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Article by ONBOARD Magazine

jody macdonald photography

AWARD-WINNING ADVENTURER JODY MACDONALD EXPLAINS WHY THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS MAKING WAVES IS PHOTOGRAPHING THEM
WORDS: RICHARD ALDHOUS

When it comes to capturing our expansive oceans, diverse rivers and intense arrays of marine life, it helps to have a vested interest in everything sub-aqua. For Jody MacDonald, the commitment is three-fold – firstly, the award-winning photographer runs a business that offers kiteboarding exhibitions around the world by catamaran.

Add to that a passion for the seas, discovered as a child on a family holiday to the Maldives; and by the time you get to the Idaho-born adventurer’s extensive list of ocean photography awards, you might question whether she need set foot on dry land again. The answer, of course, is yes… to take more photos!

As for the mechanics of her art, Jody says the cameras are largely the same, irrespective of whether she is ankle-deep in desert sand, swimming in a tropical ocean, or paragliding at up to 50mph with a $10,000 camera in hand.

“Obviously the big thing that changes in the water is the housing of the camera,” she continues. “I always want the best one I can get and don’t want to hold back to suit the environment. Obviously a high frame rate is essential, and it must be compact – if you are swimming with a really big, housed camera body, your manoeuvrability is really going to be compromised.

“Technology continues to help this process along – with every passing year the cameras are getting smaller and the frame-rate is increasing. In the past, the cameras with the best quality were also usually quite bulky and that was always a big challenge.”

Jody, who part-owns a 60-foot catamaran called The Cabrinha Quest, typically uses the latest Canon Mark III, a 50 Megapixel Canon 5DSR for slower photography when not taking action shots, and also has a variety of Leica cameras. In the water, she uses Aquatech Imaging Solutions as housing for the Canon bodies.
One of her most iconic shots to date is that of an elephant swimming in the sea. Rajan was thought to be the last of a group of 10 of the animals who were brutally forced to learn how to swim in the Andaman Sea, the stretch of water that separates the Indian Ocean from the Bay of Bengal. His task was to bring logged trees to nearby boats, but when logging was banned in 2002, Rajan was out of a job.
“I initially found out the story of the elephant by watching the 2006 movie The Fall. They had him swimming in this tropical blue water in the film – I saw it and thought, ‘Okay, that can’t be real’. I had been sailing around the world and there was nowhere that this was happening. I thought that they had just created a set for the movie.

“So I started doing some research and found out where they filmed it, and that the elephant really did exist, so I went there and found them!

“I would say, of the many hundreds I have done, that is the project I have enjoyed the most. It was such a beautiful thing to see the relationship that the elephant had with his owner – they had been together for over 30 years and watching the bond between them was incredibly special.

“I spent two weeks with them, just following them around, documenting them and getting to know them a little bit. It was like mother and child, and pretty incredible to watch. There is nowhere else in the world where you will see that or experience that, so that was incredibly surreal.”

PHOTOGRAPHERS ARE ALWAYS GREAT AT BEING IN THE FIELD AND TAKING PHOTOS, BUT THE BUSINESS SIDE SEEMS MUCH MORE OF A CHALLENGE. WE’RE NOT REALLY TRAINED IN THAT AREA AND BEING IN THE OFFICE IS A COMPLETE JUXTAPOSITION

While Rajan passed away in 2016, the value of Jody’s craft remains in visual images will last forever. “The thing with photography is that it has no shelf date, and there are very few things like that in the world. It is fixed in time and preserved so that people hundreds of years in get a glimpse of what life was like for us, and that feels very special.

Elephants also form the basis of one of Jody’s main conservation projects at the moment. “The Asian Elephant is running out of space and they are having a lot of problems, particularly in Northern India. You wouldn’t think population increase in elephants would be a problem, but combined with loss of habitat it is, and there is proving to be a direct conflict between the elephants and the humans. I have also paired up with Sea Legacy and I am working on some projects with them regarding ocean conservation. It’s good to be busy!”

Work commitments aside, Jody, much like Rajan in his final years, is truly a free spirit. Ambitious in going after commercial projects, you do sense she will never let business interrupt what is a pure interest in the outdoors and art.

“Photographers are always great at being in the field and taking photos, but the business side seems much more of a challenge for us,” she admits. “We’re not really trained in that area and being in the office is a complete juxtaposition, so it does become a challenge to balance the two. Even social media is a full-time job in itself, and obviously when you have more followers you also come under a lot more scrutiny and criticism. Everything has to be perfect, right down to use of grammar, it seems,” she laughs. “Really, it is a combination of everything, but most of the time I think I am getting that blend right.”

So has she ever taken ‘the perfect photo’? “Well, firstly, when you want a particular shot, you will pretty much do anything to get it, but I don’t really know if I necessarily believe there is any such thing as the perfect shot,” Jody admits. “Really, it is all so subjective. I definitely believe you can get lucky, but on the whole great photographs require time… understanding light, subjects, and time of day, particularly. For instance, I lived in Morocco for a year and there were certain photographs I tried to take. The perfect shot was all about light and the subject coming into play, and I think I went back to the same place for about a week to try to get it.

Whilst a huge advocate for the encouraging others to consider the merits of photography, Jody implores people to go about their craft in the right way.

“I think today we are trying to conform and take pictures that we are seeing on Instagram… the ones everybody else is taking. My advice, if you want to stand out, is to do the opposite of that… oh and get some waterproofing housing for your camera!”

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JODY MACDONALD
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To see more of Jody’s work please visit www.jodymacdonaldphotography.com

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