AWARD WINNER: Mount Perry wildlife photographer Melissa Christi.
AWARD WINNER: Mount Perry wildlife photographer Melissa Christi. Contributed

The photo that secured Burnett photographer a Nat Geo prize

FOR the past four or five years, ornithology (study of birds) student and budding wildlife photographer Melissa Christi, 24, has entered the National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition.

But she wasn't going to this year, as she didn't think she had any shots which could make the grade.

Luckily she made a spur-of-the moment decision to enter a photograph she took in 2017, a decision that paid dividends, as her entry Bride in the Bath claimed runner-up in the prestigious competition's animal portrait category.

The Mount Perry resident was at the Young Scientists of Australia ConocoPhillips Science Experience camp on the eve of the competition's closure when she borrowed a friend's laptop to submit her entry.

When, a few weeks later, she received an email advising her she was a finalist, her jaw dropped.

"It's the most amazing feeling, I was not expecting to be a finalist for many years,” Ms Christi said.

"To me, I'm still an amateur, and to have my photo featured among photographers who I look up to is such an honour.”

Ms Christi said Bride in the Bath was taken in the hours following a heavy downpour which broke a prolonged dry spell in Mount Perry.

Bride in the Bath, runner up in National Geographic's Nature Photographer of the Year's Animal Portrait category.
Bride in the Bath, runner up in National Geographic's Nature Photographer of the Year's Animal Portrait category. Melissa Christi

"The termites started swarming and we knew it would rain,” Ms Christi said.

"After the shower, the sun came out. It was so beautiful - I knew I would find something with my camera but I wasn't sure what.

"A series of ponds had formed on the ground.

"Most of the termites which were trapped had shed their wings, but this one hadn't and it had a beautiful spattering of raindrops on its wings.

"The light was right but the lens I was using had quite a narrow field of focus, so getting everything in focus was quite tricky, I had to stand on my tip-toes to get the right distance.

"You have to take a number of photos before you get the right one.”

Ms Christi said her entry was initially going to be called Mite be Queen, until her family talked her out of the pun.

"I'm notoriously bad at naming competition entries,” she said.

She was reading a collection of British murder mysteries at the time, and one of the stories was titled Bride in the Bath, about a debonair serial killer who would take brides before murdering them in their bath tubs.

So she borrowed it.

"The termite is the bride and she's dead in the water,” Ms Christi said.

Ms Christi said she followed her mother's lead into a love of photography.

"She's been an avid photographer for as long as I can remember,” Ms Christi said.

"Taking photos of wildlife, the bush, telling us what sort of animal or plant that is, it's just always been there.”

In this way, photography has become inextricably entwined with Ms Christi's recollections of her idyllic childhood.

"I wanted to preserve those memories,” she said.

"Nature is very transient - here one day, gone the next.

"A lot of photography is being in the right place at the right time.”

In 2015 she began truly honing her skills as a wildlife photographer, especially the technical aspects of cameras.

"Things that make a good photo are colours, hues, light and shape, that's easy for me,” Ms Christi said.

"The technical stuff? Not so easy.”

Ms Christi wants to use her award as a springboard into combining her background in science with her photographic skills.

"Photography is brilliant tool for showing people what's out there,” she said.

"Even in your own garden, there is amazing biodiversity. You turn over a leaf and there's a new beetle you've never seen, or a snail with a coloured shell.

"I think people can be scared of creepy crawlies.

"But if we show them what's out there then they might invest in caring for what's out there.”

Ms Christi is already finding ways to combine her two loves: she is currently in Mount Isa assisting a student project in capturing and photographing the Carpentarian Pseudantechinus, a small, reclusive mammal, believed to be incredibly rare.

"We're not sure if it's really that rare or it's just because it lives in ridiculous locations,” she said.

Ms Christi labelled herself a "glorified gear carrier and peanut butter smearer,” referring to the lure of choice when it comes to trapping small creatures.

She will be on her marsupial-seeking journey until about November.

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