Profile: Mission perspective

Dave Allen dislikes dull photography almost as much as dull furniture. NIWA's official photographer is the sort of man who is driven to re-style a 1950s coffee table using an old Tip Top sign from a dairy as the tabletop.

Dave Allen dislikes dull photography almost as much as dull furniture. NIWA's official photographer is the sort of man who is driven to re-style a 1950s coffee table using an old Tip Top sign from a dairy as the tabletop. 

"I think it comes from wanting something different ... maybe something that no one else has; maybe something that makes you do a double take and think 'wow'. I guess there's similar thinking with photography – it's a constant drive to find new ways to look at something."

Fortunately for Allen, there are plenty of opportunities for those 'wow' moments in his role based out of NIWA's Greta Point facility in Wellington.

He is responsible for documenting NIWA's work in video and photographs, and cataloguing these in a vast database of moving and still images. 

"There's an endless supply of awesome work going on at NIWA. There are so many stories to tell about the science at work and the people doing it," Allen says.

A job at the BBC provided a perfect learning lab for Allen. He worked there in the late '90s as a picture editor, responsible for editing daily news stories.

"The BBC is a lot like NIWA; quality is important. It's a very demanding, but satisfying, environment.

"I learned how to use imagery that helps to tell the story just as well as the words did. I also learned how to manage work within different time frames and priorities."

Being short of time is something Allen has learned to work within.

"I had just one day to visit NIWA's Bream Bay Aquaculture Park in Ruakaka. I had to lug in the gear, scope out the incredible site there and take footage that would help me tell a story about their work." The video feature that came out of the Bream Bay visit is an example of the body of video work Allen is building about NIWA.

"Internet video makes it possible for organisations to become a broadcaster in their own right. They can establish their own relationship directly with the public."

"NIWA demonstrates the power of video to serve the 'long tail'. It may not be the stuff of viral videos, but there's still an awful lot of people interested in it. And the interest lasts because the science remains useful for a long time for students, researchers and others."

He says digital technology may be making the physical parts of the job slightly easier, so now one person with the right skills can effectively do many jobs – camera, sound, direct, edit, lighting, interview, produce.

"What people expect from the end product remains the same: they like to feel entertained, enlightened and engaged with the topic in the same way that they always have via films and network TV.

"Part of the job is to be in the right place at the right time, but the other part is recognising and capturing something that will surprise, inspire or fascinate other people." 

Impressive videos of the autumn storms, with waves breaking over the camera, are testament that Allen also has the knack of being in the right place. He carries a camera with him everywhere.

"I take the work seriously. I have to be ready, because events relevant to NIWA's brief are happening around us all the time."

For someone whose work is so enmeshed with technology, Allen spends a surprising amount of time offline, with his kids, with DIY and in the outdoors.

He and his wife, Sue, love to take their two young girls, Zoe (9) and Holly (6), to experience the great outdoors. This year the family has enjoyed holidays to the South Island glaciers, Wairarapa, Marlborough, Nelson and Dunedin.

Allen's 'zone out' time is in the Kilbirnie Pool, where he swims almost every day. "Swimming is great meditation, as well as good physically. I aim to crack at least one ocean swim challenge each year."

But even at home, photography is not far away. Allen experiments with astrophotography, landscapes and, of course, capturing the life and times of their children as they grow up. 

It has been said that you don't take photographs; you make them. Allen believes he's fortunate to work for a company that is constantly creating things worth capturing in images and video.

"It's such a privilege working in this job at NIWA, to be onhand to record great science unfolding every day ... and to get paid for it!" 

Gerry Le Roux
Dave Allen on Pukerua Bay. [Gerry Le Roux]
Dave Allen
An integral part of the Allen household. [Dave Allen]
Gerry Le Roux
Left to right - Susan Allen, Dave Allen, Zoe Allen (9), Holly Allen (6). [Gerry Le Roux]