Martin gets front row view of the world

03:03, May 03 2012
Martin de Ruyter
SELF-PORTRAIT: Martin de Ruyter in Antarctica.

Martin De Ruyter has been a photographer at The Nelson Mail for 25 years and the paper's head photographer since 1993.

Originally from Wellington, Martin went to Newlands College and then worked in the accounts department at Mobil Oil for two years while working part-time for a community newspaper.

After teaching himself the basics of photography, he missed out on jobs at The Dominion and The Evening Post.

However, his trademark determination won out when, at the age of 20, he landed a junior position at The Nelson Mail in 1986.

He had only been to Nelson once and has lived here ever since.

Martin is married and the father of a grown-up son.


Outside of photography his passions include fly fishing, skiing, mountainbiking and tennis.

This week he took some time to talk to The Leader.

What's the best part of being head photographer at The Nelson Mail?

The best part is photographers get to see the world from front row seats, as generally a front seat is where the best photographs are taken from. Also, the people I get to meet and the people I work with.

And what's the worst?
Early starts in winter. My alarm goes at 5.30am. I'm way happier working till 2am than getting up at 5.30am.

What have been some of the highlights of your career?
Winning Qantas Junior Photographer of the Year. Being a finalist in senior photographer of the year and a finalist in best picture and a finalist in several subject portfolio sections. Having a photograph of the Dalai Lama and Bishop Peter Sutton published in Life magazine. Having World of WearableArt photographs published all round the world, including GEO magazine in Germany, and a photography assignment in Antarctica after three years of applying to be part of their media programme.

Who are some of the most famous people you have photographed?
I've photographed every New Zealand Prime Minister since and including Robert Muldoon, the Dalai Lama, as mentioned above, the Queen, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and the very famous Albert Jones, of Stoke.

What's the scariest experience you've had in your job?
I was doing an assignment at Rainbow Skifield and went for a long slide without skis on and no gloves and used my hands to stop my slide before going over a bluff. I went into a little bit of shock and spent a couple of hours in the lodge at the skifield warming my hands up. I've done a lot of flying, including being inverted, but none of that has ever worried me.

How has the job changed?
Digital has had the biggest impact. Last century we hand-processed black and white films and produced prints.
If we were really pushed we could produce a dry black and white print off an unprocessed roll of black and white film in 22 minutes. Now we are setting up our cameras to use wi-fi cards to send photographs through smart phones. So everything is getting faster and there will soon be no point assaulting the photographer to get the camera, as the incriminating photograph you didn't want taken will be long gone in a digital wi-fi world.

Have the rules about which photos are publishable, and which aren't, changed at all?
No, I don't think so. We are still very sensitive to what our readers do or don't want to see in the newspaper.
A lot of that is around the geographic nature of the content; a photograph of 100 bodies washed up on a beach in India will probably be used on the world page of The Nelson Mail but there will be a lot of discussion before we would publish a photograph of a dead person washed up on Tahunanui Beach.

When you were first starting out, if you could have seen the gear you are working with now, what would have impressed you the most?
The cameras we use now take amazing photographs in low light without flash, that would never have been possible with film.
As an example we shoot indoor basketball and netball at about 5000 ASA and use flash outside to fill in on sunny days more than we use flash inside to cover sport.
And the cameras are only getting better. Canon claims its new EOS 1X digital camera can take photographs in what is basically complete darkness.

What was the earliest photo you remember taking?

My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic that shot 126 film. I don't think that format exists any longer. I remember photographing the family dogs a lot with it.

Is it true you know more people in the Nelson region than anyone else?

My son Troy has more than 600 friends on Facebook and I have half that number.
But I would like to think I would know way more than 1000 people enough for them to offer me a cup of tea, and the interesting thing is most of those people aren't my Facebook friends but "real" friends.
At the end of last year I introduced myself to one of the 60 friends my son and I share on Facebook and she said: "Do I know you?" My reply was: "Yes, we are friends on Facebook." That got a laugh from the rest of her year 13 media class.