Photographer on a new cloud |

Top shot. . . Emma Willetts’ bird’s eye view of Oamaru Shingle Supplies won second prize in the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year competition, in the aerial category. PHOTO: SUPPLIED/EMMA WILLETTS

Emma Willetts of North Otago is at the top, after another accolade for her aerial photography.

Ms Willetts has just returned from Auckland, where the 2022 New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year awards took place over the weekend. She finished second in the aerial category.

“I was actually really, really shocked. I did not expect to receive anything this year. . . Because it was such an unconventional image. Not, like, a pretty picture per se, but either way, it was pretty cool.

The featured photo looked at Oamaru Shingle Supplies and was taken last year on an early morning Cessna flight with North Otago pilot and dairy farmer Hayden Williams, with whom Ms Willetts flew regularly.

“That flight, we were on our way to the west coast that day, doing some pictures there, and I had flown over the quarry a couple of times and I was like ‘mmm, that would be pretty cool to photograph’ , and that morning the light was really good, so I just asked him if he could do some curls,” she said.

Ms Willetts had won the same category in 2020, her first year to enter the competition, with a photo of oystercatchers dotting Awaroa Bay in Marlborough.

She was also a finalist last year, but was not ranked.

Shocked . . . Oamaru photographer Emma Willetts did it
don’t expect his “unconventional” photo to win an award.

”I usually enter about 10 to 12 [photos] every year and I always do the aerial category. There are other categories, but I stick to what I know.

Ms Willetts’ snap was one of 55 selected for the final, from over 6,000 entries.

First place in the aerial category went to Nelson’s photographer Andy MacDonald, who was also named General Photographer of the Year.

Ms Willetts said hers was the only photo from the aerial category final not taken by drone.

”I’m proud of the fact that I get up and fly. I love to fly, so it’s always nice to be recognized for that. And it was an image of Oamaru, so I was really excited about that. ”

She and her fiancé, Riverstone Kitchen owner Bevan Smith, decided to go to the awards night “a few weeks ago,” she said.

”We were like ‘why not?’. It’s so good to go out and be among other creative people and socialize, and obviously for Bevan, it’s really nice to discover some restaurants.”

Ms Willetts said she absolutely wanted to be back in the air as soon as she could.

“I think I need to take more footage of the Waitaki area, and I feel inspired to go back there.”

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