The offshore photographer

What is it really like to live and work offshore? Few will have the chance to find out, but Steve Birrell has it all recorded in his camera.

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Steve Birrell

  • Age: 39 years
  • Nationality: Scottish
  • Family: Wife, two children ages nine and four
  • First job: Started working offshore at 18 as a painter
  • Current job: Tourpusher on Maersk Interceptor
  • Interests: Photography, football
  • For more photos:

At home, Birrell spends his time out and about around the beaches, cliffs and seascapes of the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Scotland, looking for angles and views to record.

“It’s a bug I’ve got, like an addiction. I can’t handle not having the camera with me,” says Birrell, explaining how when off-duty, he will collect his camera and gas meter – to ensure the conditions are safe to take photos – when he spots an interesting shot.

Space ship
Maersk Interceptor is one of four new XLE jackup rigs designed for year-round operation in the North Sea, in water depths of up to 150 metres.

Birrell has been working offshore for more than 20 years. He says working on Maersk Interceptor is like “going into a space ship” compared with some of the older, manual rigs he used to work on. “The equipment available to us makes everything easier. There’s very little manual handling to be done,” he says.

“Your mind is always on the job. You’re always thinking ahead about what needs to be done – and if you don’t think about these things, you could cost the company thousands and thousands,” says Birrell, adding that the off-time onshore – and his relaxing walks with the camera – are essential so that he can maintain 100% focus when he is working.

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Steve Birrell.

Steve’s photography tips

  • Play with the camera until you know what it can and can’t do. Take a lot of pictures on different settings, then decide what looks good and what does not
  • Shoot from an unusual angle – it turns a normal picture into a different kettle of fish
  • Buy decent editing software. Processing your picture correctly is just as important as taking a good photo in the first place

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Steve Birrell has captured a series of unusual shots of offshore life on board the Maersk Interceptor and a glimpse into the routine of offshore crews.

Steve Birrell was at the airport with an unexpected 500 pounds in his pocket, a gift from his wife’s grandfather. He had always been interested in photography and now, seeing the models on sale before flying on holiday, he decided to take the plunge.

That purchase three years ago has opened up a new hobby for Birrell, who has captured a series of unusual shots of offshore life on board Maersk Interceptor and an unusual glimpse into the routine of offshore crews.

When offshore, Birrell is busy as a tourpusher – liaising with the rig’s client and Maersk Drilling’s own crew, developing plans for the work that needs to be carried out and making sure the crew is prepared, which contributes to the strong operational performance of Maersk Interceptor. But he always keeps the Canon 6D camera in his cabin, and a gas detector to make sure the environment is completely safe for photography in connection with opportunities that crop up when he is not on duty.