Photography for a cause in New Zealand

A picture tells a thousand words, which is why photography is a great story teller for conservation work.

One third of New Zealand, some 8.5 million hectares, is in public conservation land and a dedicated team of Department of Conservation (DOC) rangers get to see parts of the county that locals and visitors are likely never to visit.

The best way to take people to these far flung corners of New Zealand and let them join the conservation journey is with photography.

Neil Hutton is a Department of Conservation ranger in New Zealand. He talks about how his love for photography goes hand in hand with his love for the land. 

What does your role at DOC entail? What does your day-to-day look like?

Image: Neil Hutton

I’m a community ranger based in Whakatāne. I work with iwi, community groups, tourism operators, schools, and local councils to look after all sorts of amazing wild places in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. I probably spend more time at my desk than I’d like but for every photo I take – there’s a story to be written, a brochure to be created, or an email to be sent. I’m at my happiest when I’m wandering through the bush sharing stories and introducing people to the places I’ve grown to love.

How did you get into photography? 

I’m originally from the USA – my interest in photography started as a way for me to share my new home with family and friends back in the States. I’m self-taught and have spent thousands of hours over the last five years taking pictures of pretty much anything and everything. As I’ve grown as a photographer there are certain things I now know I really enjoy photographing – the natural world and people working to protect it are top of my list.

How important is using photography to tell the story of conservation? 

Image: Neil Hutton

DOC rangers often have opportunities to go where few people have gone before – after all one third of the country, some 8.5 million hectares, is public conservation land. Images can transport the viewer to new places and new worlds in a magical way. Sigurd Olson, the great conservationist from my home state of Minnesota said, “Without love of the land, conservation lacks meaning or purpose, for only in a deep and inherent feeling for the land can there be dedication in preserving it.”  I like to think that my images for the Department of Conservation go a little way toward that sentiment. How can someone love a forest they’ve never seen?  Maybe one of my pictures is that little piece of encouragement that gets a family to go explore a new place, fall in love with it, and want to protect it.  

For any visitors to New Zealand hoping to snap the perfect pic do you have any tips?

  • The best camera is the camera you have with you!  Get it dirty, take it out in the rain, have it ready – you never know when a kiwi might come wandering down the trail.
  • Don’t be afraid to take chances and go out looking for pictures even if the weather isn’t promising. Some of my favourite sunsets have been on overcast cloudy grey days – I’d be just about ready to give up and then out of nowhere the clouds would part and golden rays of light would flood in from above.
  • The night sky in New Zealand is breath-taking – try your hand at astro-photography and as a bonus you might bump into a weta or hear the call of a kiwi. The New Zealand bush comes alive at night.
  • Get a telephoto lens for wildlife photography. Whether you’re interested in photographing birds (we’ve got lots of neat birds in NZ) or marine mammals such as seals – you’ll need the extra zoom to get a good picture without disturbing them.

Of the images you picked, is there one that has special significance, what is the story behind the image?

The Whirinaki Forest is one of the most spectacular forests I’ve ever seen. Massive thousand-year-old podocarp trees tower 60 metres overhead, 155km of tracks and 9 huts provide ample tramping opportunities, and no phone coverage means you can turn-off from the rest of the world. This image was taken after around 100 stream crossings – I’d just about decided to put my camera away because I was sick of worrying about dropping it in the river – and then we hit a clearing ringed by kahikatea and filled with toetoe. As the sun streamed through the toetoe tassels I took a moment to appreciate the sudden flashes of gold in an otherwise sea of green.

Check out more of Neil Hutton’s work on his photography page at

Through the lens – Photography experiences in New Zealand

There are plenty of ways for people to get the perfect shot in New Zealand with experienced guides and expert photographers.

2020 New Zealand Photography Tours – From one day workshops to 20-day tours, New Zealand Photography Tours will have you preparing for your first exhibiton in no time.Try the seven-day wild South Island Photography tour which takes in the Otago Peninsula, the Catlins, Aoraki/Mt Cook and finishes in Queenstown.The price also includes a donation to the Penguin Rescue Fund, call it a talent fee if you will.

Travelling Light – Travelling Light Photography is New Zealand’s premium photography tour company, specialising in creating luxury guided, small group and solo traveller photography tours around the North and South Islands of New Zealand and across Australasia.

Foris Eco Tours – Explore Whirinaki Forest with conservationist and keen photographer Tom Lynch. A unique podocarp environment featuring colossal trees found nowhere else in the world – and inhabited by high numbers of rare and endangered bird species.

Article: Tourism New Zealand.

There is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new sun. This is Where Wild Things Roam.