Being behind the camera is both my happy place and - curiously - my unhappy place. When things aren't going well and it doesn't seem to be working, it's incredibly stressful and frustrating. But when things start going right, and I start taking good photos, I don't think I could be in a happier place.

There's a build-up to it. You don't race in with a camera and immediately start snapping photos - well, I don't. I never take a snapshot - I'm incapable of it. With Coast, my new book with my former Listener colleague Bruce Ansley, I'd often spend hours just sitting there with a camera. It really makes you look at things differently.

I'd watch all the small things and nuances and figure out where the light was falling and where the biggest waves were coming in and where the birds were flying from.

I'd watch things far more closely and in a different way than I would if I was sitting there without my camera. It's a lovely way of seeing things. It's quite contemplative. You're imagining how it might look once it's in the camera and once it's printed. It's not a bad way of slowing things down.


Often, it's just a matter of waiting and looking - and I'm not just talking about landscapes and seascapes, but people, too. You just sit and watch and wait and start building up an impression of how you might like to photograph them, and building up a rapport. And all of a sudden all those things align and you realise you've got your opportunity to take a photo you'll be happy with.

Spirits Bay, right up at the tip of Northland, meant a lot to me, and I'm not sure why. It did feel spiritual, the way the waves came into the bay, the birdlife there. There were hardly any people when we were there and it was very early in the morning. It was a place that stays in my mind.

I left school not sure what I wanted to do, and did a Wellington Polytechnic photography course. It felt exactly right. It suited every aspect of my temperament. I couldn't have found anything better.

I enjoy observing, and I'm interested in making beautiful photos, and I like setting things up and framing things. All those elements worked together to turn me into the sort of photographer I am.

The way I shoot is quite regimented, and I like the process that it leads me through. Once I'm set up and committed to a photo, I would normally never leave without having a result I was at least content with.

- as told to Bronwyn Sell