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'Capturing the Memories '
A touch of photo-journalism in the outdoors

By Rob L. Suisted

(Originally published in New Zealand Outdoor magazine)

By putting a little photojournalism into photos from our trips into the outdoors weíre creating an awesome source of future satisfaction.

Basically photojournalism is catching a story in a picture. We can use it to capture moments and memories in a way that no diary will, and it guarantees years of personal enjoyment.

Something Iíve noticed over the last couple of years are the dirty big holes that are starting to appear in my memory of outdoor trips gone by. I can think of plenty of reasons for the holes: aluminium billies; a full memory department under my top knot; or the early onset of senility. Either way the results are the same - I suspect that components of old hunting stories might be expanding in size to fill the memory gaps and invariably they relate to the size of trophies taken, but mostly trophies missed - a bit like fishermansí stories really. Itís almost like hunters need a law for themselves to explain the phenomenon - say, ĎDeerstalkersí Lawí. The law would state that components of hunting stories tend to expand in size to fill memory deficiencies (we all know that stories tend to get bigger with age and this supports my hypothesis). I suspect that my hunting mates have probably noticed this phenomenon also, indeed many might say they noticed the symptoms years ago but didnít let on. But, why should I be telling you about my ability to forget vital snippets about past trips into the wilderness?


Sitting down and pulling out photos from old hunting trips is something I thoroughly enjoy - I suspect we all do (itís even better if you can show them to a captive audience). It never ceases to amaze me all the memories that the images jog. I keep a diary of my trips but it never evokes the same reminiscences, nor catches the moment right. As they say, a picture tells a thousand words, and thatís a heck of a lot

The point that Iím keen to make here is that most of us carry camera gear into the wilderness, but few use it except to snap photos of scenery, or hunting and fishing successes? Simply put I believe weíre forsaking future enjoyment if we neglect to snap piccies often. Sure, photographing a grinning hunter next to a hard won trophy is pretty special, but for me the memories that linger longer are of places been and more importantly of the characters that Iíve shared trips with.

When I made a conscious decision a few years ago to take photography more seriously, I did so to the neglect of my casual trip photography. Thatís something I really regret and am correcting.


Afgan Rebel of the Whataroa River!
Alan Brown looking a bit daunted by the territory. Weíd spent a long day on the Whymper Glacier chasing Himalayan tahr on the surrounding bluffs. The weather had been miserable all day but lifted in the evening to show the huge walk we still had, along the glacier moraine, and up a horribly steep ridge behind Alanís hat, to camp in the cloud. We were both utterly exhausted and my diary makes some pretty clear remarks about that, but the look on Brownyís face says it all. Kodachrome 64.



Looking back just now through an album I came across an image of a couple of hunting mates asleep on the main range of the Ruahines. It was summer and the day was stinking hot and calm. After a very early start and an unproductive morning weíd dozed off for a siesta in the tussock. Iíd woken up later to the pretty comical scene of the guys making Zís and snuck my camera out to record the moment for posterity. What I didnít foresee at the time was Andrew waking up, giving me a smart comment about candid cameras, before whacking off three big chunks of salami for his mates to chew on. The bits were handed around and just about finished when Ian forced out a blood curdling @#$%^@s!! Heíd just found that a big hairy blowfly had beaten him to the salami, having delicately laid a huge number of small cream eggs into the holes in the meat while it lay in the pack! Now when I look at that original picture of the guys lying in the tussock my memory always jumps to the colourful fly blown salami incident, and I vividly recall Ian, the poor sod, going for the water bottle in disgust, only to find it empty. Itís ironic now that the photo shows him fast asleep with a huge pair of black sunglasses that actually look like flies eyes, but thatís starting to add licence. I get a damn good chuckle looking at that photo that I donít get from reading my hunting diary!

To maximise the future personal value of images there are many factors involved, but we can learn a lot from the art of photojournalism - an art that some would say TV has killed. While Iím no expert in this area, itís easy to see that what weíre dealing with is an X factor that lifts an image out of the ordinary and tells us and others a story, or triggers a memory. Exactly what National Geographic, or LIFE magazine images do. For me itís caught in the accompanying photo of Paul Sinclair and rifle sitting amongst leatherwood (below).



I donít know what it is exactly that I like about this shot, but it catches the essence of the moment and I remember it like yesterday. Three of us were heading home on New Yearís Eve after spending 5 days cramped into a tiny Ďdog boxí bivvy, high on the Ruahine tops. Weíd had a miserable time weather wise, continuous sleet and rain, and no hunting of any kind to mention. The first lull saw us packing up and hightailing it out. Morale as pretty well shot and we were still four hours from the car when we stopped for a break. While digging a snack out of my pack I paused in the rain to record Paulís expression in this image - an image that not only locks my memories into my photo album, but also draws an excellent understanding of the moment for other viewers that werenít there. It paints a story to viewers, a story written by a thousand cold, wet miserable words; and itís not far wrong.

All of the accompanying images have a strong underlying emotion and mood to them. Itís sensible to appreciate that weather plays a huge role in producing these moods in this type of photography. Itís no surprise when we all know how powerful mountain weather can be to our mere survival. Therefore, the image in the tent could be one of resignation to the weather. Two are of hardship and discomfort because of the weather, and the last is of elation, or sheer awe, because of the incredible scenic surrounds; but notice the strong mood that the weather puts into the picture.

Unfortunately when it comes to moody weather, it is often our equipment that effects our ability to grab pictures. Have you noticed that most pictures are taken on nice fine days? That tends to give a biased view of a trip. Whenever possible I try to snap away in overcast or rainy weather conditions. There are a couple of reasons for this, firstly it can add a tremendous amount of mood to an image, especially if youíre in a wild place with a heavy grey sky above, and secondly, you can be sure that the lighting is very flat.

Contemplating the walk ahead. Paul Sinclair leaving the Main Range of the Ruahine Forest Park after 5 very long days stuck in a dog kennel sized mountain bivvy because of bad weather. Walking out we were cold, wet and miserable and were several hours from the car. This candid image seems to capture the mood of the moment - I remember it like yesterday, and with it committed to film, I will still relate to it when Iím 80. Kodachrome 64


This takes away harsh shadows that can ruin photos, especially photos of people as they wonít have dirty big shadows around their eyes. Problem is though that wet days are very harsh on photo gear and it takes a lot of effort to drag the camera out of your pack when youíd rather be back in a warm hut out of the rain. Over the years Iíve learnt a few habits for keeping water off the camera, and especially the lens, while in the rain. Fortunately weíre lucky these days that there are literally hundreds of good point and shoot cameras on the market today, and most seem to be at least weatherproof (thatís different to waterproof!). Due to the small size of most of these cameras itís now no problem to carry them in a chest pocket and whip them out for a quick one - a good example of this is the new Olympus Mju II camera. It comes from a long line of tiny point and shoots that continue to get smaller, and improve (I carry itís great grandmother the well known Olympus XA for the same job and both have an excellent fast f2.8 lens which is helpful in low light conditions).




One good technique is the old candid camera approach. Itís all very well letting your hunting mate do his or her hair, or to muck around for the best pose, but it robs the dynamic nature of the moment; it destroys the spontaneity of the shot. A useful technique here if you canít get around the Ďposeí is to Ďaccidentallyí snap a few photos while theyíre fluffing around with the posing business. Just make out like it was a mistake and that youíre not familiar with your equipment ď.....oops, that was another one, sorry!Ē Once in place make sure you do in fact grab the posed photo, for two reasons, firstly to remain onside with your offsider, and secondly, youíll be able to see the comparison between the two. Invariably itís the unexpected shot that captured the most essence.

A chap I know from Palmerston North, the ever keen Russell Burr, has a classic story of luck to recite. It was a story that I, and most other people, were rather sceptical of initially.

5 days of torrential rain, while stuck in a tent in the heart of the wilderness, can really hose you off! You know what itís like putting on wet socks and boots for the 4th day running - it all gets a bit much. Itís good sometimes to just take your coffee in bed and pray for blue skies! Here Lance Barnard dreams of warmer, drier climes while his coffee cools! This photo is a good memento of the trip, firstly because is captures the sentiment, and secondly because there was sod all else to photograph! He slept for an hour and didnít spill a drop.
Fujichrome Velvia 50.



Itís the kind of trip that Russell regrets not having his camera on, not only to have material to show his grandkids, but also to provide photographic evidence that his mates would readily believe; much to his regret. The story goes that heíd been sneaking around in the lower reaches of the Big Wanganui River in Westland. He was searching for a handy redskin when a helicopter buzzed low overhead enroute upriver. Shortly it returned and Russell decided to chuck the towel in, sure that the chopper had scared everything off for the morning. Heading home the chopper flew over again and again? Sometime later it flew in low, flared and landed beside him. The pilot apologised for wrecking his hunt and offered a lift back to the roadend which was keenly accepted. Back at the car Russell was shocked to find a big film crew gathered who offered him the opportunity to fill a vacant slot in their rafting expedition for the day! ĎRight on, canít miss an opportunity like thisí Russell thought, and it was a short flight up to Hunterís hut were Russell was wedged into a big inflatable rubber thing with Lana Cockroft for the filming of a Mountain Dew on the Edge segment! He was then forced to enjoy a wonderful day of rafting and sitting in the natural hot pools with complimentary bubbly.

Of course, all has now been confirmed with Russellís grinning mug plastered all over prime time television, but not before his integrity at his local club had been seriously tested (I understand that he still likes to take Pink Chardon in the bath though!). The point here is that Iím deeply concerned for Russellís ability to maintain a holeproof memory of this incident as ďDeerstalkers LawĒ indicates that components of this story are likely to expand and I for one have concerns from his grandkidsí perspective. Luckily the video tape should suffice because there was a real risk that Russell would have slipped into the Blackey syndrome (after a keen Wellington hunter) were hunting mates refuse to believe hunting yarns until supporting photographic evidence is produced.

So, I know that when Iím past chasing trophy Tahr around the Southern Alps with a camera or rifle, Iíve got two options left: chase them around tourist parks of Queenstown, or try for long shots from my armchair. Either way Iím going to need inspiration from somewhere, and thatís likely to come from photos of past trips. From now on, as a bit of insurance, and for the sake of potential grandkids (I say potential because Iím not even considering part shares in kids yet!), Iíll be snapping plenty of Ďpicciesí to offset early memory retirement, and guard against ĎDeerstalkers Lawí.




Above the head of the George River, George Sound, Fiordland. You probably couldn't get further into wilderness than here! Behind me was a thousand foot drop. This moss covered rock was a pedestal that gave an incredible view over one of the most spectacular places Iíve ever had the fortune to visit - the gesture says it all! The image captures a moment and a memory for me that no diary entry could ever equal.
Fujichrome Velvia 50


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