The Making of Life Aquatic: An Interview with Chuck Bradley

Chris Armstrong Posted By Chris Armstrong on Oct. 21, 2016 / Comments


Photographers who document the natural world will always get my attention and earn my respect. With the natural order under continual assault from human activity and the perils of global warming becoming more and more obvious every day, there are many species we won’t be seeing much longer, thus the need for photographers like Chuck Bradley from Scotland Island in Australia.

Chuck has created a series titled “Life Aquatic” where he’s taking the various sea-life that he’s seen on his daily commute from Scotland Island to the New South Wales mainland and has created a stunning series of images that beautifully showcase the splendour of these creatures. Whether as a way to document the sea life or simply to create art, it’s clear that Chuck shares my passion for honouring nature.

Chuck has agreed to answer some questions about his process and more on why he created Life Aquatic.


CA: Have you always had an affinity towards sea life or was this happenchance upon seeing these on your daily commute?

CB: The idea first came while shooting a commercial job for a bank client. They wanted ducklings and mother duck swimming across the surface of the water for web banners and an ad campaign. At the end of the shoot when I was shooting the mother duck, a light went off in my head. Once I had finished with the ad work I had my assistant drop a black background behind the custom tank we had built for the shoot, I relit the duck and from there Life Aquatic was born. I had seen wonderful sea creatures living in the water on my travels back and fourth from our island home, but until I shot the duck I didn’t really know how best to showcase their beauty.

CA: It’s obvious these were shot in a studio — how did you go about getting these beautiful and sometimes fragile creatures into your studio?

CB: In the beginning I would borrow creatures from various fish shops, private owners and net creatures living in an around Scotland Island on the Pittwater where we live. Later, I was fortunate enough to work with the Manly Sealife Sanctuary where I had free rein to pick and choose various creatures in their exhibition tanks. The highlight being access to the wonderful Australian Ferry Penguins.

CA: What are the challenges of working with sea life? Were there any slimy, violent, or otherwise unexpected surprises?

CB: The choice of the right creatures is important. As I call it, they must be fluid, have a grace when they swim through the water. Patience is also important, one can sit and wait for the right shot for hours sometimes. The only near disaster was when I had my first plastic tank full of sea water prepping for a shoot. I was up stairs in the studio retouching when I heard a cracking noise, I ran down stairs to see the one seam in the tank giving way, the tank had 60 litres in it. I quickly pump the water out down the drain and avoided a big mess in the studio.

CA: Tell me more about your studio. What camera and lighting gear did you use on this series?

CB: I have a small still life studio as well as my boat shed at home that I use for this work. I also have various sized glass tanks depending on creature size. I use only Broncolor lighting gear to produce my work, as for the camera I used for these images, they were are all shot on a Canon LDS Mark III and a 24-105 zoom lens. Though I have recently after 40 years of Canon changed over to the Sony a7R II for all my work, a very impressive tool.

CA: While I’m sure these images have appeared in museums and galleries around the world, have they ever been used commercially? How do you go about pricing personal work for commercial purposes?

CB: Not sure how to really answer this one. One may think they are widely know but this isn’t really the case. I have just started having my work recognised outside Australia after putting myself on Wonderful Machine in the USA. I have had one of my penguin images used for a Planet Arc plastic awareness campaign here in Sydney last year as well as one of my turtle images used on a music cd cover. Pricing is always tricky nowadays, but if you don’t ask for it, you don’t get it, but I always try to be flexible.

CA: Do you have any goals to shoot more images for Life Aquatic? Or is it finished and more of a time capsule of your work?

CB: I will still photograph a creature every now and again if I see one that takes my fancy. I don’t know if a project like this ever ends. To date I think I’ve been adding to it for over 5 years.

CA: Beyond Life Aquatic, what’s next?

CB: I have recently embarked on a project called ‘Instrumental‘. This project came about while I was working with the Australian band, Midnight Oil. I photographed the band members favourite instruments as part of a historical traveling exhibition here in Australia. These images were so well received that it gave me the idea to photograph other musicians favourite instruments that were instrumental to the sound of Australian rock and roll in the 70’s, 80’s an 90’s and that put Australia on the map worldwide. ‘Instrumental’ is slated to be exhibited in May 2017.

More About Chuck Bradley

Chuck BradleyLiving on Pittwater at Scotland Island with his wife, Chuck commutes by tinny and revels in daily sightings of aquatic life. And when not on the water and seeking new subjects to photograph he is centre stage as drummer with his blues band Sly Dogs.

Well known for his love of Polaroid — he has three transfers in the Polaroid collection in Cambridge, MA. Chuck’s work also resides in other collections both in Australia and overseas.

In the past few years, his commercial work has been in demand amongst clients including, DeLonghi. Optus, IBM, American Express, Qantas, Bunderberg Rum, Jim Beam, Telstra, Commonwealth Bank, and Tooheys.

Visit Chuck Bradley's Website