Interview with New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year 2017 finalist Lola Wright. 

After a rookie drone-flight battling gulls, high winds and camera black-out, Lola Wright came away with winning shot of her cousin floating in a rock-pool for the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year competition.

In this Q & A, she talks about her love of lesser known places, the importance an experimental outlook and how she rekindled her passion for photography after a wobbly start.

Lola Wright

How did you forge a career in nature photography? 

As a kid, I always had wind up film camera or disposable camera at hand. I then took photography as a subject at school in 6th form and loved it, so I did a diploma in contemporary photography. In the course, we were primarily trained in studio photography. After I graduated I thought that my only options were limited to being a food, wedding or portrait photographer so I rolled with the punches and before too long got uninspired. So I ejected myself from the photography world for a while. It wasn’t until the dawn of Instagram when I rekindled that passion, I started putting up the shots that I loved taking - nature landscapes, outdoorsy stuff - and shared that on social media. It took off on its own. Now, here I am three years later as a professional photographer.

That’s great that Instagram gave you a platform to forge your own niche in photography. Is it something you rely on for exposure?

Yes, it’s been great, though I am sure Instagram has a certain lifespan on it and things are getting pretty oversaturated, so I am not trying to be reliant on it. The whole insta-famous thing has given it a negative stigma because there are people buying likes and buying followers. It totally discredits people who are working hard to get a genuine following.

How did you capture your winning shot in the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year competition?

It was my second time flying the drone, so I was very much a rookie. On the day, I got up at day break with my cousin at Matapouri and headed down to the pools before the crowds descended. It wasn’t the best flying weather, it was super windy and there were seagulls attacking the drone. At one point, my phone which was controlling the drone went black, once it came to life I would fire off a couple of photos, and then it would black out again. This is the first time I have entered the competition, I just thought that I may as well try. I entered it, forgot about it and then I got an email, so I was stoked to make the finals.

What do you like about shooting in nature?

Nature is where I feel most myself, I find cities very stressful. The vast slabs of concrete that cover cities means that the living element is not there. It feels stagnant compared to being in nature. I have a huge thing for the ocean, if I am away from an ocean I get antsy, I long to have a dip in the ocean. I surf, though not very well! Growing up in my teens, I felt like whenever the surf was good I would have a choice between “do I surf or take photos?” I always chose my camera over a board, so my surfing never really progressed.


Lola Wright
Lola Wright

Can you tell me about your aqua frizzante exhibition? 

One of my loves in photography is water shots, so I did an exhibition last year called Aqua Frizzante. The exhibition focuses on illustrating the texture, movement of the water and the play of water and light. From frothy aerial shots to oily sunset-coloured seas, the photos looked at the sea in its many forms. It’s quite a visceral exhibition.  I am kind of just floating around doing what I love the most, so it was really special to have so many people come to view my work and share in my passion. 

What qualities do you think it takes to be a good photographer? 

Perseverance. Just take your camera with you everywhere. People think there’s this magical answer to being a photographer. I get so many emails, asking what it takes to get started as a photographer and I say to them they have answered their own question – you just need to get started. People ask what equipment I use, and while I think that helps at a professional level, the best camera you have is the one that you have on you. When I first started, I definitely didn’t take the kind of photos that I take now. I now fully understand my gear and I know everything it does in every lighting situation.  I know when a shot will look terrible and other times it will be like, “where is my camera, I need my camera now”.  Honing your niche and keeping an experimental outlook is key. You have to learn that you make mistakes, that end up being really good mistakes and within the mistakes you learn something. That is how I learnt how to do my water shots, I would stick my camera in a dinky water bag thing, and I worked out what worked and what didn’t. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become a professional and I have probably been taking photos for ten years now, that’s how long it has taken to get to where I am. 

I love the West coast of Auckland especially around Muriwai. I just think if I was to shoot one place for the rest of my life, it would be there. It is amazing when it is awful weather and it’s amazing when it is great weather. It always looks different.

Lola Wright

Do you have any favourite places that you like to shoot? 

I love the West coast of Auckland especially around Muriwai. As a friend group we spend a lot of time out there, 4 wheel-driving and surfing, so it probably has a lot to do with the memories. I just think if I was to shoot one place for the rest of my life, it would be there. It is amazing when it is awful weather and it’s amazing when it is great weather. It always looks different. You can go to one place, over and over again and get a different lighting situation. I love the spots like these that are a little closer to home, the places that are a little less known, it means you can have a spot to yourself. 

Are there any areas you would like to dabble in? 

Although one of my favourite jobs is exploring New Zealand for a good old fashioned road trip, though I've got my eyes on many more countries to visit. Top of the list at the moment is Tonga, Indonesia, South America and all of the Nordic countries in Europe! 

Discover more 

Lola Wright's website

Follow Lola on Instagram

New Zealand Geographic Exhibition

All images are copyright to Lola Wright and may not be reproduced without permission.

Cite this article 

'Life Aquatic'.
Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 30th January, 2018.