Aug 16, 2021
Multi award winning wildlife photographer Charles Davis is a true local, 6th generation! Like all local kids in the Monaro, all he wanted to do was go snowboarding and as soon as he finished school he went overseas snowboarding, taking photos as he travelled, getting more and more into photography. “I didn’t want to photograph snowboarding because if you take your camera out snowboarding, you don’t snowboard, you just photograph your mates and that sucks.”
Growing up on the family farm in Cooma Charles spent a lot of time hunting with his Dad and Granddad, stalking animals. Always questioning, what is it? When does it come? When does it breed? Where does it breed? What does it eat? and how is it best to get close to it?
With several artists and science degrees in the family, he then went on to do his own science degree in Ecology, and starting to sell photos before he finished. “I didn’t set out to be a wildlife photographer, I just kept selling photos then eventually I was making more money selling photos than I was working in my part time job, so I told them to stuff it.” Moving back to his Grandfather’s old homestead after he died, Charles has been working as a professional wildlife photographer for the last 5 years.
Charles has done documentary work for National Geographic and David Attenborough, but photographing animals in the snow is his niche. “The only reason I make a living out of it is because I have a niche, and no one else will even touch it, which I relish in, so that’s my thing.”
More determined than patient, he can get frustrated out in the field. “I’ll lye in the snow for hours till I can’t keep the camera steady I’m shaking so much.” Echidnas are the worst, according to Charles, “they’re quick, highly sensitive, and crunching snow just makes them tuck down, so to get echidna shots you have to go really wide and lye down where you think they’re going to come. You have to let them come to you otherwise you stuff it and if they know you’re there it’s all over. You can spend hours waiting for them to come back up again and they just won’t do it. You have to be invisible. I waited 6 hours for an echidna once and didn’t get the shot.”
“It’s not just waiting continually in one place, it’s getting an understanding of its behaviour. Going out enough so I’ll know where the things are at the right times doing the things I want and then when the conditions are right I can go to that spot and hopefully bring it all together. People say ‘you’re lucky’, but it’s not so much luck, it’s knowing enough of the variables that you eliminate the negatives and you’re left with only the big thing that could happen. And when it does, it’s the best thing ever. It takes me back to snowboarding, when you learn a new trick and that buzz you get, it’s so good. For me it’s getting photos that no one else has gotten before. I want the really hard impossible photos. I want a white dingo killing a kangaroo in the snow, I want a wedgetail eagle killing a kangaroo. These are the things I want because they haven’t been done before. You have to go out and out and out…… You have to be more sneaky than that animal is, and it’s already a sneaky animal, that’s its thing, that’s hard. Those shots are really hard to get.”
It’s also about being flexible. “You go out and you have an idea of what you would like, but then nature throws a curve ball at you and goes, what about this, and it’s so much better. I wanted a kookaburra on a stick in the snow, then nature delivered 5 and they were all jammed together and the one in the middle was sort of squished. That was so much better that anything I could have imagined.”
Everyday it’s snowing or horrible weather Charles is out in the mountains. With more downsides to camping with lots of heavy camera gear, Charles tailors his days to being fitter, having lighter gear and going further in one day then coming back and going home to his own bed. “I find that a lot more beneficial than going out camping and you can cover a lot of ground on a splitboard. Sometimes I get a bit of snowboarding in, but often I actually skin out and back. The best days for getting turns are the best days for getting photos so you have to make that professional decision and go ‘this is my job’.”
The weather plays a big part and getting an accurate forecast can be difficult. “I look at the 28 day forecast in terms of rain. It’s a bit hard to judge the weather because everything changes the day before, so I look at the weather until the day of, and then when the day of kicks in, I turn to instagram and the people who are most prolific with their stories, those who live in lodges at the resorts. They’ll photograph the grass, or they’ll photograph the seats out the front of their house, and that’s the best snow gauge you can get! It’s so handy to get that live feed.”
“But you often know when it’s going to be a really good dump and where I live you can see the weather coming in across the main range. You see that wall come over and you can feel the pressure drop. You have to be super flexible, especially when it’s snowing, because you don’t know how far down it will snow and if it snows down really far, it opens the spectrum of different critters that I would never have the chance at otherwise. I’ve been wanting to get galahs for ages, but the galahs are in Jindabyne, so it has to snow in Jindabyne, and then you have to find them.” Last winter Charles got that chance when it snowed heavily in Jindabyne.
“I don’t do what I do for the money, I do it because I don’t want to work at another job. I’d rather have the lifestyle and not much money. The best thing about what I do is that I take the photos that I want to take and people want to buy them, so that’s the best scenario. The thing I enjoy doing is the thing I enjoy doing and that’s where I feel creative and that’s where my passion is and to make a living out of it is the most an artist could ask for.” A self-taught photographer “you can learn ideas and techniques but when it comes to composing something, finding subject matter or light, it has to come from you, that’s your style, that’s what it’s about, it’s about being creative not about copying. You have to be original, and if you are original in a world of 7.5 billion people, you’ll do well, it’s about having a niche, that’s what more people need to chase. Although I don’t say that I’m lucky with the animals because I put all the work into it, I think I’ve been lucky that I’ve stumbled into a niche without realising.