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Wollongong businessman turned Instagram star and his love for the ocean

Steen Barnes in the ocean holding his camera with under water housing on it.
Wollongong photographer Steen Barnes in the ocean with his camera in waterproof housing.

Supplied: Warren Keelan

Illawarra businessman Steen Barnes's surname may have a long association with furniture in Wollongong but it is his love for showcasing the region through photography which has taken the name national.

Through years of documenting the coastline, Mr Barnes has amassed a following of more than 30,000 people on his Instagram account, 16images.

He has lived at Wollongong Harbour all his life — one of several iconic spots in the city which he photographs for his popular social media site.

"I try to include people in my photos and I like people to get an emotional attachment," he said.

"Most people from Wollongong have that feel of being around the harbour and to show people the area at its best, I love it."

Sunrise at Wollongong's Flagstaff Hill with lighthouse and people in silhouette.
Sunrise at Wollongong's Flagstaff Hill.

Instagram: 16images

Over the years he has photographed countless sunsets, sunrises, surfers, tourists, storms, lightning and giant waves around central Wollongong.

While he also dabbles in shooting in the ocean, with a waterproof housing on his camera, his landscape work from shore has become his signature style.

"Growing up in Wollongong Harbour, my dad always used to say 'we live on the coast with the most'," Mr Barnes said.

"He couldn't believe we couldn't express it more and that people drive past us when we have it all here.

"I always believed that so, being in this location when stuff happens and the colours are in the sky and the waves are on and everything looks good, the opportunity to take a photo of that and blast it out to the world and stand loud and proud is really cool."

Near death experience in sea

As well as documenting his love of the ocean, Mr Barnes is a world champion kneeboarder.

Unfortunately, his affinity with the sea led to an incredibly traumatic experience at Dee Why in 1984 when he was a year 12 student competing in a national kneeboarding competition and he blacked out in the water.

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"I was burning the cord at each end and wasn't eating properly," he said.

"I had a low blood sugar count before I went out for a warm-up surf before a heat and I felt dizzy and saw stars.

"I called out for help, climbed off my board, went under water and drowned and I was clinically dead.

"I was pulled back to the beach and revived and I was very lucky I survived."

Six weeks later he had an abscess form on his lung and lost half a lung as a result but it did not dent his love for the niche form of surfing, and he went on to win a world championship.

"It's not something everybody is keen on, but that doesn't make any difference to the way I think about it or anyone else who rides kneeboards," he said.

"Guys who ride kneeboards go out and do it because they love it, and guys that ride kneeboards attract other kneeboarders because they're that eccentric sort of personality and we stick together.

"Those guys have become lifelong friends and it's a community of people."

Third generation furniture businessman

As well as being known for his photography and kneeboarding prowess, Steen Barnes carries a surname that has been synonymous with furniture in the Illawarra since 1939.

At one point, his family business was one of the largest furniture retailers in the country, operating three different types of furniture stores in Wollongong.

"We grew up in this - we did the university of window furnishings and designs through our family," he said.

"[My brother] Cade and I grew up putting hooks in curtains, moving furniture, rolling down stairs in rugs and lots of good stuff and when my dad fell ill in 1996, we took it on and we're still running."

Steen Barnes stands with his arms folded with fabric samples behind him.
Wollongong businessman Steen Barnes inside his interior furnishings shop.

ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale