New Zealand Geographic finalist Jason Hosking launched his wildlife and nature photography career by poking his lens into Muriwai’s bustling gannet colony to produce a stunning documentary study over three years. In this Q & A, he talks homemade drones, backyard birding and the importance of illustrating life hiding in plain sight.  

One of the gannets that Jason Hosking captured on the wing at Muriwai.

Jason Hosking

How did you get into wildlife photography? 

In one word: gannets. At the time, I was working as a freelance photographic assistant in Auckland with a variety of commercial, editorial and advertising photographers. Lots of that work was studio based but being stuck inside was a stuggle for me. To help with my sanity I would drive out to Muriwai at the end of a shoot day with half a dozen rolls of film and photograph the gannets. During the summer months, I’d spend hours and hours out amongst the bustling colony and come back with pongy guano that would cover everything from my clothes to my camera gear. After about a year, I ended up pitching that story to NZ Geographic and the editor at the time said he thought it might have potential but to “go away and shoot some more and if we like it, we might consider publishing it”. Not having a concrete commitment felt like a kick in the guts but I had to keep following my heart and a year or two later in 2004, I’d finished the piece - my first NZ Geographic feature story

One of Jason's most memorable shots of a tui in his backyard.

Jason Hosking

Since then you’ve done photographic features on everything from water to our much beloved tui. How do you zero in on your subjects? 

Typically I photograph subjects that I get curious about or things that catch my eye. My garden in Southland hosted all number of tui because my property was surrounded by a lot of native bush, had good predator control and was very close to a local bird rescue centre. I would head out into my yard to try to get a better shot of a certain thing or to test out new ideas. By having a number of happy accidents and you see the potential of something much bigger. I was determined to get a shot of a tui in flight with its wings a splay and I had to figure out a way of doing that with a very fast-flying, unpredictable creature. I ended up with all number of duds but I knew there was potential and I had to be very patient. Finally after a few weeks and many failures, I got a shot of a tui coming out of a tree that I was very happy with. This particular shot is a personal favourite, maybe because of all the challenges I had to overcome to get it and the fact that I nailed this shot in camera withouth the use of Photoshop. Off the back of that project, NZ Geo published a story on tui in 2010.

Aerial shot of the gannet colony at Muriwai.

Jason Hosking

How do you think photography can help people gain an appreciation of nature? 

I think in the instant ‘everything’ age with all of its digital distractions it’s easy to quickly skim over images we see online and move on to the next without really stopping to take it all in. I’m guilty of that too and social media can be both good and bad in that respect. I think it takes a real discipline as an observer to stop and fully absorb an image before you. 

For myself personally, I think the right image can show people another perspective and open them up to hidden worlds or new ways of thinking to elicit change and hopefully inspire others to care and start protecting rather than exploiting nature. I would love people to see the wonder, beauty and fragility that I see in the natural world and if an image I’ve taken can give someone a greater sense of understanding, appreciation or motivation to make personal changes then I would be very happy to know that. 

Nature gives us so much and connection to it is essential for a balanced, healthy life I believe. Just imagine if we all worked in partnership with our planet rather than trying to control, dominate and exploit it all for individual wealth. What kind of world would we have then?

This year, you managed to get two photos into the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year competition. How did you capture the pancake-ice shot?  

I was down in Antarctica on the Ross sea and it was just before midnight when I noticed this incredible glow coming in through my porthole. When I looked out, I saw a huge raft of pancake sea ice lit up by the setting sun. So , I quickly grabbed my camera and raced up to the deck to take in the almost midnight Antarctic sunset. The dark clouds brooding overhead really added to the drama and the feeling of just being all the way down there floating on a completely flat sea while that still, frozen air enveloped you, was totally surreal.

Pancake ice

Jason Hosking

Jason Hosking in Antarctica.

Adelie penguins

Jason Hosking

How did you get to travel to Antarctica? 

When I won New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year in 2015 one of the prizes was a trip with Heritage Expeditions, and the opportunity came up to go to Antarctica. One day early in the summer I got a call saying a passenger had fallen ill and that there was a spot available on the next voyage if I could make to Invercargill by the next morning. I was up in Northland’s Cable Bay when I got the call. The next 24 hrs was totally manic, I drove five hours back home to collect my expired passport and then navigated through Auckland’s afternoon gridlock traffic to get to the immigration building before they closed. I got there with about 20 mins to spare and by 8pm I had my emergency passport. Then it was off home to pack for the frozen continent and book a flight south.

From Bluff it took about 10 days voyage just to get to the Ross Sea though we did make a few stops to various Sub-antarctic islands on the way south.Once I was down there I was really struck by the harshness of life. This brutality pervades everything from the extreme environment to the weather to the nature of the wildlife.  I saw giant petrels and skuas knock over penguins and slowly kill them by ripping out their throats and stomachs. Some of those attacks could take 2-3 minutes before the penguin died so witnessing that kind of thing first hand was rather horrific. 

From a scenic point of view the vastness, solitude and just how white everything is was pretty special to see. After spending the day ashore exploring the frozen continent, I felt very fortunate to come back to a warm meal and comfortable cabin after spending the day out in such a hostile environment.  

What was some of the most exhilarating experiences that you’ve had in your 20 year career? 

Probably one of my earliest most memorable moments was when I first started assisting. I was assisting a photographer Darryl Torckler in Tonga, up in Vava’u. He was photographing humpback whales and I got a chance to jump in the water with them. It was just unbelievable. There was a big male floating about 40ft directly below me singing and the sound of his song reverberated through my entire body. Not just my ears, I could feel it in my bones. And the water was so clear, you could look down at them underneath you like the water wasn’t even there. A mother and calf came up really close and spent a bit of time checking me out. It’s probably one of the most amazing wildlife moments I’ve ever had I think.

Another very memorable moment for me was working again with Darryl down off the coast of the South Island. We were in the water at a seal colony and were completely surrounded by young, curious seal pups. They would slowly approach and taunt each other to get closer and finally their agile bodies would swoop down to investigate  us all the while twirling, spinning and twisting in these beautiful graceful arcs. 

Image: Darryl Torckler/One Shot 

What would be your tips for aspiring wildlife photographers?

I would encourage people to get curious. Read books, visit art galleries and look for the magic in the mundane and everyday goings-on just in your own backyard, as wonderful opportunities are all around us. Study all different genres of photography and work hard at develping your own unique vision. Don’t just copy what others have done. If you have a subject that you want to focus on, take the time to really study and understand it.

Turn off your devices while out in the field and most of all, stay open to the quiet whispers and wonderful ways spending time out in nature will change you. And most of all enjoy the wonder of it all.

Discover more 


Jason Hosking's website


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New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year


All images are copyright to Jason Hosking and may not be reproduced without permission.