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Photography

These stunning photos reveal the beauty and fragility of the Great Barrier Reef

Canon Australia, in collaboration with photographer Joshua Smith, has unveiled a photo series showing us the beauty (and destruction) of the Great Barrier Reef from up in the air.

Entitled The Reef, the series is the fifth installment from Down Under from Above, an overarching series that celebrates the unique Australian landscape using aerial photography.

Shooting from high up on an airplane, Smith captured all the stunning sights of the world’s largest living organism. He made use of the latest equipment from Canon to photograph heritage sites like Block Reef, Heart Reef, and Hardy Reef, among others.

The Reef by Joshua Smith

“When we’re shooting, we slow the plane down to about 200 km/h. Still, that’s not a lot of time for the camera to lock onto the subject,” recalled Smith.

“But these cameras and their incredible focusing systems made the difference. They’re so responsive that it’s not an issue.”

The Reef by Joshua Smith

While the images look breathtaking, the situation down on the ground – or under water, rather – is anything to be happy about.

“From the air it’s hard to see the impact once the reef is bleached, because it’s very quickly covered in algae which acts as a camouflage,” he said. “We saw phosphorescing tracts, a sign of stress. When there is no coral, there is no fish, and no life.”

The Reef by Joshua Smith

Smith hopes that with his photos, people would finally be aware of their impact on the environment and take action. Before it’s too late.

“The reef is a quintessentially iconic part of Australia, and our national identity,” he said. “I feel very fortunate to be taking these images, and I have the responsibility to remind as many people as I can how precious it is, and the impacts our actions have on our oceans and the reef.”

The Reef by Joshua Smith

We spoke to Smith to learn more about his photography, his work with Canon, and most importantly, their conservation work centered on the Great Barrier Reef.

How exhilarating was it to use aerial photography to showcase the vastness and richness of colour in an area as large as the GBR?

“The beauty and enormity of the reef are hard to describe, there is an immediate connection when you see it. Seeing it from the vantage point we have is never lost on Joe and I.

“The colours and shades of blue are simply indescribable. It’s a realisation I’ve had that I’m drawn to the immense scale of where we are here in Australia. I get to see lots of it, usually all once depending on how high we are flying. It’s like one big constantly changing/evolving artwork.

“My images are just small pieces of art within a big work of art that is Australia. Joe and I both have a level of curiosity that drives us further into the desert or out over the ocean and further up the coast or deeper into a new farming region.

“There’s an ongoing thirst to see what it all looks like from above and straight down and whether or not that will translate into evocative art.”

The Reef by Joshua Smith

Talk us through the logistics of how you actually shot this series.

“Similar to most of my aerial work I have three camera bodies. A Canon EOS 1DX Mark II & a couple of Canon EOS 5D Mark IV bodies with wide L Glass lens on one and longer L Glass lenses on the other two.

“We fly at varying altitudes and I’m usually trying to shoot straight down. Sometimes, I shoot oblique aerials but I’m a massive fan of symmetry and for the abstract works I’m trying to have no other points of reference. This way, you are unsure and question exactly what you are looking at.

“We can spend up to three to four hours over the reef before we come back to fuel.”

The Reef by Joshua Smith

Was there an over-riding message you wanted to convey with the work?

“Australia is big and extremely beautiful and the reef is a big part of that beauty. I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t want to know it any other way.

“We are in a transformative period and it is clear that it can go either way. We keep doing what we are doing and the reefs are impacted by hot water or we can stop and have a bit of think about the impact of our behaviour on land and what its impact is on the end game – the ocean and reefs.

“Like it or not we are all connected to it – even in rural Australia where Joe and I are from. Everything runs into the ocean.”

The Reef by Joshua Smith

Was this any more or less challenging than shooting some of the other vast landscapes you’ve captured over the years?

“There are a number of additional challenges shooting over water and ultimately through it. Lots of things need to line up. The cloud cover, the water clarity, the wind, the tides, the angle of the sun and the angle/position of the aircraft. It’s like a huge juggling act.

“If I’m smiling in post, I know these things have all lined up. In the desert, there are rich reds and ochres, over the reef its deep, rich blues and aqua. A lot of these considerations are not as necessary over land.”

The Reef by Joshua Smith

The Reef exhibit is currently being held at the new Canon Gallery space in Sydney. It will be held from the February 12-28. You can head on over here for more details.

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