They call him Dangerman but extreme photographer/cameraman Geoff Mackley, who provides footage for TV, insists that filming natural events such as erupting volcanoes, hurricanes, fires and one devastating tsunami is not that dangerous.

His is a one-in-a-million job. Many of us have watched his handy work without giving much thought to just how images of the worst nature can offer reach our screens.

It's a multi-disciplined job that requires all the technical skills of a photographer, a high level of fitness, resilience, resoucefulness and the know-how to survive being in some of the most dangerous places on the planet, often travelling in the opposite direction from the fleeing masses.

"What I am doing is potentially dangerous but most of my close calls have involved getting sick or travelling on trains in Third World countries," says Mackley.

The Boxing Day tsunami is the largest natural disaster he has seen from 70 similar disasters.

"A tsunami is capable of damage on an unbelievable scale. I am pretty convinced that is going to be the largest natural event that will happen in my lifetime."

While he was able to film the after-effects of the tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia and other areas, Mackley admits a lot of things he saw were "pretty ugly".

"I am kicking myself now that I didn't film some of the more graphic aspects. It was like images taken from World War II. At the time, I felt [filming] was a bit excessive, but with the passage of time those images will go down in history."

Raised and educated in Christchurch, Mackley, 41, became interested in recording natural events and their effects when he was young, mirroring his father's passion for observing violence in nature.

"So when I got my first camera those were the kinds of things I photographed, and when I started filming there were all these shaky amateur videos of hurricanes taking towns to bits and things. I was one of the first people to go along and capture these events in broadcast quality," says Mackley.

This he managed to do with no small degree of success. Since 1990, Mackley has shot more than 500 lead news stories, including the tsunami coverage for TV3. Not bad for someone with no formal career qualifications.

"I have no formal training in anything at all. To join the filming team for National Geographic or the Discovery Channel you usually spend years as an assistant before you get behind a camera. I just got out there and did my own work," he says.

And he financed it himself. Still a freelancer, in his early career he used his own money hoping to recoup the costs by selling his images.

"It was a bit like gambling because you could spend thousands of dollars going to shoot a hurricane which didn't happen."

Mackley says despite depictions of his life by TV programme-makers as adrenalin-packed and dangerous, the danger involved in extreme photography is over-hyped.

"Everyday accidents and sicknesses are far more dangerous than the sensationalised idea that you can go to work and have molten rocks fall on your head," he says.

While Mackley had to be rescued from one photo shoot, he is adamant such rescues are attempted only when it is safe for the rescuer.

"Filming a volcano in Vanuatu was the only time we really had to be rescued. And it was an unpleasant situation rather than a dangerous one."

He says he is no adrenalin junkie.

"I have no intention of doing something like going into a war zone. Life is more valuable than that. You do the best you can to minimise the risks and if you don't learn from your close calls, then you are silly." Mackley has no children and says he has the "utmost respect" for nature.

"I have been caught in few strong hurricanes where I thought I had bitten off more than I could chew. But Mother Nature doesn't do anything deliberately or maliciously."

How then, does Mackley feel about filming the effects of the Boxing Day tsunami? There is a pause.

"It's the kind of thing that people want to see and it was amazing to be there. The tsunami shots are mind boggling; there about 15 different videos of the wave coming in.

"In one, a wedding photographer in Indonesia was actually able to film the wave coming down the street and people fleeing from it."

However, he has one line he draws. "If someone is dying right in front of you and you are the only one there, then you put down the camera and try to do something about it.

"But if other people are attempting the rescue, then you can [film] it. Unfortunately, the relatives of the person dying cannot [legally] prevent that happening."

So does he think about his own death? He does, but says people who wonder at his life tend not to think about the risks they take doing the most mundane things.

"For me, the thought of retirement is more worrying than the thought of dying in a hurricane. Both my grandparents died staring at the ceiling and I don't want that."

Mackley says he loves his job, which has room for personal development, but some aspects of the wider media disturb him.

"You do develop a very cynical view of the media and how things are portrayed compared with how they really are."

He says while covering the tsunami effects in Indonesia, New Zealand media reported rebels in the city of Ache were causing trouble for aid workers and threatening media.

"That created quite a lot of upset for the families at home. Yet the whole time I was there I never felt threatened once by anyone. The rebels are affected by the tsunami as much as anyone and the few [criminal] incidences here and there were no more than you would expect from a city that is about the size of Auckland."

Mackley's relationship with the media is mostly a mutually happy one. There is constant commercial demand for dramatic natural images and the income to be made from producing professional quality images in dicey situations is significant.

"There is not really anyone going to every corner of the globe. It's a fairly unique position and I make more from it than the Prime Minister would make each year," says Mackley.

When it is suggested that Helen Clark might also enjoy a shot at his career, Mackley laughs.

"Knowing her, I think she probably would."

Have you got an eye for extreme adventure?

Capturing dramatically natural events on film is exciting, involves travel and technology, and has the potential to make extreme photographers money - lots of it. However, those who fancy extreme photography as a career choice should first heed Geoff Mackley's advice:

* Be determined to achieve what you set out to achieve, no matter how difficult or unpleasant things get.

* In a disaster zone, life comes down to food, water and basic shelter. Unpleasant surroundings are common. Don't moan or complain - while you can leave, people involved in a disaster often can't.

* Maintain a high level of fitness. (At 41, Mackley says his body still feels as it did in his 20s.)

* Learn how to prepare and how to minimise risk.

* You can't always work alone - think and plan carefully before involving others.

* Understand that the wider world of media may not accurately portray how things really were or appeared to be to you. * Realise people close to you may be constantly anxious about the work you do.

If it's still what you want, have a go - Mackley says he doesn't have a monopoly on HIS career and sooner or later someone ELSE will become successful at it.