I’ve always loved bushwalking and camping. As a kid growing up in north-west NSW, my family never stayed in hotels on holidays—we always camped.
I went off to uni to study journalism in the late 90s, where I took an elective in photography. I learned traditional black and white film and darkroom techniques, which was awesome, but it was an expensive hobby so I couldn’t do much with it!
I have my husband, Nathan, to thank for bringing my passions for the bush and photography together.
We met in 2005 when we were both living in Sydney. He shared my enthusiasm for hiking, camping, and native wildlife, and suddenly a whole new world opened up to me.
It turned out that Nathan was an absolute guru at spotting (and catching!) animals in the wild. When he was a kid growing up in Brisbane, he used to catch turtles, snakes and lizards from the creeks and bush around his house and keep them as pets.
While this sort of thing is (quite rightly) frowned on today, it had given him an excellent grounding in reptile identification, behaviour, and husbandry.
In 2006, he joined the NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) and became a volunteer wildlife rescuer and carer specialising in reptiles. For the next four years, we had a house full of animals in various states of rehab.
In 2010 we moved to the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, where we continued to rescue and rehabilitate reptiles and frogs as volunteers with the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital.
It wasn’t until 2012 that Nathan gave me a digital SLR camera for my birthday. I was playing with the camera in our backyard, and took an experimental action shot of a Blue Banded Bee collecting pollen from a colourful flower.
I posted it on Facebook and lots of people commented. Then I saw a Facebook ad for a citizen science site called Project Noah, and suddenly (and unexpectedly) found myself addicted to wildlife photography!
At the time, I had recently been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from my previous job with the NSW Police. I was seriously mentally unwell for around 12 months.
Along with the support of family and friends and regular intensive therapy with an excellent psychologist, I genuinely credit my newfound interest in nature photography and the support of the Project Noah community as critical to my survival during that period, as well as to my eventual recovery.
Even after all the time I’d spent in the bush, this was the first time I’d truly started noticing the beauty in the details. There was so much to discover about nature once I really started looking.
Such a huge variety of birds, insects, flowers—and that was just in my backyard! I even started getting over some long-held and deep-seated fears of moths, spiders, and frogs!
No matter what personal struggles you’re going through, nature carries on regardless. I found a great deal of hope in that.
Of course, it also helped that Nathan was a wildlife wrangler. In 2013 he left his career in IT to follow his true passion and become a professional fauna spotter/catcher.
He now works on mine sites, construction projects and roadworks to find and relocate native animals that would otherwise be injured or killed by machinery. It’s hard for him to see habitat being destroyed and animals displaced, but we both hope that his work helps to mitigate the damage.
He has also had opportunities to contribute to scientific research, and to help raise awareness of the valuable ecosystems that are destroyed daily in the quest for relentless growth and development.
In an ideal world, jobs like Nathan’s wouldn’t exist, because conservation would be at the forefront of all planning decisions. But for now, he’s out there every day rescuing and advocating for the animals (and taking great photos of them).
As for me, since first picking up my camera 2012, I’ve taken pictures of our native animals, plants and habitats wherever I go. (I’m still using the same camera—a Canon EOS 600D—but I’ve upgraded my lenses.)
These days I have a full-time gig in marketing with a software company, so I don’t have as much time to dedicate to my photography as I’d like. But spending time in nature and seeking out the details is one of the things that still helps me stay sane!
I love sharing my images and the stories behind them so that others can see how beautiful and valuable our fauna and flora is. I invite everyone to come on the journey with me, and hopefully you’ll be as inspired as I am to learn more about our environment and to protect it.
Shanna Bignell (April 2020)
- Finalist – 2018 Sunshine Coast Environment Photography Awards
- Finalist – 2017 Australasian Bird Fair Photography Competition (Bird Portrait category)
- Finalist – 2016 Sunshine Coast Environment Photography Awards
- Highly Commended – Sunshine Coast Art Prize 2015 inaugural Landscape and Wildlife Photography Prize
- Runner up – 2015 WIRES Australia Day Photo Competition
- Winner – 2018 Spring in the Mary Photography Competition (Wildlife category)