The story behind the photo: ‘Hang Time’ by Nathan Watson

By AG STAFF 22 November 2023
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This forms part of a series of Q&As with winning photographers from this year’s Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year awards.

Nature photographer Nathan Watson was recently announced as the People’s Choice winner of the 2023 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year (AGNPOTY) competition.

His winning image, titled Hang Time, captures the incredible moment a honey possum (Tarsipes rostratus) hangs between two heads of a scarlet banksia (Banksia coccinea), pausing to lap up some drips of nectar.

Can you tell us the back story of this photo? 

I spent several early mornings across multiple weekends staking out this beautiful double-headed Banksia coccinea (aka scarlet banksia). The banksias were in full bloom but they can get quite large and dense making it hard to get clean backgrounds. I was attracted to this small banksia as it was much more photogenic. It was a young plant and isolated from other bushes, and its twin blooms made for a nice composition. I chose a position that would be good for backlighting and spent many hours waiting for something to happen.

What is your connection to the subject matter? 

Both the coccinea and the honey possum are endemic to my home region on the south coast of Western Australia, which is quite special. The rich scarlet colour of the coccinea is stunning and the possums are so small and shy, and each is equally critical to their survival. The flowers feed the possums and in turn, the possums pollinate the flowers.

Where is it taken, and what led you to this site? 

This image was taken at Cheyne Beach. I predominantly photograph birds and Cheyne Beach is well known as a birding destination. I visit the area regularly to enjoy its breathtaking coastal environment which is rich with unique flora and fauna.

Were you unexpectedly there or had you planned to cover this moment? 

There was an element of planning in this image, but also a bit of luck. But as they say you create your own luck and capturing this honey possum in such a captivating pose was reward for persistence and patience.

Nature photographer Nathan Watson. Image credit: Lewis Burnett

What are the technical challenges of photographing this kind of scene?

The image was taken handheld so I had to ensure I had sufficient shutter speed to capture a sharp subject. Being handheld meant I didn’t have the camera constantly aimed at the subject so I pre-focussed on the flowers which meant when something happened and I lifted my camera to capture the action, the eye-tracking on my R3 locked onto the subject more quickly.

How did you prepare to take this image? 

Honey possums are predominantly nocturnal but when banksias are flowering they can often be seen feeding on them into the early morning, so I made sure I arrived before sunrise every morning, and dressed in dark clothing to blend into my surroundings.

Did you have special equipment? 

This image was taken with my Canon EOS R3 camera and my Canon 500mm F4 L IS II lens with a 1.4x teleconverter to give me extra reach.

Have you covered this topic/subject before?

I had tried to photograph honey possums several times across the weekends I visited, including on this same flower, however the little critters don’t always give you a great look at them and getting a pleasing composition can be hard. From my experience they also generally scurry down the flower stems so it was unexpected to see this little guy pause its climb and hang by its tail as it cleaned the nectar off its nose and whiskers.

Why is this form of photography important to you?

Photography is a powerful way to educate the wider community about nature and conservation. Contests like the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year are not just about recognising amazing photography, they also celebrate the beauty and diversity of the natural world and are a reminder of the importance of protecting and preserving it.

Any additional thoughts?

It is really rewarding to have taken an image that connected so strongly with the public and receiving the People’s Choice award is an incredible honour. Thank you to everyone who voted for my image and congratulations to all the other amazing photographers whose work was awarded and exhibited in this year’s contest.

Related: Winners: 2023 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year