For some people, being born into one of the world's most famous animal conservation families would come with a great amount of pressure. But not for Robert Irwin. His family, led by the late Steve Irwin, are pioneers in the field and renowned for the work they do. Irwin, who was just 2 years old when his father passed away tragically, has not only taken up the legacy of his father, but has carved his own path as an award-winning wildlife photographer. Now 19 years old, he's brought together some of his best work in a coffee table book titled Robert Irwin's Australia.
From the time he was 13 years old, Irwin has been honing his craft. Using his artistic talents, Irwin has been able to shed light on important conservation issues and spotlight incredible wildlife that is in desperate need of help. This, combined with the work he and his family do at the Australia Zoo, make him a force to be reckoned with in the conservation world.
As Irwin leaves his teen years behind, we thought it was time to check in with the talented photographer. Read on for My Modern Met's exclusive interview, where he reflects back on his growth over the past six years and looks ahead to what's on the horizon.
We first covered your work when you were 13 years old, and now here you are, leaving your teens. What do you think has been the biggest change in how you approach photography over the years?
First of all, thank you for being there close to the beginning of my photographic career. I am delighted to chat with My Modern Met once again all these years later!
I think the biggest change in my approach to photography has been how story-driven I have become. When I am out and about photographing, I give a lot of thought to the story I wish to tell in each image and the message I want to send. I try to put myself into situations and visit places where I can capture photos that shine a light on important conservation and environmental issues.
How do you think you've grown as a wildlife photographer in these last six years?
I hope that in these last six years, my reach and voice have grown and that I can inspire even more people through the images that I take. In my growth and progression as a photographer, I have tried to diversify, try new things, and take new opportunities. The most recent and rewarding of which was releasing my Australia, By Robert Irwin photography coffee table book. It really was a summation of my journey behind the lens and gave me time to reflect on just how far I have come over the years.
What drives you to continue to be a voice and advocate for animals?
Having the opportunity to travel the world through my passion for photography and my family's conservation work, I have been blessed with perspective. I have had the opportunity to see endangered species on the brink, devastation after wildfires, rainforest deforestation disrupting the balance of nature, and the profound effect of climate change in the arctic circle. Seeing things like that makes one realize that inaction is not an option. Our natural world is in desperate need of warriors ready to fight for our future and inspire others to do the same. There is an important balance to strike—showcase the stark reality of the uphill environmental battle we face and also reinforce a sense of hope that there is still time to make positive change.
Moving into your 20s, what do you hope to accomplish?
As I move into my 20s, I am so excited by this new chapter and all that I wish to achieve. I hope to further extend my reach and my platform, as I start to really address the big problems that face our world, no matter how controversial they might be. I think it is so important to give people hope for the future by sharing the beauty of the natural world. I am looking forward to taking on new projects—one of which is to expand into a set of photography books. After releasing Australia, I plan on producing an Africa and North America book.
Aside from your father, who else in the conservation world inspires you and why?
My parents will definitely always be my biggest inspiration. They really were conservation pioneers and made conservation mainstream…no easy feat! But, there are also so many others in the conservation field that I look up to and have had the honor of working with. There are so many people I could name, but there are a few that stand out in my mind.
Peter Gash and the Gash family are leaders in reef conservation at Lady Elliot Island on the Great Barrier Reef, of course Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen as legendary oceanic conservation heroes with their fantastic Sea Legacy charity, and David Prior and his incredible family who operate the Prior Family Foundation definitely must have a mention. I could go on and on when it comes to conservationists that inspire me.
What's the next big challenge that you would like to give yourself as a photographer?
I feel that when it comes to wildlife photography there is always a new challenge. There are the big challenges and milestones like launching a new gallery or a new book, and then there are the challenges that come in the form of a new species or location. I am always on the lookout for a new endangered or rare type of animal to capture on camera and constantly add new locations to my very long list of where to photograph. Gorillas and polar bears are high on the list for me right now.
What advice would you give to young photographers who are curious about shooting wildlife?
First of all, believe in yourself and have the courage to seize opportunity when it comes. Focus more on developing your own photographic style than the gear you use, and take a lot of photos. When I say a lot, I mean A LOT. Photograph everything, make it more than just a hobby, but a lifestyle. Have a camera with you always, and if you don’t have one, keep looking around you and think about what would make a great photo.
Never lose sight of the message you want to send with the pictures that you take. Own a film camera at some point in your photographic career. And spend one month only photographing with that camera, and one prime lens.
Lastly, and most importantly, take photos for you and nobody else. That doesn’t mean you can’t still share your images with the world, but when you are pressing the shutter, take the photo that makes you feel fulfilled and does justice to your style.