Hello everyone! Today I’m so incredibly excited to be sharing this interview with two people I’ve looked up to for a long time. Ashleigh and I have known of each other for years through a website called “MyShot” (a kids photography website through National Geographic that shut down in 2017). I reached out to her through Instagram and asked if she and her friend Robert Irwin would like to be featured in a blog post. I want to start interviewing and talking to more teens with influential platforms to find out how they got there/how they balance their social lives with their business lives. It was such an honor to get to interview Ashleigh and Robert, and I know you’ll love getting to know them as much as I have!
What is the first memory you have of picking up a camera?
A: When I was 8 years old my grandparents got me a lime green point and shoot Olympus camera for my birthday! I photographed everything with it, and as embarrassing as it is to say now, I used to bring it to the grocery store because I was always convinced that either a bobcat or mountain lion would cross the “rural roads” of New Jersey…..
R: When I was around 6 years old I started taking a little waterproof camera with me on our travels and snapped pictures of just about everything. I always enjoyed taking photos of any little animals that I could find and since then, my love for photography has developed to become a big part of what I do as a conservationist.
What made you decide to start seriously pursuing photography?
A: My eye for composition continued to progress as I got older and I always had this urge to capture better photos. I also started to see the kind of work National Geographic photographers were producing and it really inspired me. My motivation, determination, and strive to get better starting pointing me towards pursuing photography seriously! And now thanks to my mentors, I am now focusing on conservation photography to change negative perspectives on wildlife, inspire the younger generations, and give back to my subjects.
R: As I started becoming more passionate about photography I realised the potential that it had to make a difference in conservation. My dad was a keen photographer as well and that inspired me as well. I’ve found now that by taking pictures you have the ability to not only document but to also tell a story about an animal or issue and help people to connect with nature. This really made me want to share my work with more people and spread this message to a larger audience.
This question is just for Ashleigh! Like I said in the introduction, we’ve known each other since we were kids on MyShot. Did MyShot play any part in your love of photography?
A: Oh, for sure. MyShot played one of the most significant roles in my love for photography as a child! I never left the computer unless I was out photographing haha! Finding and connecting with kids my age made it so much fun. Especially since I met so many amazing people that I’m proud to call friends through it! It always kept me on my toes and taught me how to be a better photographer through learning from others’ work as well as seeing which photos got the little awards versus which didn’t.
What drawbacks are there to having a large platform/audience?
A: Keeping up with people’s expectations has been a difficult one for me these past two years. Especially since I am a junior now I don’t always have time to photograph as much and I am afraid of letting my peers down. But at the same time, it keeps me motivated and it strives me to be better! Also, when giving talks I used to get super nervous, especially being my age and there being a large audience out in front of me. Keeping notecards has been super helpful, but tons of practice has brought me a long way. Now I rarely get nervous and I try to stick to the point I am getting across when public speaking.
R: I feel very fortunate to have a platform where I can reach so many people and hopefully inspire others. Being in the public eye can have its challenges but for the most part everyone I get to meet is on the same page and appreciates our work.
Have you faced rejection in the industry simply because of your age?
A: Actually, no! When I was younger there were a few comments, but I was surprised to find just how important it is to inspire others through photography! Being a young photographer at 16 has opened so many doors for me and it has given me some significant opportunities to help inspire the younger generations!
R: I have found that in this day and age society is really starting to appreciate and listen to views and opinions from a younger demographic. I have learnt so much from many of my older peers and the experience that you gain over many years is invaluable, but with that said there are still a great many young people who are making a difference and bringing a fresh perspective to important issues.
What is one of your favorite memories linked to your career?
A: Meeting other young photographers has been incredibly important to me. Whether it was my trip to Churchill Manitoba on a NatGeo high school expedition, or attending the NANPA high school scholarship program, both gave me some of the funniest and most meaningful memories of my life! The most important one however is when my friend David Rosenzweig passed down the 2017 Youth Photographer of the Year award to me. Having it passed to me by a friend was truly humbling and I was so honored. What made it even better is that I got to pass the 2018 Youth Wildlife Photographer of the Year award to my friend Isaac Spotts late last year!
R: This is a very tough question! I am grateful for having the opportunity to experience so much in so places all over the world over the years on my travels with my family, it is quite difficult to pick just one. From researching wild crocodiles in remote Australia to photographing wildlife in Africa there have been a lot of adventures. Some of my fondest memories have taken places at home in Australia Zoo where I have grown up surrounded by gorgeous wildlife. Career wise, doing the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon has been a great experience and I’ve made many memories on the show!
If you had to pick one photo that means the most to you, which one would it be and why?
A: “Bear Hug” is one of my favorites photos of all time. It perfectly summarizes the unforgettable experience I had while out in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska photographing grizzlies. One of my goals in conservation photography is to change negative perspectives on wildlife, and I find that a lot of those negativities are pointed towards grizzly bears. I am so proud to say that this photo has inspired so many people and I can’t thank the WPY (Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards–London) for placing it has “Highly Honored” in their competition a few years back. Since then that photo has traveled all over the world and I truly hope that the connection between the mother and cub (as shown in the photo) has helped influence the softer but true side of grizzly bears, despite what most think.
R: There is a story behind each and every image I take. As a photographer, you are always going the extra mile and putting in so much time for a good shot. There is one photo though that will stay with me forever. Our charity ‘Wildlife Warriors’ supports many conservation initiatives including rhino protection in Kenya. In 2016 I was lucky enough to travel to Kenya to see first hand the work being done there to combat poaching. While in the Ol’ Pejeta conservancy, I met a Rhino kept in a semi-wild situation under 24/7 surveillance and protection. His name was ‘Sudan’ and he was the last male northern white rhino in existence making him a top prize for poachers. I spent over an hour with him and took many photos. He has since passed away, and this moving experience is something I’ll never forget.
Who are your mentors/inspirations?
R: First and foremost, my family inspires me every day. I have learnt a lot from them and together we work so hard to continue the vital conservation work that my dad started many years ago. I have met so many inspirational people over the years including talented photographers that inspire me to take my craft to the next level, other like-minded conservationists that I admire and peers. The Dalai Lama was someone that I was particularly fortunate to meet who I look up to greatly!
How do you balance your life as a photographer with your life as a typical teenager? And Robert, you have the addition of filming a TV show. You two must have some hectic schedules!
A: Balancing can be difficult, especially since I am also an avid equestrian (horseback rider) and I compete all over the country. So balancing all three is quite a challenge! But I have found that this year (especially because it’s my junior year) I have really needed to stay on top of my work and organize everything through a planner. I have a planner that I use 24/7 and it marks everything I need to do throughout the year and it has saved me so much time and helped me so much! Photography is more like an outside world for me, meaning like another life outside of my life at school. Lots of people at school know I photograph, but I mainly keep the two worlds separate. My friends and family are very supportive and understanding so they all play a huge role in reducing any stress!
R: We always have a very busy schedule between filming our Animal Planet show, ‘Crikey! It’s the Irwins’, press tours, conservation work and photography. It is so important to balance fun with work and for me, I get to do what I love every single day with my family. Travelling so much has also given me the good fortune to make friends all over the world which is great!
Now for a few fun questions! I know y’all are successful teens in the photography industry, but you’re also still regular teenagers like myself. I’d love to find out a little more about what you do in between shoots.
What music have you been loving recently?
A: I don’t like the typical music everyone at my school loves…I am more into early 2000’s songs, or songs released even earlier than that. For example, I love Crazy by Seal, Every Breath You Take by The Police, Secrets by OneRepublic, Speed of Sound, Viva La Vida and Yellow by Coldplay, Holiday by Green Day, Open Season by High Highs, and Take Me Home Country Roads by John Denver….oldies but goodies!
R: I enjoy lots of different genres, some of the artists that I currently enjoying are John Williamson who is an amazing Aussie artist, Ed Sheeran, Justice Crew and Amy Shark!
If you had an hour of free time, what could you be found doing?
A: I would probably be riding my horse or playing with my dogs! My dogs are my whole world, I have a yellow lab named Remmie and a little French Bull Dog named Willow! They are both absolutely insane and I can’t ever not smile when I am around them.
R: It really depends on where we are in the world! There is never a typical day, after a photo expedition I usually use my free time to edit photos, sometimes at home I enjoy just hanging out with some of our animals (we have a Komodo dragon who is particularly sweet), and when we are travelling internationally I love experiencing the local area!
Last question that I’m super curious about…what’s your go-to coffee order? I’m quite the coffee lover (as you may be able to tell from my blog name) so I’m always interested to see what other people enjoy.
A: Haha! I actually am not a fan of coffee! Coffee ice cream is something I cannot live without however. But my go-to drink would be a sweetened iced tea from Dunkin (lots of sweetener lol)!
R: To be honest I am actually a big tea drinker, I love a good English Breakfast Tea!
I hope you all enjoyed this post! It was amazing to have the opportunity to talk to these two inspiring teens about their careers and their personal lives. Have a great week everyone! ❤