Travelling for work and travelling for pleasure are often two very separate activities. But for James Tobin, presenter on Channel 7’s Weekend Sunrise, it was a newfound passion for photography that put the two together. In this exclusive interview, we had the chance to hear about how photography has changed the way Tobin travels and about one of his favourite subjects: Australia’s wondrous Lord Howe Island.
What got you into the art of photography?
I’d consider myself an amateur photographer but I’ve always loved images. I think there’s something so great about a photograph, especially one that’s printed out in these days of digital images. They carry such impact. Thanks to my work with Channel 7, I’ve been able to travel so much that it almost felt like a shame to travel to these places without doing them justice by capturing their image in the best quality possible. So these days, I try to travel with my camera.
How often to do you get to travel?
I pretty much travel every week for work doing Weekend Sunrise weather. I’m pretty much on a plane every Friday and often again on Saturday and often again on Sunday. When people find out how often I travel, I get one of two reaction: people either say “wow, I could never do that. You must be exhausted,” or “Wow, how amazing!”
I’m someone who loves to travel, and I’ve gotten to call it ‘work,’ while I visit destinations I might not have otherwise gotten to see and meet locals I might not have been able to meet. It’s been the biggest gift.
In all of your travels, what destinations have surprised you?
Regional parts of Australia can be the best ‘surprises.’ Often, when we think about a holiday destination, we always have a few destinations that come to top of mind. But sometimes a road trip is really the best way to discover new places like the regional parts of Australia that you’d only find by driving.
And I love Lord Howe Island so much that it has resulted in my becoming an Ambassador. It’s only 11 kilometres long, but it has reef, beach, dense vegetation, and two huge mountains that climb into the clouds… there’s just so much that you can engage in all in one place.
What does the beauty of Lord Howe Island represent to you?
Just after WWII, they started flying float planes from Rose Bay, Sydney right to the lagoon at the Island. It was a very special trip to travel to Lord Howe Island and it earned this fantastic reputation. Today, you can take a plane - that lands on a regular runway! - and get there in a couple of hours. But that aura from those golden days is still around.
Their slogan is Just Paradise. And that’s exactly what it is. If you could conjure up the image of what the ultimate tropical island fantasy is in your mind, Lord Howe Island is it: it’s a sandy island in the middle of a fringing reef with mountains that go up to the clouds and so much to see. Lord Howe Island is a place that almost everyone in Australia has heard of. If they’ve already visited, they rave about it. If they haven’t yet visited, the first remark is always ‘how soon can I go?!’
How did you turn your love of Lord Howe Island into art?
One time, I was at Lord Howe Island at the same time as a photographer named Scott Portelli. He was running Shootout that featured a lot of underwater photography when I got this idea to show off the beauty of Lord Howe Island. But because I’m an amateur, he was able to give me a masterclass. We spent a few days roaming around, trying to get the best photos and I even got to scuba and take underwater photographs. At the end of it all, I was able to put together this exhibition called Reef to Cloud Nine with my photos that I worked on with my brother, Scott’s images, and the images of Lord Howe Island from local amateur photographers. It was so important to me that we feature the locals’ work, since they have such a unique perspective of the Island and so much passion for the land and sea.
How does travel change for you when you view your trip through a lens?
It’s a beautiful hobby. When you try to take a photo, you notice nature so much more. When I was with Scott on the Island, we’d schedule each day around the sunrise or sunset and the light and how to capture the most beautiful ways to see the island through the lens. You take a bit longer to appreciate what’s around you because you look so deeply at the scenery. To use a photography pun, you really focus on what’s in front of you. It’s a great complement to a holiday.
Can you name a few of your favourite parts of Lord Howe Island?
Ned’s Beach is a unique place where you can hand feed fish. Place a few dollars in an honesty box and you’ll get a bag of fish food to feed to these gorgeous fish that come right up to the beach. They’ll eat out of the palm of your hand and it’s amazing.
An incredible restaurant is called Arajilla Restaurant and there’s only one way to describe its modern Australian cuisine: delicious! For something more lowkey, you’ll find The Anchorage almost in the centre of town. It’s one of my favourite places to grab a pastry and coffee.
Then all around the island, there are barbecues with fire wood all set up. It’s great because you can bring the fish you caught on the reef that day or the meat you bought from Joy’s Shop right there with 5-star views at an Aussie barbecue price. It’s perfect for those days when you don’t want to run home before dinner - you can jump out of the water, all sandy and salty, grab a beer or wine and eat.
Is there something that would surprise your fans about you when you’re in ‘travel mode’?
I love taking photos of nature and scenery. But if I’m travelling with you and you fall asleep in the back of a car or on a plane or anywhere else, I will get a photo of you. If you’re drooling or snoring or sleeping in an awkward position, I will definitely capture that!
Photography credit: James Tobin