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Where are they now: catching up with Chris Helliwell

5 April 2017

The 2017 Sigma D-Photo Amateur Photographer of the Year competition is now open for entries, and we’ll be catching up with our final category winners from the 2016 competition during this year’s event. In this instalment, we talk to the winner of the 2016 Macro category, Chris Helliwell, about what he’s been working on since his win last year.

Chris Helliwell

D-Photo: What made you decide to enter the 2016 Sigma D-Photo Amateur Photographer of the Year competition?

Chris Helliwell: I have been entering the D-Photo Amateur Photographer of the Year competition for a few years now, and it is one of the competitions I look forward to each year.

What was it like to have such a positive outcome in winning your category of the competition?

I was amazed to see my image take out the Macro section last year, it was a great surprise. On the day the magazine came out, I went to my local bookshop, but their copies had not arrived, so I had to look around to find a copy and then quickly look through to see the results.

Chris Helliwell — 2016 Macro winning image

Can you tell us the story behind your winning image?

This image was taken in Belize while I was on a macro-photography workshop. As soon as I saw these beautiful glass-wing butterflies feeding on the branch I started to look for the best shot. There were about 10 to 15 all feeding on the same branch. I was quite amazed to see them. I got a few images of single butterflies, and then noticed these two. They were just about a mirror copy of each other. I knew this was the image I wanted to capture. I made sure that I was as perpendicular to them as I could be, trying to get them both on the same focus plane, and I then tried to make sure that the background was blurred but you could still see the colours. I was very happy with the image I captured.

What gear did you use to capture your image? Are you using the same gear now or have you changed your preferred equipment?

This image was taken with a Canon 5D3, Canon 100mm f2.8 Macro lens, with the Canon twin-head flash, and home-made diffusor. I have upgraded my camera body to the Canon 1DX2, but I still use the same lens and flash with a new home-made diffusor.

What projects are you currently working on at the moment? Can you provide a bit of an explanation about what inspired you to work on this or these?

Chris Helliwell

I am currently working on a few projects. The first is following [New Zealand] dabchicks through their breeding cycle to try and capture a set of images that shows their lifecycle. This year I was able to watch and photograph two pairs that both produced young. They are amazing to watch when they have young, as the young will ride on the adults’ backs for the first couple of weeks. It makes for some great photography. I didn’t capture all the images I wanted, so I will be out following them again next year.

Chris Helliwell

The second project is to capture cicadas shedding, I just love to watch and capture these amazing moments in nature, and be able to show people. I didn’t get too many changes this year. [I’d] go out at night to look for this happening and when I did I never found one that was in a good position to fully capture the image I am after. This will have to wait until next summer.

Chris Helliwell

I have also been trying to photograph gum emperor moth caterpillars hatching from their eggs. When you watch a subject for long enough, you get to know their habits and patterns. I have found that the gum emperor caterpillars in my area hatch at around 8.30am to 9am. This means I don’t have to spend all day watching the eggs and waiting. I just turn up about 8.15am and leave about 9.15am. This season I was able to capture a few caterpillars hatching by using this method.

What inspired you to pick up a camera for the first time, and how long have you been shooting?

I am an amateur wildlife photographer who specializes in images of New Zealand wildlife and macro images. My aim is to produce images that showcase wildlife in action, from birds in flight to their young being feed — images that people don’t normally see. My macro images display the detail and beauty of the world that people just walk past or don’t know exist. I have been photographing wildlife for about six to seven years, and it has taken me to some amazing parts of the world, from exploring the rain forests in Belize to the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands.

Chris Helliwell

What would you say to someone considering entering the competition, but who are a little hesitant in clicking the ‘submit’ button?

Just do it — you have nothing to lose and you never know what might happen. It’s also nice to share your images to a wider circle of like-minded people. Take some time to look at the images others have submitted and enjoy the beauty that has been captured.

Where are you located: Whitby, Wellington
Your day job: Product Manager at Nokia
Photography club associations: I belong to Kapiti Camera Club and PSNZ with LPSNZ Honours