘‘That flight, we were on our way to the West Coast that day, to do some photos over there, and I had flown over the quarry a few times and thought ‘mmm, that’d be quite cool to photograph’, and this particular morning, the light was really good, so I just asked if he could do a few loops around,’’ she said.

Ms Willetts had won the same category in 2020, her first year entering the competition, with a photo of oystercatchers dotting Marlborough’s Awaroa Bay.

She was also a finalist last year, but did not place.

Shocked . . . Oamaru photographer Emma Willetts did
not expect her ‘‘unconventional’’ photo to win an award.

‘‘I usually enter about 10 to 12 [photos] every year and I always do the aerial category. There are other categories, but I just sort of stick to what I know.’’

Ms Willetts’ shot was one of 55 chosen for the finals, from more than 6000 entries.

First place in the aerial category went to Nelson photographer Andy MacDonald, who was also named overall Photographer of the Year.

Ms Willetts said hers was the only photo in the finals of the aerial category not taken by drone.

‘‘I take pride in the fact that I get up and fly. I love flying, so it’s always nice to be recognised for that. And it was an Oamaru image, so I was really excited about that.’’

She and fiance, Riverstone Kitchen owner Bevan Smith, made a snap decision to travel to the awards night ‘‘a couple of weeks ago’’, she said.

‘‘We were like ‘why not?’. It’s so good to get out and be amongst other creatives and socialise, and obviously for Bevan, it’s really nice to experience some restaurants.’’

Ms Willetts said she definitely wanted to get back into the air when she could.

“I think I need to take some more images of the Waitaki region, and I feel inspired to get up there again.’’