In advance of Jeff’s Marjorie Lynn Bank lecture at the National Aquarium in November, we sat down with him to discuss his passion for photography and how it has shaped his view of our blue planet.
What drove you to pursue a career in photography?
As far back as I can remember, I've always had a camera in my hands. A lot of them were cheap Kodaks or antique cameras that no longer worked. When I was 16 years old, I finally saved up enough money to buy my first DSLR, which I bought from a used classified ad for $100. I still have it!
What I love most about photography is the ability to capture moments that otherwise would've been forgotten. Looking back on an image that you captured months, years or even decades ago, let's you travel back in time and experience that memory again.
You’ve had the opportunity to travel the world. Which environments are your favorite to shoot?
Too many to list! Although if I had to pick a recent one, it would be Antarctica. The icy blue landscapes, tremendous wildlife and ethereal light have me begging for more. Thankfully, I get to head back again later this year!
How has your work as a photographer shaped your environmental philosophy?
Being exposed to many of these environments that are "on the brink" has taught me that we need to take responsibility for our actions. I find with many people that there is this sense of hopelessness. We can’t just write off environmental issues as those that our individual actions cannot impact or are too much work to undertake. It shouldn't just be a case of "I need to go tick this bucket list item off before this animal or environment disappears." We need to find out how we can help. Everyday choices we make at home have far reaching effects around the world.
In addition to the magnificent beauty of our natural world, what do you hope people take away from your photography?
I find the world we live in to be such an amazing place. I've always had a passion to explore and bring back images that I could share with others. My hope is that I can inspire people to care about the places I visit and for the people and wildlife who inhabit them.
In addition to capturing stunning terrestrial landscapes, you’re also a skilled underwater photographer. Do you prefer one type of shoot? What are the challenges of shooting underwater?
Thank you! If I lived near the reef, I'm not sure I'd ever go topside to photograph! In truth, I enjoy them both immensely. The real challenge for me is that I don't live near the coast, which keeps me from spending more time underwater.
The challenges of shooting underwater are many. The cost for underwater housings, domes and strobes can easily run between $5,000 and $10,000. After you've invested in it, you'll then need to learn how to set the gear up properly so that you don't flood the housing and destroy your camera once you're underwater. Now that you've made it underwater, you need to learn how to shoot with it. A DSLR in an underwater housing can have 20 to 30 buttons and levers that you need to learn how to quickly manipulate so that when the action happens you won't miss the shot. And finally, you can't change lenses underwater so you need to make a decision topside, "Do I want to shoot with a wide angle lens or get close with a macro?" This last one will leave you wanting a second underwater housing and an assistant to carry it, which as you can imagine, is quite cost prohibitive.
Finally, in the spirit of the upcoming holidays, what are you giving thanks for this year?
I have a lot to be thankful for! Family and friends of course! My daughter Alana, who's helped me to see the wonder of the world through the eyes of a child. My wife for supporting and believing in me throughout my career and managing the home front when I'm away. And finally, I'm very thankful to be a photographer.