After more than 30 years working as a photographer in the Cayman Islands, Courtney Platt has done it all.
He’s been down to 1,000 feet in the deep dive submersible countless times, camera-in-hand; shot from helicopters and airplanes; completed eight assignments for National Geographic; published a book; and had his work exhibited at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands on several occasions.
He is one of the most experienced and versatile photographers on the island – and he hasn’t stopped learning yet. Although he started out as an underwater photographer and piloted the submarine for many years, Platt’s portfolio includes aerial, real estate, commercial and wedding photography, among other things, and he has shot some of the most important events in Cayman’s recent history.
In the days and weeks following Hurricane Ivan, Platt documented the destruction wrought by the storm in a series of powerful images that ultimately became a book, “Paradise Interrupted: Hurricane Ivan.”
Four years ago, he had mere minutes to capture for posterity the long awaited sinking of the Kittiwake – from hundreds of feet up in the air.
“Chartering the helicopter is an expensive business, so we were waiting at the helipad until they called to say the ship was going down,” Platt recalled. “The pilot was in the middle of refueling at that moment. When we got out to the site, it all happened very quickly, so it was hard to know if you’d got the shots you needed or not.”
His stunning aerial images that show Grand Cayman in its entirety were also shot from a helicopter, but to get those shots he had to ascend to 10,000 feet.
“The air is freezing at that altitude, the vibration and the rotor wash is very strong, and you have to take the door off the helicopter and lean right out to get a clear shot,” he said.
“There’s always the risk of falling out … luckily, I’m not as afraid of death as I once was.”
Over a lifetime of taking photographs, technology has evolved beyond anything he could have imagined. The switch from film photography to digital, he said, changed the game completely.
“Suddenly, you no longer had to worry that every time you snapped the shutter it was costing you a dollar, nor did you have to stop mid-shoot to reload or carry several packs of film everywhere you went.”
He said the fact that digital photography allows you to see immediately the image you have taken means you can readjust exposure and composition instantly, and get as near perfect a shot as possible. “If digital had been around when I started shooting, I would have learned in six months what it took me 10 years to learn,” he said.
Throughout his career, it has been his willingness to embrace new technologies – as well as his undoubted skill – that has kept him at the top of his game. His mastery of Photoshop and digital retouching, for instance, is second to none. Not only can Platt enhance, add to and perfect the usual portrait, wedding and underwater photos, but he can also fuse old photos with new.
In 2012, he created a series of haunting images for the “Now & Then” exhibition at the National Gallery, which blended archival photographs taken in the 1950s, with his own images taken in the same locations in the present day. The resulting window into Cayman’s past was so effective, that exhibition was given a second run.
More recently, the availability of drones for recreational purposes has added a new dimension to his photography. Go Pro video cameras, which also shoot stills, can be attached to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and sent into the sky, from where the operator can remotely trigger the shutter from the ground. It makes getting aerial shots for surveys or real estate purposes very inexpensive – and fun too.
For all the exciting, innovative and one-of-a-kind photography he does, however, wedding photography remains one of Platt’s favorites. It’s not just the mental challenge presented by the constantly changing light and conditions, or the physical challenges or running around in soft sand, under a hot sun, carrying two or more camera setups that he enjoys.
It is the fact that he is documenting a historic event, something that is unrepeatable, and that you therefore only have one chance to get right.
And that, surely, is a job worth doing.