Peta Bilton Sydney Ocean and Portrait Photographer

Peta Bilton Sydney Ocean and Portrait Photographer


I had the pleasure of meeting Peta recently at an Ocean Photography meet in Sydney. I don’t remember being this wise, fearless, humble or even remotely as confident as this beautiful soul at her age. It’s true testament to her character and passion for her craft. Before I meet Peta I had seen her imagery on Instagram. She tells a beautiful story with her work and I find her style really refreshing.

Peta Interview

Firstly, can you start with a little bit about yourself?

My name is Peta, I am 21 and I live in Northern Sydney. Each week of my life looks so different but I love it. Most of the time I work for a fantastic organisation called Soul Survivor that ministers to youth and young adults, as well as their churches. I work in relationship management and lead teams and trips around NSW. In addition to this, I completing a double degree in humanitarian and development studies as well as leadership and critical thinking; which is another heart area for me.

I’m a studio photographer, cafe worker and a worship coordinator at my church. So, as you can imagine life is very full, but I love what I do ! and I love the people I get to serve. I am truly passionate about people.

I am mostly uncoordinated, live with my foot in my mouth, and have a disease called can’t-remember-anything. Oh and I’m a fish. Like 100% more coordinated in water than on land for sure.

sea bird photography

Can you give a breakdown of the equipment you use to create your images?

I have a canon 80D which I love. The four main lenses I use include the canon 24mm, 50mm, 85mm USIii, and sigma 18-35mm. Crop frame sensor is a challenge but keeps me creative. Love the mostly quick focus with some good glass on it.

My housing is an Aquatech elite compac just the basic one and then I’ve got the dome and flat PD65 and a 70mm extension. This was like actually the scariest investment of my life. It sat in a shopping cart in my computer for easily 8 weeks. In saying that I’m stoked with it. Flooded it once (my own fault damn it), but hey now I’m just extra careful.

Sea Bird Photography - Peta Bilton

What would be your favourite lens and why?

My 18-35 is definitely my most used lens. It’s just so good for everything. In the surf, it means I can shoot underwater with all the magnification that occurs as well as surfers without having to worry about what glass I’ve got on. Some photographers like to shoot surfers long but I prefer to sit in this range and would maybe even go wider.

It means I get amongst it more, which helps with community building and also makes it more fun avoiding fin chops. This set-up is great for portraits on a crop frame.

What are three life lessons you have learned in the past year?

Such a good question. It’s been a massive year or so for me in life in general. I think in terms of my journey in ocean and surf photography though, Integrity & character in life is everything. I think when you’re leading things in particular, your character will always show through and the truth always comes out. Be encouraged if people are talking about you, that way you know you’ve done the right thing, then that should be enough. Hold your integrity and persevere. It breeds character and endurance.

The second thing would be that the people you put around you are so important. I’m incredibly grateful for the amazing group of people I have around me in life, and those that I’ve met out in the surf who are so encouraging, and incredibly thoughtful. It’s truly be so super fun getting to know an amazing crew.

Finally, give it a go. This was passed onto me by a friend of mine when the last thing I felt like doing was giving things in life a go ! It has however, translated into an incredible creative space that I’m borderline addicted too. I love ocean photography, and just giving it a go, when I see something or feel inspired by something has given me such a buzz, even if the shot doesn’t turn out right. It just means we try again until we achieve the desired result !!

54247757_838433289831268_3666274781298792152_n.jpgPeta Bilton Sydney Ocean and Portrait Photographer

Which photographers have influenced you and why?

SO MANY. The crazy thing about this community is the support and I truly admire those the people who have influenced my creativity and aspirations. I love watching people and their work from afar and I’m inspired by many big wave shooters. I am even more inspired by those around me in life, the people I truly know and look up too.

Largely Grant (the_aqua_zulu), who has been consistently swimming, dumped, fin chopped and more recently swimming by my side for the the last year or so. He messaged me as a rookie, keen to shoot with other locals and here we are today ! Best of friends, and having a great time in the ocean and building a community together.

Talk to me about the Ocean Photography Meets you Co-host with Grant, What inspired this idea?

So Grant rang me one day after work absolutely buzzing about this fantastic idea that he had, about getting together a few photographers and just getting out there ! Grant with his pitching skills and me with background in communication and media. We just put it out there, just to see what happened. We had one earlier in summer and had a fantastic turn out with the support of AquaTech and DMC fins.

Sea Bird Photography - Peta Bilton

A couple of months ago we ran another, and had over 45 people turn up, and even on a day with miserable rain and terrible surf. We were so stoked to have representatives from QLD and WA join us as well. We ran 3 masterclasses and were very happy to have a lot of people who just wanted to give it a go for the first time. It’s bred an amazing community and we regularly see small groups of photographers getting together in their local area as a result which is really uplifting.

I could not be more stoked and we’re very excited to continue on this journey !

Sea Bird Photography - Peta Bilton

How would you describe your current photographic style?

It’s ALWAYS evolving. I can find it frustrating that it is changing so often but I guess it’s all part of the process!

At the moment, I’m really enjoying hunting bigger surf and shooting surfers, but I also love the minimalism and peacefulness of the ocean and the experience of being in and around it. A lot of my photos are literally just moments that have occurred and I’ve been lucky enough to be there to capture them!

I love the big sky and the silence of the surf when the sun comes over the horizon, which means there’s quite a minimalistic tone to a lot of my photos as well as soft oranges. I also love people, so if there’s a cracker face or moment, that’s GOLD to me and I enjoy sharing that with others.

Sea Bird Photography - Peta Bilton

Have you ever had an experience in the ocean that really scared you?

To be honest not really yet. We’ve had the odd shark sighting and got out of the water pretty quick one time, but the only other time was when I decided to go Solo on an 11ft day that was very messy. I lost both fins and my GoPro at the time, and there was no one else out. I reckon I was swimming for 30 ish minutes before I landed myself pretty roughly on the rocks!

There was another time I swam out to dolphins on a very rippy and very dumpy day. My friend followed me down the beach for 45 mins before I finally made it in and I tell you what, 3rd swim without brekkie means you’re pretty stoked to be back on the sand!

Sea Bird Photography - Peta Bilton

What do you hope people feel when they look at your work?

I hope they see a new perspective. What I loved when I first started out, was that I didn’t actually care too much what the actual image looked like, I was just stoked that there was something new and a different angle that I had brought. I feel inspired by the ocean and what it brings to our world and I just hope that people feel be inspired by my imagery to get out and try this genre of photography. People may love the peace the ocean can bring or maybe the mayhem. It surely brings both for me and that’s what I love sharing with my audience. as well as many a portrait of people that love it too.

Peta - Ocean Imagery with the creative series

Finally do you have any advice for aspiring ocean photographers?

GET. OUT. THERE. I know it’s cliché, and people have said it to you before but truly, I started In winter with a gopro attached to my wrist and I got hooked, learnt so fast, and was so excited about upgrading my skills and my game to get what I was looking for! Ross (@rosslongphotography) and I often talk about how photography is 90% just being there, getting out there and you never know what will happen!

Shoot no matter the conditions (obviously safety first however), and shoot to the conditions. I often will wait to see the conditions and go out with an idea of what I’m after.

FIND A SHOOTING BUDDY. Seriously, DM people on insta, or FB, finding someone in your local area can make such a difference to when and how you are shooting ! Be inspired by them and learn together. Keep yourselves accountable to your goals and most of all HAVE FUN.

Everyone has their ways of doing things. One thing I’ve learnt is that there’s no one way to do anything. Everyone you meet will have a different port scenario or use different lenses or like one way better than another. None of them are right and non of them are wrong; but they all work. You do you. The best way you can learn what works best for you is just to get out there. Give people’s ideas a try but hold them lightly. You have your own style and your own way. Enjoy figuring it out! I am!

If you have ANY questions, shoot me a DM or an email and I’d love to help you out.

Thanks so much for having me Kat! You’re the best! And seriously if you haven’t checked out Kat’s work yet, that’s an absolute must do. AMAZING.

Peta Bilton Sydney Ocean and Portrait Photographer