Wildlife photographer Scott Portelli has been to places that most of us only dream about. We spoke to him about why he’s taking a year off from global adventures to focus all his energy on his home country and the magic this vast land (and sea) has to offer.
Face-to-face with the world’s biggest shark, freediving under icebergs in Antarctica, seeking elusive narwhals in the Arctic and locking eyes with silverback mountain gorillas. Scott has one of those stories that sounds like an inspirational novel – a successful advertising mogul in the city who enjoys taking photos of animals and nature in his spare time decides to quit his day job and spend his life chasing his passions. Fast forward a few years and Scott is now a full-time underwater and wildlife photographer, with a pile of awards under his belt. He’s also a world wandering photography guide. He leads dive groups to see eye-to-eye with humpback whales in Tonga, be entertained by penguins and leopard seals in Antarctica and brave the icy waters of Norway in search of orca. Along the way, he fell in love with his dive buddy and fellow underwater photographer Rosie Leaney. In 2020, Scott and Rosie are taking a year to bring their focus closer to home with the ambitious 360in360 project. Exploring Australia with a 4WD and a boat, to find all the secret spots, wild places and incredible wildlife that call Australia home.
Alice: Growing up in Sydney, and growing into your life as a photographer, where were your favourite places to explore?
Scott: Being a Sydney local, I was exposed to the ocean at an early age and learnt to appreciate the ocean as it is such an intrinsic part of the Australian lifestyle. But it wasn’t until I became a diver that I started to pay attention to the wonder that lies beneath. The myriad of creatures that live in our ocean is unfathomable, excuse the pun.
Read more: Your Startup Guide To Freediving
There’s as much on land as there is below the surface and just living in Australia meant that I was exposed to some of the most unique wildlife on the planet. So I spent a lot of time hiking through national parks, following the coastline and exploring the mountains.
You’ve already travelled quite a lot around Australia – where’s your favourite place to dive?
This is always a difficult question as I love so many parts of Australia and the more I explore the more I fall in love with new places and new locations for marine life. But I still have an affinity with my home, Sydney, and I must admit I never get bored of diving in Sydney. With critters like Weedy Seadragons, Australian Giant Cuttlefish and Wobbegong Sharks, I’m constantly amazed by our beautiful oceans. What about places you haven’t been yet – where are you most looking forward to visiting next year and why?
Surprisingly there are so many places [in Australia] I haven’t been to, and because I travel internationally more regularly, I very rarely get to explore my own country. So I’m excited to actually spend time in Australia, specifically places like Tasmania where I can see the raw nature and beauty of my own country.
Read more: A Photographer’s Guide To Shooting Wild Tasmania
You’re about to start 360 days of exploring your home country on an ambitious photography project. As a wildlife photographer who works in some of the wildest places in the world – Antarctica, the high Arctic, the Galapagos – why are you taking a whole year to just focus on Australia?
I’ve been so focused on different parts of the world, specialising in polar regions and sub Antarctic wildlife, that it made sense that I spend time in my own backyard and see how much is on offer in Australia.
What sort of creatures or places are you hoping to find along the way on the 360in360 adventure?
We really want to explore the hidden gems that Australia has to offer, beautiful landscapes and marine environments that are home to so many iconic creatures. But nothing is more amazing than being in the ocean with marine creatures – seals, dolphins, whales, sharks – they are all equally amazing and we hope to encounter them regularly.
We’re also looking to try and see some of nature’s great events like the cuttlefish aggregation (South Australia) and red crab migration on Christmas Island.Your work as a photographer so far has taken you to some pretty mind-blowing places and led to some beautiful interactions with animals – what’s your best memory of a wild encounter?
There have been so many amazing interactions over the years with marine mammals and primates. But I think one of the things that will stick in my mind is the time I met a very special whale in Tonga. A humpback whale that knew no boundaries but also maintained a sense of care.
You need to go to as many places as you can, as this is what opens the world to you and presents opportunities. The more places you visit, people you meet, things you learn about the world, the more chances you have of achieving your goals. And if you don’t have a budget to travel the world, start in your own backyard. Some of the most amazing photographic achievements I’ve had were taken in my own country. Explore your home as I’m certain you’ll find something that inspires.
Get The Shot!