One Shot At The Perfect Image

Former rugby league player and award-winning photographer, Russell Ord’s photo technique is quite unorthodox to say the least. He really lives on the edge with his art, and goes to any length to capture the heart of the environment he thrives in. He gets up, close and personal with his subjects, even if those subjects are deadly monster waves. Yes, he’s kind of a maniac. A Margaret River, Perth, native, Ord’s images have picked up internationally by magazines, books and exhibits. He was awarded the 2016 IPA International Sports Photographer Of the Year at the Lucie Awards and exhibited in Germany at Photokina 2016 and Tokyo Japan 2017 for FujiFilm. Ord’s life and work has been the subject of the documentary “One Shot”. M2 sat down with him to talk about his photographs, his passions, how he feels he’s grown as an artist and what he has planned for the future.
The light in this image is surreal, the sun giving just enough glow to illuminate the surfer while the ocean still has that moody feeling. The benefits of shooting surfing in the early morning light (with a touch of luck)! | Waipu Cove, NZ – Fujifilm X-T2, 35mm, 1/5000sec at f/2.0 ISO 200, Aquatech water-housing.
First, tell us about the man behind the lens…

I have been married for 19 years (that went quickly), father of three and crazy sports fan, if I was not a photographer, I would undoubtedly have something to do with rugby league.

What inspired you to first take images whilst surfing?

I injured my knee surfing, and instead of just sitting on the couch in the lounge for a few months I picked up a camera and started taking photos of mates surfing. The passion grew from there! Surfing spots had become quite competitive and crowded, so being reunited with that feeling of freedom – especially when you’re swimming out alone – was more of an incentive than jostling for waves.

You’ve won awards nationally and internationally for your photos of touched and untouched environments. What sort of special equipment did you have to use to capture these shots?

My work involves a lot of travel, and over the years I have got a lot better at “travelling light”. I use Fujifilm mirrorless cameras along with AquaTech water-housings to keep my kit nice and mobile. The Fujifilm is the perfect setup for both my ocean and lifestyle work.

What do you want your audience to feel and take away from the image?

To look at an image and understand the effort or creativity behind the image. This is the most critical aspect in my eyes rather than just capturing moments.

Obviously, you’re drawn to the sea with your photography, but what other images do you like to capture?

Most of my work is about capturing stories; I am drawn to people that work on or have projects with a purpose. It’s inspiring being in and shooting around that type of environment knowing that my images can be used to make a “difference”.

How have you grown as an artist over the years? How has this affected your work?

As a photographer, you have to keep developing all aspects of your work from practical skills to business. I have learnt over the years to focus more on passion projects, otherwise you can lose focus and become burnt out if you’re only going through the motions.

What have been your favorite places around the world to shoot?

I like the feeling of remoteness – which is getting more difficult to find these days. Over the years the special places for me have been where a couple of surfers sharing a line-up [editor’s note: The line-up is the area where most of the waves are starting to break and where most surfers are positioned in order to catch a wave]. I have lucked into a few of those sessions in Western Australia, South OZ, Indonesia and a few more. For some reason they were all named Spot X.

It’s the moments away from the surf that paint the full picture of magazine assignments, giving the reader more than a beautiful picture of the ocean but also a sense of place and belonging. | North West Australia – Fujifilm X-Pro2, 100-400mm 1/800sec at f/5.6, ISO 200.
Do you ever get affected emotionally when you shoot on the water?

Not really, I just love the feeling of the ocean. I get more emotional from being inspired by people that have made a life out of hardship, people that are making a difference and inspirational stories in general.

What was the most dangerous situation you’ve put yourself in to get the coolest shot?

I have maybe five or six images that I can honestly say were very difficult (more like really dangerous) to capture. They are the shots that I look at and can say to myself, “that’s a Russell Ord”. Nothing too creative but very tough to be in that position and be able to press the trigger. I see a number of images (few enough to count on the one hand) a year from other shooters that completely blow my mind in terms of difficulty and I certainly go out of my way to congratulate them – inspirational stuff, once again.

Hearing that one small splash in the distance that generally would not register, but echoes with complete clarity. These are times you feel alive without another thought or concern. I have been fortunate to call this the office over the last 18 plus years. | The Box, Western Australia – Fujifilm X-T2, 12mm, 1/60sec at f/8.0 ISO 400, Aquatech water-housing.
What’s next for you and your photography?

I am actually on my way to Fiji for Vagabond Photographic as we speak, to shoot a couple of campaigns. I have also now opened that experience up to other photographers that want to learn or experience the type of work I do. I suppose it’s a kind of real-life situation “workshop” where they can see everything that’s involved – the editing, business, practical skills etc. Then, who knows, wherever the waves take me.

It’s nice working on personal projects, it allows me to shoot at my favourite times of day and follow my own whims. The first and last hour of light saturates the ocean with colour and there is a type of peace when floating around the middle of the sea during those times. | Off the coast of Western Australia – Fujifilm X-T2, 100-400mm 1/500sec at f/5.6, ISO 250.
During my early years of documenting surfing, I would put the camera away as soon as the action had finished, call it a day, job done. I wish someone had tapped me on the shoulder back then and suggested “your day is not over”. There are so many moments to capture to give the complete story. | North West Australia – Fujifilm X-Pro2, 12mm 120sec at f/7.1, ISO 600
All the while taking your time to compose the image. One mistake and you can lose all your equipment, including your ride back to the shore, making it a long and scary swim. | Off the coast of Western Australia – Fujifilm X-T2, 100-400mm 1/3200sec at f/5.6, ISO 400
Working with your own kin has a number of advantages especially when the assignment calls for “lifestyle image with no wetsuit”. Wearing boardshorts during the back end of winter in New Zealand prior to sunrise is not the warmest when in the water | Waipu Cove, NZ – Fujifilm X-T2, 35mm, 1/3200sec at f/2.0 ISO 200, Aquatech water-housing.
Waipu Cove, NZ – Fujifilm X-T2, 35mm, 1/3200sec at f/2.0 ISO 200, Aquatech water-housing. | The Right, Western Australia – Fujifilm X-T2, 50140mm, 1/1600sec at f/3.6 ISO 200.