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Love At First Flight - Jaimen Hudson’s Hypnotic Ocean Photography

6 min read

Love At First Flight - Jaimen Hudson’s Hypnotic Ocean Photography

How many people can honestly say that their first memories are of the ocean? Can recall the way the light danced across the water or how stories bubbled to the surface, along with those fortunate enough to tell them. 

Jaimen Hudson can. 

Hudson was born in Esperance, Western Australia, an area that is graced with dolphins, southern right whales, sea lions and salmon. As a toddler, he was an honorary member of the Esperance Diving Academy - the business his parents were working hard to get off the ground. He would spend hours on their boat, sparking an early fascination with “this amazing, alien world” beneath the surface. Divers told him all about it as they climbed back aboard. “So immediately I wanted to become a diver too”, he says. Aged 10, Hudson’s wish was granted: with a few tips from his mum, he dove for the first time. 

“I could never live somewhere where there’s no ocean. No way.” 

Photography was part of his life even back then. Like a young Jacques Cousteau, he took a camera with him to document the world under the waves. Unfortunately, said camera wasn’t that great (“crappy” in fact) but the intent was there. Then, when he was 17, something happened that threatened to cut him off from the ocean forever.

“I remember it all, it’s still fresh in my mind”, Hudson says, recalling odd details like the make of his phone (a Nokia) and the place he put his wallet. It was Sunday, 27th of July 2008, a drizzly morning, the kind that Jaimen would have been happy to spend indoors. But his friend Cameron wanted to go dirt biking with him - and wasn’t taking no for an answer. 

“Eventually, he convinced me.” Jaimen says, “so I took him to a jump I’d been at the week before which was probably a 40 foot double, and I rolled over it once to make sure there were no tree branches or obstacles or holes.” The coast was clear. Jaimen looped back around, kicked into gear, and hurtled over the jump.

The teenage boy who left the earth that day did not return to it the same. Mid-way through the air, Jaimen realised he wasn’t carrying enough speed to clear the distance. When he hit the ground, his head collapsed into his chest, instantly fracturing a vertebrae. “The most unusual sensation was sent through my body, almost like an electric shock.” he recalls, “it was like my body had disappeared from my head.” Hours later, doctors confirmed he’d suffered a spinal cord injury, paralysing him from the upper-chest down. 

The impact of his injuries cannot really be overstated. Jaimen was in intensive care for 21 days, progressed to rehab for six months and faced the impossible realisation that he’d never walk again. Due to complications with his blood pressure, he says, “the first time I sat up I nearly fainted and I couldn’t push a wheelchair to save my life.” Refusing to be beaten, Jaimen was just as concerned for those around him, as for his own wellbeing: “I still had a jovial personality and I would joke around you know, I didn’t want to make it miserable for everyone who came to visit me.” 

After returning home, the family business is what kept him level. It forced him not to dwell on the negatives. Being surrounded by friends and meeting his future wife, Jess, no doubt made a difference. “The only thing that was missing from my life was a hobby really. I used to love the outdoors and I still do, I’m never someone to sit around and watch Netflix on a nice day.” he tells us from the front seat of his car, sunlight streaming through the windows.

As for the missing hobby? He needed something that would reconnect him with the sea - if not physically, then digitally. Pretty soon, he had his sights set on the sky. 

The first time he was shown aerial footage of nearby Lake Hillier, he was “blown away by the perspective. I just fell in love”. Jaimen was unsure if he would be able to fly a drone, due to his limited hand dexterity - but his parents encouraged him to bite the bullet. This was 2014 and drone technology was stuck in the Stone Ages: you’d have a fisheye GoPro hooked up to a device that would lose video signal after flying just 50 metres. Jaimen persevered, eventually filming a 360 degree “pano” of the headland that went viral on instagram. Well, viral by his standards. “I had 90 people like it. And I mean back then me getting 90 likes was the equivalent of going viral! Anything before that was about 10 or 15.” This was the moment he realised that drone photography could resonate with other people. One of his videos now has over 100 million views, and has been liked more than 1 million times.

Though photos of sunsets and storms often do well, his most popular protagonists are the creatures who give Esperance its note of hope. One video, showing dolphins playing with right whales, was even shared by BBC Earth. It takes a lot of patience to get such shots. “People think there must be wildlife there all the time!” he laughs. When we spoke, he hadn’t seen a single dolphin in weeks. “In reality I’m always looking and hoping and as soon as I’ve seen something I just try to get the drone up there as quickly as possible.” It’s all worth it for the response he gets. 

“Some people will comment on my videos that they’ve never been to the ocean before: they live in a landlocked country and you think: how lucky am I to get to see it everyday. So I think uploading my footage online makes me appreciate it a lot more.” Having lived across the road from a popular surf spot all his life, Jaimen feels happiest right where he is. “I could never live somewhere where there's no ocean,” he says emphatically, “no way.” Although he estimates there are just 6 accessible beaches in Western Australia (of a possible 3,500), getting onto the sand has become a lot easier thanks to an offroad wheelchair that works a charm: “a game changer for me and the family.”

Jaimen’s success can be put down to the coincidence of many favourable factors. His positive personality; his skill as a wildlife photographer; the natural beauty of Esperance; the encouragement of his family and followers. He’s gone from wave to wave, strength to strength. In 2021, SeaDogTV released a documentary (or a “docco” as Jaimen calls it) about his life as a drone photographer and smitten Dad. It’s a moving, immersive watch that reaches its peak in the ice-blue waters of Exmouth, Australia. With whale sharks circling and loved ones nervously looking on - will Jaimen succeed in returning to the world of his youth?

“Holy shit that was so cool! Oh my god, I can’t believe how amazing that was!” he splutters moments later, coming back to the surface. 

And that, in a nutshell, is Jaimen Hudson. An outgoing Aussie who is still finding new ways to be awed by the ocean. 

Jaimen Hudson: From Sky To Sea is available to stream here. 

Photographs by Jaimen Hudson

Words by Joel Down