Tony Irving, one of Australia’s top photographers and a global Instagram influencer, shares his passion with many thousands of people each day in a single snap shot.
I tag along with him on a trip from his home in Castle Hill to Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Questions at the ready:
1. You’re a successful businessman, husband and dad with a full life already – what makes getting up at 4am to catch a sunrise so compelling?
You can’t capture the main colours of first light unless you’re up then. The ‘why’ is because I want to share God’s creation. The more I do it, the deeper the conviction inside me of why I do this. I want to display God’s glory to people who don’t know Him.
It was also a pressure relief for me. Standing in nature relieves the stress of the working week. It became a great way to start a weekend.
Church always said we are called to something bigger than ourselves. God can expand that. When my kids were younger it was sometimes harder to see how that will work, but through photography my capacity is expanding and growing way beyond what I thought I could be or do. I have found that I can still work, serve, give and be a great Dad. I heard a guest speaker at church say recently, ‘The best gift I can give my children is a better version of me.’ We have gifts inside us and even though they may not be outworked right now, in His season, God empowers them. Even things we may have forgotten about. Talking about forgetting – we need petrol. (We pull into a service station to fill up and I take a quick glance at Tony’s Instagram profile to jot down how many followers he has, and see he has 800 more followers since I last looked a month ago.)
2. When did you pick up a camera? How did you get started?
I always had a camera for family snaps but never used any creativity behind the images. It was about four years ago while on holiday in Noosa, I walked into a gallery of photographer Peter Lik’s work and found myself standing in front of an image for about half an hour. I walked away from the image and Googled, ‘how to take a landscape photo.’ From there I started learning techniques, equipment, post production and processing. It’s been a journey up until now.
They were always there but I had always walked past them.
3. What sort of journey has photography taken you on?
I’ve seen more sunrises than I had ever seen in my life. I never could have comprehended how beautiful a sunrise could be. I notice nature: creation moving, fish jumping, birds, wind patterns, weather and reflections in puddles. I look at life completely differently. I see the details. They were always there but I had always walked past them.
I have also made a whole other community of friends and been able to share my view of the world with them. I have a career and a creative outlet as well. It has moved me to form relationships with photography businesses that now support me: All through social media.
Then there are the trips through places like Iceland, New Zealand, America, the Northern Lights and places I could never have dreamed of. I’ve captured icebergs, massive storms and lightening, and travelled down a journey of creativity I thought I had lost.
4. What would you say to someone who has a creative interest but they don’t pursue it because of work commitments/cost/perceived lack of skills etc?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. There is a time when your life might have the space, even if it’s only five mins a day.
Cost doesn’t need to be a prohibitor. Start off with what is in your hand and do what you can.
Juggling work is juggling time and not neglecting any piece of the pie: wife/family/church/career. As your interest grows, that might become your career, but I would say there is no use pursuing your interest so obsessively your career suffers.
You tell a story with an image. It’s a gift for other people.
5. You are recognised as a social media ‘influencer’ with a growing following across the globe – what do you attribute this to? What attracted you to create such a strong social media platform early on in your photography journey?
I was learning photography, so I was immediately attracted to photographers online. They were all very generous with their time and encouragement. I could ask questions and they then mentored me. Instagram became the right fit because I was able to connect with photographers across the world which meant meeting up with photographers in Paris, or photographing Westminster at 2am in the morning. For me, social media has been about connecting with people and encouraging people in their career. For all the negatives about social media, the positives far outweigh.
A friend of mine has a great quote: ‘Create more than you consume.’ Get out there and create more than you can just use. Look at other peoples work, but don’t spend all your time just looking at what everyone else is doing. For me, it has been important to have a purpose behind a photograph. To show Jesus has always been the ‘why’ behind my images: To take what I hear on Sundays and communicate it to a community who might never otherwise hear what is going on inside Hillsong – the messages, the music. And the feedback shows the vision behind what I am doing is connecting that with people, which I love.
Stephen Dupont, a wartime photographer I heard speak at a Canon event, says, ‘You never own an image, you gift it.’ You tell a story with an image. It’s a gift for other people. When I started doing landscape photography I would walk into church and have a desire to grow my photography into something that could be used. That God would give me that vision years ago, when my images were so basic, and then to walk into Hillsong Conference, where I was volunteering, to see my image on screen behind the platform was seeing God’s word being fulfilled. What He had planted in me years ago still gives me a deep sense of wonder and gratitude that I could offer something He would use.
Create more than you consume.
6. What would you say to other believers wanting to do what you’re doing and have an influence on social media?
Participate in communities and get out and do it. Every week.
Be generous with your comments and interactions in the same way you would like people to interact with you.
Strive for quality. Do the absolute best you can do for God. Be consistent and work hard. It doesn’t come easily.
7. How do you stay fresh/inspired/up to date? And who has inspired you most in your photography journey?
Continual learning and stretching, and surrounding myself with people who stretch me. Being part of a photography group means I stretch – I learn new technology, and I shoot with other people to stay fresh. These relationships keep me inspired. Even travelling to a location – it may not always end up being a great photo, but the relationships built may be. It keeps you focussing on your gifting. So when you’re feeling a bit flat, that helps you keep going.
Other photographers work inspires me, whether in these groups, on social media, or in books.
Photography workshops are something I have experienced in the last 12 months. They offer new locations, ideas, and contact with other photographers and like minded creatives who encourage you creatively.
Brian and Bobbie Houston inspire me: The way they’ve grown the church and see the best in everyone. I’m constantly inspired by those guys.
8. Can you share 2 or 3 of your favourite shots with us?
How to choose three photos, out of hundreds?
1.) This was called ‘The Sunset the broke the Internet.’
It was a Monday night. I had been watching the clouds build all day and when I ran out the office door to get to my location, I knew something special was about to happen. The hardest thing to control over this sunset was the amount of colour my camera was consuming as the sky turned from orange to red to pink. The next morning I took the most amazing sunrise photo and that afternoon we discovered my wife Karen had a brain tumour. Those two images frame the start of a two year whirlwind journey.
2.) The first time I saw the Northern Lights.
I had just travelled 16,900 kilometres from Australia, to Dubai, and then London, to Iceland. I was so tired, the hotel was overbooked, and I had just missed a major head-on collision. I was standing on the side of a mountain praying, ‘God, please turn this day around,’ and bang…
3.) Antelope Canyon, Arizona.
This was like God has just touched His fingerprint on that space. It was so stunning. There was such a sense of God there. Nature’s form of worship.