Iain McGregor

Photographer of the Year 2016

Congratulations to the winners of the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year 2016. From 3500 entries, these are the finest visions of our environment and society, and this year’s contribution to the ever-expanding record of our place, and our people.

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Canterbury summer bush fires. Mike Clark using a bit of ingenuity to help fight a fire on Chris Blackwood’s property.
Burn outs during ‘Muscle car madness’ in Rangiora.
Prince Harry shares a moment with a young child on a walkabout in City mall, Christchurch.
Fox glacier retreated 300m between 2014 and 2015. Tourists now stop at a point which would’ve gone right up the side of the glacier but now stops well short.
European larch trees planted near Lake Tekapo in the 1950s form unfamiliar shapes when viewing from above. Flying a drone at the correct altitude was the most difficult aspect of this shot for photographer Talman Madsen—from above, it was difficult to judge the trees’ proximity and height.
At an event in promotion of a line of skincare, Waikato Times photojournalist Mark Taylor noticed that many of the 30 guests were on their phones as they waited to be seated. Adjusting his exposure, he captured the light of each woman’s smartphone screen illuminating her face.
The deepest point of Ruakuri Cave is lit entirely by glowworms, showing the limestone textures of the cave walls, and the threads used to catch their prey. Reaching the sump involved a 35-metre abseil and several dives through underwater passages—then Shaun Jeffers had to set up his gear in pitch-black, chest-deep water, for a six-minute exposure.
Flying fish are frequently spotted on the way to the Poor Knights Islands, but photographing them proved difficult due to the speed at which they fled. Finally, Crispin Middleton discovered that the key involved positioning himself directly above the fish—they’d linger for a few seconds before zooming away.
Trees burned like candles in a large bushfire on the outskirts of Christchurch, one of a series of blazes during a long, dry Canterbury summer that pushed professional and volunteer fire brigades to their limits. Locals employed a bit of ingenuity to protect their properties—but many were evacuated, and some lost their homes to the fire.
Manihiki atoll, in the northern Cook Islands, encompasses many black-pearl farms dotted across its four kilometre-wide lagoon. In order to capture the symmetrical, pearl-like shape of the farm itself, Richard Sidey positioned his drone directly above.
Late on an autumn afternoon day at the Poor Knights Islands, Quentin Bennett spent an hour following a school of squid. A misfiring strobe meant he lingered in an attempt to get the shot, accustoming the squid to his presence, and finally, allowing him to get up close.
Water droplets on a common wasp act as mini lenses, refracting a daisy and the blue of an Otago rugby shirt. A cold morning meant the wasp was sluggish, allowing Murray McCulloch to creep up close. “One of the best things about macro photography is that you can find a whole new world in your own backyard,” he says.

For eight years, Kiwi photographers have gathered the best images of our environment and society and submitted them to expert judgment and public scrutiny in the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year competition. It has for some time been the country’s largest photography contest, and certainly the most popular photographic exhibition—thousands of entries, tens of thousands of visitors, tens of thousands of votes cast for the Panasonic People’s Choice award.

Each year the standard improves, both in the quality of photographic craft and also in the technology available to the photographer. This year we have images shot in near total darkness and photographers employing focus-stacking technologies to render every hair of a wasp in perfect detail. There are timelapse videos made from many thousands of individual frames, and in a new category, photographers taking to the sky for the aerial perspective—in helicopters and now a range of drones that look as much like delicate insects as anything in the wildlife category.

As always, however, it was the special relationship with the subject that differentiated the winners—each a startling insight into the lives and landscapes shared by New Zealanders.


This competition has always sought to celebrate New Zealand without fear or favour—a record of the real New Zealand, rather than the polished and art-directed version that appears in our publicity. Some of the images can be uncomfortable; they challenge our beliefs and our prejudices, they can be confronting and bring us face to face with truths that we may rather ignore.

That’s an attitude reflected in the work of this year’s worthy winner, Iain McGregor. As a photographer for The Press in Christchurch, McGregor was on the spot to cover the bush fires that raged through Canterbury, the evacuation of towns in their path, the terrified residents, and the exhaustion of fire crews battling the blaze. His portfolio also included burn-outs in muscle cars, kapa haka festivals, Prince Harry playfully engaging with a toddler, and tourists dwarfed by Fox Glacier, even as the glacier retreats from view.

The range and quality of his work are extraordinary, but through it runs a compassionate thread that tells a story about the shared values and experiences of New Zealanders.

Images that give us pause, or make us laugh, or bring a tear, are disarming. They cause us to rethink our values, confront our prejudices, or connect with people in circumstances very different from our own. This is the triumph of photojournalism, and it’s at work every time McGregor releases his shutter.