Reading Time: 18 Minutes Print this page

Join us in celebrating our brilliant photographers who worked on assignments far and wide across our vast country this year.

Hundreds of photos were filed, and on reviewing the images that made it to print I found myself looking at all the work, and the world, with fresh eyes and in new ways.

In this annual round-up I’ve resurrected photos that, for whatever reason, were consigned to the ‘cutting room floor’. Looking and interpreting photos isn’t a static process, and in this curation we circle back to some of the fantastic images that didn’t fit initially.

We select photos that tell stories in new, arresting, and original ways. But the imagery that’s chosen is contingent on the context of the story within the magazine, the visual tone of the pages and content proceeding or following the story. Within the story itself, we consider how the imagery sets the tone or rhythm to the piece.

Photo selection

We purposely match photographers with assignments, understanding their interest, strengths, and connection to certain subjects or proximity to locations.

Matthew Bagley was selected to shoot giant cuttlefish during their annual aggregation in Whyalla, South Australia for our September-October digital cover (AG 176). Matthew was on our radar because his work was showcased to the world as part of Ami Vitale’s powerful global Vital Impacts initiative in 2022 (see my story here). Matthew’s distinctive underwater work has been acknowledged in many photographic competitions, including our own, so we’re familiar with his creative approach of making use of natural light to shoot underwater life

Dean Sewell spent more than 10 years researching, preparing, and developing relationships to realise his story on desert sailing (AG 173). His interest in the Lake Eyre Basin and Australia’s interior stems from his 25-year documentation of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Thomas Wielecki’s immersion in motoring culture made him an obvious choice for a survey of the Old Hume Highway (AG 173).

Trent Mitchell is celebrated for his eye for Australian oddities, and when we started thinking about a feature on Australia’s Big Things (AG 178), I immediately thought of Trent’s past work on Big Things, part of his Australian Lustre project – a 15-year love letter to the curiosities of regional Australia.

We were fortunate that specialist adventure photographer Krystle Wright was passing through the ACT when we needed photos of author Miles Franklin’s old stomping ground, the Brindabellas.

Mark Clinton, known for his extreme sports photography, is at home creating pictures in blizzards on mountain ranges, in ash storms by active volcanos or under huge ocean swells. Being familiar with using weather-sealed lenses in high-risk conditions and unpredictable back-country environments, Mark proved to be the ideal photographer to keep up with the Australian Geographic Society 2023 Young Adventurer of the Year, Lewi Taylor, as he climbed to the top of remote Tasmanian peaks in mid-winter.

Tamati Smith, a Yama(t)ji and Maori man from Geraldton in WA, was assigned to shoot the final instalment of our Listening to the Voices series. He’d been mentored by leading Indigenous photographer Michael Jalaru Torres, the founder of Blak Lens, and Tamati already knew Marcia Langton from shooting the Garma Festival, which made it easier to create the right connection for his portrait shoot with her.

Tajette O’Halloran photographed our accidental activist (AG 172) feature having a close understanding of this kind of life after growing up in an environmentally active ‘hippy’ community in the Northern Rivers region of NSW.

Richard Freeman works with the university research sector documenting natural history and environmental science on field trips, such as our featured platypus rewilding project, (AG 177) and has carved out a niche in this kind of ecological documentary photography.

Other photographers such as Annette Ruzicka (AG 174), Don Fuchs (AG 176) and Cathy Finch (AG 176) brought their complete stories to us, generating the idea as well as researching, writing and photographing the feature, which lends those tales a special synergy.

We also featured the photography of our former Editor-in-Chief Chrissie Goldrick, who moved into the position of Chair of the Australian Geographic Society after starting at the magazine as Photo Editor more than 20 years ago. In her final issue this year she paddled down the mighty Murray River. (AG 174).

The shoots

Eddie Ablett‘s Home of the Kelpies cover shoot (photos below). Eddie proved to be the perfect photographer to shoot our June-July cover. He makes his living shooting for big agricultural companies, spending months at a time on stations in Australia’s Top End, or for similar operations in Canada.

Dean Sewell – Sailing the Strelecki Desert

Desert sailing. Image credit: Dean Sewell

Dean Sewell first heard of sailing in Australia’s arid heartlands back in 2011 when the Lake Eyre Yacht Club held a regatta in an area of the Birdsville Track in South Australia awash with floodwaters from the swollen Cooper Creek. Returning for Australian Geographic, he met up with the sailing club members, some of whom travel up to 2,000km from the Australian coast to race on bodies of water that are likely to not exist within six months.

Dean found himself hauling boats over sand dunes searching for water. Desert sailing, he says, is a very different experience to ocean sailing with wind shadows from the dune creating areas of calm and at other moments the dunes created tremendous wind funnels that forced the boats to take off like jet planes.

“Creating a network of contacts and keeping them alive over years is integral to this sort of documentary work,” Dean says. “Slowly, story by story, I’m furthering my knowledge and understanding of Australia’s river systems.”

The trees that wept cider by Matthew Newton

Matthew Newton, one of Australia’s foremost documentary photographers working on social and environmental issues (see my story here about the change wrought by his work), brought us the story about the battle to save Tasmania’s most endangered eucalypts, sometimes referred to as Weeping Trees, or Cider Gums, as they weep a sugary sap that makes the surrounding area smell like a brewery.

Matthew had photographed some of the eight small trees remaining, and has also taken breathtaking photos of the bleached skeletons of the dead trees. He has since spent months extending the story of the Weeping Tree into a documentary series that will feature in the New Year on AG channels.

The Abels by Mark Clinton

Mark Clinton’s incredible athleticism and agility matched the enthusiasm and energy of young adventurer and guide Lewi Taylor as he glided through the most challenging of landscapes and hazardous peaks in Tasmania’s wild Southwest National Park in the dead of winter. Mark spent a week camping in extreme conditions – high altitude, snow and wind – to make the photos for our cover story on the small group of people who have climbed all 158 mountains known collectively as the Abels.

Ocean chameleons by Matthew Bagley

A giant cuttlefish can be up to a metre long, have three hearts, an enormous brain, blue blood and glow in the dark when aroused. The cuttlefish aggregation off Whyalla in South Australia has drawn repeat visits from the best wildlife photographers from around the world in recent years. With our social feeds flooded with photos of the marine spectacle over winter – their breeding season – we looked for a photographer able to shoot these magnificent animals in a more stylised way.

Matt Bagley pushes nature photography into new realms of possibility using Palx – an image capture and editing process rarely used in wildlife photography. In our photos above he uses this innovative technology to create a 3D map that enables the eye to move around the subject giving a 3D perspective.

West Side Story by Lewis Burnett

Lewis Burnett, known more widely by his handle @huntingforparadise has bagged many accolades for his underwater photography off Australia’s west coast, including our own nature portfolio prize in 2023. Lewis is one of a cohort of well-known freediving photographers (including Brooke Pyke, Alek Kydd and past Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year winner Ashleigh Jenson) who spend seasons on the Ningaloo reef working on tourism boats.

For our Coral Coast story, we needed a photographer who was used to shooting underwater life, but equally strong at photographing wildlife above ground and experienced in capturing vast landscapes from the air. With a degree in applied geology and background as an adventure and wildlife guide, Lewis had an especially finely tuned appreciation for landscapes. Although he’s known for spectacular drone imagery, for our story Lewis captured these landscapes from a fixed-wing aircraft, avoiding the dynamic range restrictions of drone cameras.

Braying for love by Max Mason-Hubers

Tim Daniel and campfire at the first night’s campsite, on the banks of Cassowary Creek in Silver Valley, Queensland.

Max Mason-Hubers followed the ghosts of the ‘gun packers’, who in previous centuries drove thousands of horses, mules, and bullocks chasing precious metals across the hinterland west of Cairns. These early fortune seekers pushed out the frontiers of settlement from 1872 – and we retraced their tracks on an unusual donkey trek. Max completed the 90km trek along the original packing road past wild swimming holes and now-abandoned ghost towns… all off-grid and with truculent donkeys to handle. He was tasked with documenting a group in a state of constant forward motion where much of the action fell in the middle of the day when light is flat and lifeless.

He recalls the days were long and very physical, starting well before sunrise to have the donkeys cared for and everything packed for mid-morning departures. There were trips and falls, as most of the hiking was on steep and slippery trails, and two of the party were medevaced.

The donkeys themselves presented another set of challenges; they were stubborn, and started to push people around as the week wore on. Max was forced to pack away his camera to take the reigns to give the others a break. He says he “learnt quickly that the donks are spooked by drone, so that had to be used very carefully, as I’d already seen them stampede after being spooked by a sudden movement: I even had issues with spooking them when I would go off trail to take a photo of them passing.”

One reader reflected that Max has a “great feel for the mood of the moment: last light reflected on the water and water gatherer, with the evening campfire as a backstory; Tim Daniel feeding Mr Chips reminds me of paintings from the Streeton school. Thank you, Max – not just pictures but an experience.”

Australia’s Big Things by Trent Mitchell

Giant Koala in Dadswells Bridge Victoria
Giant Koala, Dadswells Bridge Vic. Image credit: Trent Mitchell

Trent Mitchell has spent years travelling regional Australia and documenting the quirky attractions sprinkled en route. “Indirectly, I ended up creating an archive of roadside oddities along the way, just being curious with my dry sense of humour.” The brief was as simple and fun as it gets: make joyful pictures of our unique roadside inanimate objects. Trent started on the east coast, with the Big Banana first on the list. “After all these years I’d never photographed it. The banana scares me: it’s so iconic and commercial it’s given me creative blocks in the past. Rethinking my approach helped make some successful images of that extra-large old piece of fruit.” Photographing other Big Things were easier. “Within minutes of turning up to the Giant Koala, a Windsor caravan pulled up right in front of it with a big sun-bleached sticker slapped on the back reading, ‘Home among the Gumtrees.’ I couldn’t believe my eyes – road-trip serendipity at its finest.”

Trent finished the assignment with a very unexpected big thing – the big Hills Hoist (washing line) in Adelaide. “I’m not sure how I ever heard about it. It’s on the lawn in front of a steelworks factory that supposedly fabricated the pipe for making the original Hills back in the day. I love a good Hills Hoist and I have a nice archive of them from around Australia. Adding the Big Hills Hoist into my collection as the very last thing to photograph was icing on my big things cake and a very fitting way to end a fun series of Australian iconic things.”

Accidental Activists by Tajette O’Halloran

Environmental Activists come from all walks of life. Tajette O’Halloran visited a farmer, surfer and miner for our story, but our favourite photos came out of her meeting with former miner Scott Jordan who now campaigns to save the Tarkine for the Bob Brown Foundation.

The Walpole Wilderness Blitz by Finlay Mackay

We rang Finlay late on a Wednesday, and by Friday he was 800km from home in a swag in the hamlet of Walpole in the South West region of WA. Even though Finlay was on week three of an Efudix treatment with a swollen burnt face and couldn’t venture outdoors without his face completley covered from the sun, he drove five hours through the night to learn about reverse salinity in rivers, First Nations history and to be present at the discovery of rare flora and fauna.

Professor Pierre Horwitz captures a salamanderfish. Image credit: Finlay Mackay

Finlay, a Scot who moved from New York to Perth during the COVID-19 pandemic, was used to photographing sports stars and celebrities. Yet on this job, there was more excitment around a rare sunset frog in the peat bogs of South West Australia than a celebrity on set in NYC. In the photo above, Finlay captures the moment Professor Pierre Horwitz captured a Gondwanan relic, a salamanderfish, the first time it’s been seen in the region for 50 years. He also nailed a holy grail of a photo – the sunset frog, a new species Pierre discovered back in 1994.

Wetlands by Annette Ruzicka

Annette Ruzicka launched as a photographer from a career in communications for the charity Bush Heritage, so she’s used to working closely with journalists. She says she “learnt on the job just what it takes to make a story and how to interpret it for a national context and to demonstrate why we should care.”

Image credits: Annette Ruzicka

Annette’s wetlands story was wide-ranging and across multiple states. Using her vast network of contacts she arranged all the logistics and access, cold calling some custodians and building on pre-existing relationships with others such as those at Gayini where she focused on First Nations land management. Although the abundant wildlife, and open landscapes offered great visual material, Annette says her time in Kakadu alarmed her as she found it “disturbing to witness the dramatic impact of rising sea levels on wetland areas.”

Warrock Station – the birthplace of kelpies by Francesco Vicenzi

Francesco comes from a photojournalism background in Italy, where he worked for la Repubblica. This story of Australia’s Kelpie heritage, from the heritage pastoral property Warrock Station near Casterton was his second assignment for us. (His first, in 2022, covered the conflict between climbers and Traditional Owners in the Grampian National Park.) As part of the climbing community and an experienced hiker in the region we were covering, Francesco was an easy choice for the Grampians assignment. This time, however, he had a two-week old baby, a forecast of relentless rain, and yet was still happy to head out in his 4WD with his tent on a loose itinerary. Once in the field, he photographed far beyond the brief, shooting every possible angle, perspective, hunting out new subjects, and twists in the story.

Broughton Island by Max Mason-Hubers

Broughton Island, located 14 km north-east of Port Stephens off the NSW coast, presents almost as a Mediterranean paradise, but the assignment proved less pleasant. Ocean conditions meant Max’s time was cut short on the island and catching good light at important locations was a matter of strategy and luck. Much of the island is a shearwater nesting ground; these birds create nests in burrows in the sandy soil which would collapse when walked over, and the team would need to dig out burrows to rescue their occupants. Adding to the physical challenge Max found many of the sites significant to the story involved pushing through tangles of vines and vast swathes of invasive prickly pair cactus. “I came home with cactus spines embedded in every single part of me from my face to the palms of my hands to between my toes!”


The Voice by Tamati Smith

When preparing to photograph Marcia Langton for our story on why the Voice to Parliament would help close the gap, Tamati recalled the photos of US presidents photographed more candidly in the Oval Office. This reminded us of Look Magazine photographer Stanley Tretick’s intimate portrait of President Kennedy in 1963 with his young son peering out from under her desk. Here in this image, though obscured in the darkness below the desk, plays Marcia’s dog.

Rewilding Platypus by Richard Freeman


Very few platypuses are photographed in the wild. They are timid, nocturnal, move rapidly and are extremely well-camouflaged. Richard was determined to secure a split shot, an over-under water image, of a playpus but underestimated how hard this would be. If he entered the water he’d scare away the platypus before its capture was was complete, but on the last night of the four-day field trip with UNSW researchers Dr Gilad Bino and Dr Tahneal Hawke he managed a split shot in the pouring rain (top right) as the researchers released one of the captured platypus back into the Snowy Mountains region of NSW.

Pacific Airshow and the Freedom Formation team by Thomas Wielecki

We have worked with Thomas Wielecki more often than any other photographer this year. Thomas is constantly pitching stories; on every assignment he returns from the field bursting with new ideas. He describes himself as shy, but with a camera around his neck Thomas is able to ask people the most personal of questions, and has a special talent for getting under people’s skins.

Even though we often send Thomas to photograph destinations (such as Mildura), epic journeys (the Old Hume Highway) or big events (the Pacific Airshow in the January-February issue) we regard him as a gifted character photographer, and someone who is interested in the private stories and personal lives of everyday people.

The Pacific Airshow assignment, for example, was a story Thomas brought to us. Aside from the visual spectacle of an airshow above crowded beaches and around tall buildings on the Gold Coast instead of the usual airshow setting of an aerodrome, Thomas liked the angle that this was an airshow in which anyone with passion could fly. He tracked down a group of enthusiasts, ‘The Freedom Flyers’ who built their own planes in sheds, backyards and garages to fly in group formation in the show alongside the world’s best stunt pilots and military jets. These characters, ordinary people with an extraordinary goal to fly in Australia’s biggest airshows, were more interesting to Thomas than the planes. Sometimes, he says, “it’s necessary to see the small story in order to understand the bigger picture.”

The Old Hume Highway by Thomas Wielecki

Mildura: the middle of nowhere and the centre of everywhere by Thomas Wielecki

Broome rebooted by Giacomo d’Orland

Image credit: Giacomo d’Orland

Giacomo d’Angelo was travelling through the Kimberley region of WA in his camper trailer between assignments for the Mindaroo Foundation, when we were looking for a photographer to document Indigenous driven tourist experiences for a story about the shift away from Broome’s ‘flop and drop hotel travel’.

Australian Portrait: Matthew Bailes by Randy Larcombe

Matthew Bailes photographed on the corner of Shakespeare and Glynburn Road, Tranmere SA
Matthew Bailes photographed on the corner of Shakespeare and Glynburn Road, Tranmere SA. Image credit: Randy Larcombe

We kicked off our new Australian Portrait slot, profiles of “ordinary Australians doing extraordinary things”, with the brilliant physicist Matthew Bailes. The writer began her profile recalling Matthew’s memory of being a 6-year-old standing at the edge of Glynburn Road in Adelaide, watching cars and wondering why he can see them.

We wanted to create a visual connection between the brilliant astrophysicist, now based in Melbourne, and the curious child that he was. Photographer Randy Larcombe locked in the scientist as he was transiting through Adelaide, to be able to capture Matthew playfully returning to the very same corner where he stood as a child of six.

The Brindabellas by Krystle Wright

The Goodradigbee River in Brindabella Valley near Brindabella National Park, New South Wales
The Goodradigbee River in Brindabella Valley near Brindabella National Park, New South Wales. Image credit: Krystle Wright

Krystle Wright, an adventure photographer who this month was awarded $300,000 in the world’s richest photo competition, lived much of the year travelling Australia in her van. We were were lucky to catch her passing through the ACT for our visit to the childhood home of Australian writer Miles Franklin, author of My Brilliant Career. Franklin was also the author of the very successful and award-winning All That Swagger, a book that mirrors her own family story and childhood spent exploring a mountain holding very much like the Brindabellas. Writer Matthew Higgins says there is a mysticism inherent in the mountain environment in the book, and Krystle captures this beautifully above as the mist lingers of the Goodradigbee River in the Brindabella Valley.

Bogs are beautiful by James Bugg

Sunrise through Snow Gums in Baw Baw National Park
Sunrise through Snow Gums in Baw Baw National Park.Image credit: James Bugg

Project Hiu by Cathy Finch

Image credits: Cathy Finch

Cathy looks at the successes of an Australian-led conservation project in Lombok, Indonesia, that replaces shark fishing with tourism.

The Aussie Camino by Don Fuchs

Don Fuchs has a long history with Australian Photographic, photographing and writing stories for us since 1996. During that time he’s covered everything from the gruelling Carnarvon Great Walk, with 30kg on his back, to an overgrown and unformed track to the South Coast Track in Tasmania where he was up to his hips in mud, for our book on Tasmanian hikes. Don has historically received our ‘tough guy assignments’ but this year he turned his attention to the growing popularity of caminos and hiking as a healing journey. In his story A Journey of Faith, Don explores the therapeutic properties of long-distance walking, and how a camino is different from simply going on a trek.

Murray River, from outback to ocean by Chrissie Goldrick

In addition to editing the journal and managing the Australian Geographic Society, Chrissie managed to fit in writing and photographing a kayaking adventure along the mighty Murray, and an expedition to the Galapagos Islands

Nina White was chosen to document the gruelling trek through thick rainforest to the wreckage of the Stinson aircraft in the Lamington National Park because of her legendary toughness and physical resilience. She also lived conveniently close to the location so was willing to return over and over again in different weather conditions to secure the right pictures.