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Australia’s most famous wildlife photographer lost everything, but now has a new focus

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Related Story: Photographer Steve Parish helps others with mental illness

In the 80s and 90s he was the man whose iconic Australian photographs graced postcards and calendars around the world.

He did as much for Australian tourism as Paul Hogan, Steve Irwin and crocodiles combined.

He ran a multi-million-dollar business and lived in a mansion in a prestigious enclave at Upper Brookfield in Brisbane's west.

But the 2011 floods in south-east Queensland and a major bout of depression washed it all away.

Steve Parish, now 73, lives in a shed on the Sunshine Coast hinterland and couldn't be happier.

He said it took losing it all to work out what was really important.

"We were declared bankrupt in 2012 and had to hand over the keys to the house, all the cameras, the photo library and everything we owned except $3,000," Mr Parish said.

Wildlife Photographer Steve Parish with tripod over shoulder.

"I had 125 staff and a $15 million turnover but we lost everything, that's a very refreshing pathway."

Mr Parish said he was now focused on using his passion for photography to help people overcome mental illness and deal with the stresses of life.

Steve's top 10 tips for taking wildlife pictures

  1. Know your camera — learn what it can do and how it can amplify your creative voice.
  2. Shoot in the 'golden hour' — the hour before and after sunrise and sunset provides the best light for wildlife and wilderness photography.
  3. Watch the weather — overcast days have softer shadows and are good for photographing the bush; sunnier days are better suited to more open environments.
  4. Get down — getting closer to the ground can give your picture a compelling setting and puts you at eye-level with animals.
  5. Always be very quiet and move slowly.
  6. Zoom in and fill the frame with your subject. Focus on the animal's eyes.
  7. Take a picture immediately and then wait until the animal does something interesting, then take another one!
  8. Play with colour, texture, form, tone and shape — they can enhance the story you tell with your photographs.
  9. Explore the possibilities of editing — it can help your work better reflect your creative goals.
  10. Find your passion — know what story you want to tell with your photography.

"I've been extremely unwell, struggling with depression and gone through multiple divorces, cancer and the complete loss of the business, but I have been able to prove to myself, that having a life purpose has a huge impact on your mental health," he said.

Mr Parish is an now ambassador for the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia.

"We are all struggling with change, heightened anxiety and depression — so I am mainly driven with showing people how their mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing can be enhanced with being part of nature," he said.

"There is not enough joy in the world — not enough celebration — so I have taken it upon myself to spread some joy."

Mr Parish is a self-confessed "odd character" and these major changes in his life have also dramatically changed his approach to his own photography.

"When I take pictures these days it is for the joy within — if it sells, it sells, if it doesn't, it doesn't," he said.

"I am not into recording what I see, I want to create art."

Steve Parish's photo of the Bungle Bungle Ranges in the Kimberley region.

Looking to the masters

He now finds inspiration in the masters — from Picasso to Turner, da Vinci and Rembrandt — and isn't afraid to edit and enhance his pictures to tell a story.

"For me the idea of being able to generate art with new technology is mind-shifting," he said.

"We've now got software that will allow people to do what Picasso was doing."

It is a dramatic departure from the wildlife and landscape pictures of the 80s and 90s, but Parish is unapologetic about his change in direction.

"I don't show anybody my art and ask them what they think," he said.

"I do it for me, I don't care what anybody thinks."

Steve Parish's photo of a Fur seal pup on a Kangaroo Island cliff edge

Mr Parish is about to embark on another new chapter, joining academia to teach an online photography course at Brisbane's Griffith University.

"One hundred and fifty people have signed up already — 15-year-olds to 80-year-olds, which is thrilling," he said.

Mr Parish has offered unconventional advice for those seeking to become better photographers or even build a career out of photography.

"You need to do more work on yourself than on your creative skills — you really need to know who you are and where you want to go with your photography," he said.

"If you want to bring some sort of refocus to humanity, then you are already successful, but if you go along the path of 'look at me', you will just be one of 1.6 billion people uploading to social media everyday … and best of luck to you.

"We all really need to be in charge of our own joy."

Picture of water lilies in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.

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