He Tāngata: Photographer and tour guide Richard Young

Elisabeth Easther talks to photographer and tour guide Richard Young.

My dad was a forester on a big country estate in Sussex, so
I grew up surrounded by nature and wildlife like deer, foxes and badgers. We’d spend a lot of time exploring the woodlands, walking, fishing, shooting and running around. The year I left school, I really started getting into my photography so Dad bought me a good camera and I started capturing landscapes and wildlife. When Dad emigrated to New Zealand in 2004, I came to visit and I fell in love with the outdoors, the tramping and the mountaineering.

Outside New Zealand, my favourite place to travel is Africa. I spent three months travelling overland from Nairobi to Cape Town and it was such an adventure. One night we were camping in a big game park and I woke up to go to the toilet. I got out of my tent and was standing in the dark nearly face to face with a huge bull elephant. I just had to walk carefully backwards to my tent.

Another night a hippo ran into our camp. It was charging around and even the guides were getting worried, pulling sticks out of the fire to defend themselves if they had to — but eventually it took itself off.

One morning in Botswana, I was in the Okavango Delta on a dugout canoe cruise and I convinced a guide to take me out before dawn, so I could catch the sunrise. He wasn’t that keen but I managed to convince him with the offer of a large tip but it wasn’t till we were poling back to our camp that I realised how dangerous it was. There were hippos and crocodiles and passing them in the dark probably wasn’t the best thing to do — but I did get some really good shots. Another time, I was rhino-tracking on foot and I ended up just metres away from some white rhinos. I was hiding behind a bush and I was so scared I could barely use my camera.

I spent a lot of time in the Namib Desert taking photographs of the big sand dunes. One morning I was climbing Dune 45, it’s quite famous, and I raced up this dune trying to get to the top for the first morning light. It’s so cold the desert air almost burns your lungs and I was racing up that big sand dune with a massive backpack of camera gear. But I got there and I captured the most beautiful sunrise and it’s probably my favourite shot outside of New Zealand.

When I came back to New Zealand in 2013, I started leading photography workshops in Tongariro National Park, and now I do everything from one-day to 17-day tours across the country, combining my passions for travel and photography. As all tour guides know, guiding is hard work and definitely not a holiday. You spend long days with guests, you have to keep everything running smoothly, you’re waking up every morning for sunrise as well as teaching technical photography in the classroom sessions — that makes for long days on the road. But most of my guests are interesting people and they often become good friends.

I was flying up to Mt Cook on a ski plane not long ago and we got the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced. We were just about to land on one of the big glaciers when the pilot turned to me and said, “I’m not sure if I can land this, Richard”. So I turned back to him and said, “Should we pull up?” And he did and I was so relieved.

I once did a silly thing while guiding a tour. We’d pulled up on the side of the Haast Highway to take photographs and I left my camera backpack on the side of road. It contained about $25,000 worth of equipment, but I was so focused on the group I left it there. I didn’t realise till two and a half hours later when we pulled up for sunset.

Returning five hours later, it was still there.

For photographers it’s hard to travel on normal tours with people who are non-photographers because most don’t want to get up at 5am or spend three hours on one beach so, if you’re a photographer you need to travel on your own or with other photographers.

Photography is a great excuse to travel to amazing places, but one of most rewarding things for me is helping people develop their photography skills. Photography can be quite a solitary pursuit, and that’s one of the lovely things about travelling with other photographers, and you realise everyone has such a different creative eye.

Further information: see photographyworkshops.co.nz

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