Formerly a staff photographer at Rex Shutterstock, covering news, entertainment, TV, royal, sports and PR assignments, James Gourley has an enviable portfolio, boasting memorable jobs such as four months as official photographer for the then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in the run-up to the 2015 general election, Harry and Meghan’s wedding, Cannes, Wimbledon, and shooting backstage at Victoria’s Secrets (well, someone has to).

For the last two years James has documented the ultimate rumble in the jungle on the set of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, capturing all the bug-ridden shenanigans of the most recent series on the mirrorless Nikon Z 7. We caught up with him shortly after he’d finished shooting the Australian Open, for which he’d bought the Z 6, to find out why he’s a Z convert.

What is it like behind the scenes on I’m A Celebrity?

It’s amazing. People always assume that the show isn’t actually in the Australian outback, or it isn’t as tough for the celebs as it seems on TV, but it really is. It’s a great place to work, although sometimes it can bring challenges, such as unexpected flash-flood storms, extreme heat and humidity, and having to avoid the huge array of insects and wildlife (some deadly, most just creepy!), as well as technical issues like trying to transmit photos from a live show for use in newspapers and magazines without any internet!

Best and most challenging shots and moments?

Shooting the Celebrity Cyclone trial is always a highlight, with hundreds of crew members working together to batter the celebs with high-pressure hoses, paint, balls of all sizes, gunge, and fireballs – it’s a ridiculously photogenic trial, although it’s a challenge to actually see the celebs through it all. I was thankful to have both a D5 and Z 7 with me, as their AF systems tracked the subjects brilliantly. Other highlights included the Gore-Seasons Pizza trial in which Fleur East was tied to a comically oversized pizza base and covered in horrendous toppings like rotten tomatoes, cheese and offal, topped off with thousands of creepy crawlies, and of course watching Harry Redknapp being crowned King of the Jungle.

How did the new mirrorless Z 7 handle the conditions?

The Z 7 was a joy to use in the jungle. I wasn’t sure if I would use it as much as my D5, but I quickly made the Z 7 my primary camera on set. The huge resolution gave me great freedom when shooting, and being able to have a totally silent shutter was also a huge bonus, as previously I’d been forced to use a cumbersome camera blimp, which makes working infinitely harder. Additionally, even when using its mechanical shutter, the Z 7 is still far quieter than traditional DSLRs, which is always useful. The battery life was far longer than advertised, too; I managed a whole day shooting, from 6am to 10pm, on a single battery and I never felt worried about running out.

The ability to use all my F-mount lenses seamlessly on the Z series was a major selling point for me. I’d been nervous that using my F-mount lenses on the Z system would be hampered by shooting through the FTZ adapter, but I was amazed that the conversion is completely seamless – there is no change in quality or speed. I’m also excited about trying some of the new Z-series lenses when more are available.

You’ve only been using Nikon since 2017 – what prompted you to switch?

I was on staff at Rex Shutterstock, and switching allowed me access to equipment that otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been able to splash out on. I started out with two D5 bodies and a range of lenses, from the 14-24mm all the way up to the 600mm. I’d always heard from other photographers that Nikon’s lenses and autofocus were sharper and more accurate, but I’d struggled to believe it until I made the switch. Add in the D5’s high ISO ability and the brilliant global support of the Nikon Pro Service, and I’ve never looked back.

Why the move to the Z series?

In the past couple of years I’ve been covering an increasing number of TV shows, which require much quieter cameras than the D5. I’d been keenly awaiting Nikon’s entry into the mirrorless market, so when the Z 6 and Z 7 came out I immediately got in touch with Nikon begging to try one. After being wowed by the Z 7 I was looking for a second camera body to go with my D5, and the capability of the Z 6 combined with its price made it irresistible.

You’ve just used the Z 6 for two major tennis tournaments – how did it perform?

I was really impressed with the Z 6. I’d been nervous the Z system wouldn’t be able to compete with the D5 in terms of AF tracking and frame rate, and more importantly that the electronic viewfinder (EVF) wouldn’t be quick enough to track the speed of tennis, but it really impressed me. I’d be lying if I said the AF was as good as the D5, but it’s pretty close, and considering the price difference I was shocked by how much the Z 6 could do. I really do love the EVF – being able to see exactly what your image will look like is something I didn’t realise I needed until I had it, and now when I use the D5 I’m disappointed it doesn’t have EVF! Also, the fact the Z 6 uses the same XQD cards as the D5 means I don’t need lots of different memory systems, which was a key consideration.

What’s next on your Nikon kit wish-list?

I’d love to get the 105mm f/1.4E ED and the new 180-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR. I ‘ve used both of them before as rentals and absolutely love them. The new Z 6 firmware update is firmly on my wish-list as I can’t wait to test out the eye-AF, which automatically detects your subject’s eyes so you can get pin-sharp focus.

What was your path into photojournalism?

Since I was a teenager, I’ve always enjoyed looking at newspapers and imagery from around the world and have always had a desire to be the one taking those photos. I did a BA in Photojournalism, graduating with first-class honours in 2013, and I used the three years of my degree to get out and shoot as much as I could, spending my free time shooting projects, researching other photographers and networking, and trying to improve every aspect of my work, and this led me to get professional work after I graduated. In that sense the degree was brilliantly useful, but similarly, I’ve never been offered work as a direct result of having a photojournalism degree. The course was fantastic for me, but many of the best photographers out there have no formal training, so it’s just whatever works for you.

The best and worst aspects of the job?

The best part is getting to go to places, see things and meet people that I wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to see. I don’t particularly have a favourite subject, I love shooting as wide a variety of subjects as possible. The worst part is when you’re on a job waiting outside for something to happen, sometimes for several days and inevitably in the depths of winter, and then it doesn’t even happen. I can’t help but feel sorry for my former colleagues in London currently living this way covering Brexit.

Did you think you’d have so much success right from the get-go?

It was a huge surprise to win the Young Photographer of the Year Award twice, and to be shortlisted for a third – considering how great the work of some of the young photographers in the UK is at the moment, it was a huge privilege to win those awards.

When you’re not working, what do you photograph?

I love photographing wherever I am. My fiancé and I love travelling as much as possible and I’m constantly shooting whatever we see and do while we’re away.

What are your plans for 2019?

I’ve just emigrated to Sydney after living in London my whole life, and I’m in the process of getting set up as a freelance photographer here, so if anyone reading this has any work in Sydney, feel free to get in touch!

What’s the best advice you would give to someone interested in photojournalism?

Just keep shooting, keep working, keep trying new things, and keep networking. And, importantly, don’t be a snob about any type of work until you’ve tried it. When I started at uni I didn’t think particularly highly of entertainment photography, but an opportunity presented itself to me and four years later it’s taken me around the world to some of the biggest events and helped me build a great career.

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