Finding your Vision in Underwater Photography and Video - Michaela Skovranova

July 28, 2017

michaels presented Olympus Australia Visionary Michaela Skovranova as part of our Insight Lecture Series held during Melbourne's Photo Show on 22nd July.

Michaela takes you on an inspiring journey below the waves where huge creatures become the subjects of her photographic canvas.

Michaela’s international underwater photography expertise gives her the unique ability to help you find the best way of working in your immediate environment, enabling you to find our own vision under the waves. She will discus the equipment options that she uses to document the underwater world using natural light and breath hold techniques.

From the extreme and uncontrollable environments photographing humpback whales in Tonga to the frigid and remote oceans of Antarctica, Michaela presents personal insights from her explorations that will inspire you to explore your own underwater worlds.

Michaela will discuss using your immediate environment to find a way of working that suits your style. We will discuss equipment options and documenting using natural light and breath hold techniques.

Michaela will also give an insight into exploring projects in extreme and uncontrollable environments from photographing humpback whales in Tonga to venturing to cold oceans of Antarctica.

From exploring the secret lives of humpback whales and the whimsical ocean dancing of seals, surreal landscapes, scenes and sunsets, Michaela helps us see the world in a different light with her underwater photography and leaves us inspired with her breathtaking imagery.

Michaela Skovranova is an Australian based filmmaker, photographer, director and Olympus Visionary.

You won’t find much in the way of bright colours in her photos but while desaturated, her images are dripping with emotion, drama and a certain respect for the duality between beauty and raw power that exists in the ocean and nature.

Originally from Slovakia, Michaela moved to Australia where her focus shifted to documentary and underwater capture. Since then, she has amassed a variety of awards including being named on Photoboite’s list of 30 Under 30 Women Photographers.

Her short films pick up the natural, ambient-lit storytelling where the images leave off.

Purchase the cameras Michaela recommends:

Olympus OMD E-M1 Mark II Body

Olympus PT-EP14 Underwater Housing For E-M1 Mark II

Olympus Tough TG-5 Red Digital Camera

Find Michaela on:



(Peter Michael)

Welcome to Michael’s! My name is Peter Michael.

It’s my pleasure to introduce Michaela Skovranova - that was not so easy!

Now, I think we’re in for a pretty special talk, because this young lady next to me, looks pretty young, but even though she looks so young; she’s from Sydney, well she’s Sydney based, Sydney Australian based filmmaker; photographer; director and Olympus visionary.

So, you can’t get to be all those things, so young unless you’re pretty special.

So, can we please give a warm welcome to Michaela?

(Michaela Skovranova)

Thank you so much, everyone.

Thank you for coming today; I’m really happy to see so many of you.

First of all, I wanted to ask, so how many of you… do any of you do underwater photography?

[Some audience members raise their hands, and one member says “Not yet!”]

Okay, awesome! Not yet; maybe after this talk, maybe never after this talk!

[Audience member asks a question – can’t hear what they say]


Ah, that’s great; that’s good.

[Audience member says something about learning to swim]


That is a very good start, I have to say.

So thank you so much.

About Michaela

So, I am originally from Slovakia; so I do have a little bit of an accent, if you can’t hear me, or if you can’t, you know, understand; I will speak up, or I will speak slower - just let me know.

So, I thought I’d start off for you, a little bit about me.

So I am Slovakian born; I moved to Australia when I was 13; Slovakia is a landlord country, but we ended up moving next to the ocean, which is really beautiful, and a beautiful gift from my family to be able to grow up near the ocean.

I recently relocated to up north, near (Byron) Bay, which is a really beautiful pocket of Australia; the ecosystem is just incredible, and a couple of years ago, Olympus got in touch with me as well and asked if I wanted to work on some personal projects.

So, the way I got involved with Olympus is, they actually found me on Instagram!

So it’s really great in terms of, to be able to share your work and things that you love, and if you do that inevitably people will connect to it somehow – you’ve just got to keep on putting yourself out there in that way.

One Of My Personal Projects

[Slide shows an image of a silhouetted person in a cockpit of some kind – boat? – with someone’s feet hanging down, viewable in the window]

So I wanted to show you a little video of… this video was shot a year ago, and this is from one of my personal projects that I collaborated with Olympus, and some of the footage was not shot by me - most of it has been, but you can kind of see what I do from this.

[Slide shows a video of a boat on the ocean and various scenes above and below water, Michaela in scuba gear, whales, etc.]


All right, so, that’s a little bit of my work.


Thank you!

How Michaela Works - Photographically & Free Diving

Basically, I work with natural light only; I don’t use any strobes underwater or anything like that; and most of the time I use breath-hold.

I am scuba certified as well; I got certified in 2008; however, I found it was very restrictive for me to be able to move the way I like to move, and then free diving came about because I was going to Tonga, and you’re not allowed to scuba with the whales unless you have a special permit.

So, I thought okay, what can I do to allow me to capture the images that I want to?

So I’ve started to kind of just snorkelling and free diving; but in saying that, those images were not - or the video - wasn’t captured at depth at all; I only work up to five to ten meters of depth.

So, it’s very achievable for people that know how to swim, and you don’t have to go deep and you don’t have to scuba, and you don’t have to be anything in terms of a specialist to be able to do underwater photography; which I find is really beautiful.

Michaela's Approach

So I wanted to talk about how I approach personal projects.

So, I do a mixture of stills; a bit of writing; and then a video piece as well, to kind of accompany the whole project.

So a lot of my projects are long-term - so Tonga has been happening for about 3 or 4 years now; and I might only, I might get 20,000 images but then I might just select 1 or 2 from each particular year, and the series will continue to change and shift and develop, as I do as well.

What I like to do is, to be able to switch between stills and video while I’m working; so I’ve chosen a kit that allows me to do that, and I would often just be photographing and flick to video and do a bit of video on the side, and I think that’s a really great thing for everyone to consider.

These days our cameras, they all do video, and they all a really high-quality video; so while you’re in that environment, why not get a little bit and it always kind of adds another element to a project - especially you can use it as projections or as an intro to an exhibition.

So, my work at the moment - I work as a commercial photographer and filmmaker, but my main focus is working on artworks and installations; and where I want to take my work is to larger scale exhibitions.

My Project - Love Scars

So I thought I’d show you an introduction from the Tonga project and this project is called “Love Scars”, and it started just with this one single, very, very quiet, quiet image; and I wasn’t… I didn’t notice it at first, and sometimes it takes a really long time for images to kind of pop up and speak - it might be a year, and you go, okay, maybe this one, because it’s a quiet image.

[Slide shows a beautiful photograph of a whale against a deep dark background]

And then I wrote a piece to go with it, and basically, young humpback whales they’re really, really light in colour, and when they’re born; but soon they’ll become all scratched up; and we see as humans, scars as something negative, something that’s hurt us; however, the baby whales will rub against their moms and that’s how they bond; and they give each other affection, and then I kind of thought that the more scratched up and scarred they are, the more loved they were - and I thought that was really beautiful.

So I’m really interested in those kinds of feelings that, maybe me, as a person, projects; maybe these animals don’t feel those things, but I feel like I can really relate in that way.

So, that’s how the project came about.

Again, humpback whales they every year they have a love song they sing to each other; and each kind of migration has a slightly different song, and the song will evolve throughout the season; and the year after, they’ll have a brand new song that they’re all be singing, to kind of get their love.

[Slides show various beautiful images of whales underwater in soft light]

Michaela's Pre-Shooting Planning Approach

So the images, basically, I would often just be - I don’t really approach projects and go, okay, these are the shots that I need to get, because I feel like that could be quite restrictive, and of course in an environment like this - you don’t have control; you don’t… before you jump in the water, you’re not really going to know what the visibility is going to be like, what the interaction is going to be like.

So what I like to do is, I choose a lens that I’m working with for that particular day, for example, or maybe if you can you can have two housings and you have two different lenses; so you’re kind of committing before you even jump and you go, okay, I’m going to probably use these settings, and I’m going to use this lens, and that’s it.

And that makes it really simple for me then, when I’m actually working, because I don’t have to think about: Am I going to zoom in for this? I can only use my body to move in and out; and obviously, there are restrictions with that, and I’m using the settings that I’m used to using. Of course, under water the light is not going to change that much, so I’m quite straight or restrictive within my approach, and then I kind of let go and I see what happens, and I select afterwards.

And then, just select beautiful moments - and this is another clip that I wanted to show you, and this was shot two years ago.

[Slide shows short video of being underwater and close to whales, with their songs and sounds]



Thank you!

Michaela's Music

So, for this particular clip - so I think, I feel collaboration is a really important part of the process as well; so what I’ve done for this particular piece, is I got the footage that I loved and actually gave the footage to a musician, and she wrote this specific piece of music for that piece; and she added the whale sounds into it as well, and just kind of made it a different kind of piece to what it would be if I was working out on my own.

I also find, with video, it’s really important to let go of the fact that you might be filming for… you might have a 30-second shot; you might use five seconds of it, but the stills from it would have been amazing, and you… but you can’t be doing both at the same time, and you’ve got to know, for video, I need about 20 of these little second shots to make it work, but it's stills, they could be really beautiful and really strong; but, you go, okay, now focusing on video for this. I’ve done my stills, and switching to video and just committing to that - knowing that I’m probably going to miss stuff; stuff is going to be out of focus; or it’s going to be shaky; I’m not going to be able to use it; and then finding those moments that do work and making it into - and even if it’s a minute clip like this - just having kind of very little expectation of how long it’s going to be, and just keeping it as short as it needs to be for it to be beautiful and engaging.

Michaela's Style

So for me, a lot of people are kind of drawn to my work because of a specific style, I would say, and I had a good think about how that came to be.

[Slide shows a seal under the water, taken from below, silhouetted against the surface]

So when I was about 18 or 19 years old, I used to work in a Wildlife Park, and this photo was captured in 2008. I used to work at Sydney Aquarium as an educational officer, and I used to walk through the tunnels.

So this was shot through the glass in the tunnels, in the aquarium, and I just remember looking up going, you know, one day I would love to be able to see that, and feel that in person, and there was no one there; it was 7 o’clock in the morning, and a seal came and he saw that I was taking photos and he came and kind of performed for me a little bit; and had a play in the water spouts; but, this was taken on an 8-megapixel camera, and the rest of these images were shot on film from the series as well, and it was really long time ago.

[Slide shows a whole group of seals dancing under the surface, shot from an oblique angle below them]

And then, it wasn’t until 2014 that I got to swim with the seals in real life; but, of course, some time had passed in between then and 2014, and I was thinking, well, what had happened; and around 2012, I started to work on personal projects and that’s when the work started to look a little bit different.

And I always thought, I should be doing street photography because that’s what personal projects are, and I should be wanting to document people; and I would go out into the middle of Sydney, in the busiest time of the day; into the busiest moments, and I got images like this.

[Slide shows dark image of light shining on grates in the ground, and another of a dark warehouse or underpass, and another of skeleton model in a window, and another of an early morning with graffiti on the wall]

And they are just empty, with certain colours, and certain tones, and kind of… it already started to look underwater, before I was even underwater.


And this was taken, you know at like 7, at peak times, and there are people everywhere, but I was really drawn to these quiet places.

So it was really clear that I was actually making my work in the wrong place; but, I didn’t realize at the time at all.

Michaela Was Inspired By Others

And then I did a workshop with one of my favorite photographers, and I’m so lucky that I got to do – it’s Trent Parke - and Trent Parke always said, “Photograph what is closest to you, and the things that you enjoy, and have the interest in; make the whole process as fun and as least difficult as possible.”

And there’s something just… there’s a lot to say in that - in terms of photographs your backyard; don’t feel like you have to go to an exotic location to get beautiful images; because if you can see beauty in the every day, and in those moments, and you’ll be able to take that everywhere you go.

And I’ve kind of applied the same approach to my photography, and underwater photography in particular.

Michaela Shoots In Her Own "Back Yard"

[Slide shows a scuba diver underwater with a large turtle swimming by]

So I’m a really, really big fan of exploring your backyard; of course, I’m really lucky, I have the most beautiful backyard in the world, with turtles!

But I lived in Sydney, and I lived maybe 40 minutes away from the ocean, and I would just pack a backpack and I would put the big wetsuit in, and I got asked if I was a backpacker all the time - because I just had this huge giant thing that I would travel with - and I didn’t have an underwater housing; I would just borrow things from friends; I’d have a little point and shoot, or I’d have a GoPro; whatever it was I could borrow; even if it was for ten minutes, and I started to kind of play and explore.

[Slide shows a closer image of a turtle underwater, with bubbles in the foreground]

And I would little - I call them beautiful accidents, you know, because often times with images like this, for instance, we would… that’s just bubbles that are stuck on the (dome pod) and the light caught them and it created a rainbow within the photograph; but often, we might think, oh, we have to clean the dome, make it really nice, and then this wouldn’t be able to happen.

So what I actually; do I don’t really, I don’t look through the viewfinder when I shoot, at all, I just use the screen, and I just kind of photograph and float; and I try again not to control the environment too much.

Where And How Did Michaela Start Off?

So for me, is, how do you kind of begin to explore?

And I think, you know of course, for underwater photography - or any kind of photography - what do we photograph? How do we, and I just think the biggest, most important thing is, is being okay with documenting the things that we’re naturally drawn to; and I’d always struggled with that, because go on a location and I go, well I should be getting this kinds of image because that’s what is expected of me; and I would never - and I would even tell clients, this is what I’ll bring back for you, and it never happened!

And I’d always come back with something completely random, and I was like, ah, sorry guys; but, I had to kind of go, okay, well I’m just telling my story in a slightly different way.

I’m in tune with different things; I look and see different things; and with this kind of exploration, what do we photograph? Well it doesn’t have to be an ocean, it can be a lake; it can be a pool; it can be a waterfall; know, if there is no wildlife, if the visibility is bad, then just photograph your foot; whatever it is, because you’ll start to kind of find things as you’re doing that.

[Slide shows a group of women swimming underwater]

And for example, with images like this - this is just a group of swimmers that swam past me one day; they once, they were actually trying to do a selfie under water, and I was watching them and I took a photo.

We can’t really plan for moments like this.

Getting Comfortable In The Water

[Slide shows a quote]

Another big tip, I think, is just getting really comfortable.

I actually got swimming lessons; I am not a strong swimmer at all; and because I kick, like really bad freestyle - I just don’t use my arms at all, because I’m holding the camera - so when I started to get into underwater photography, which was only three years ago, I ended up getting some swimming lessons, and I ended up doing a free diving course as well; which allowed me to kind of troubleshoot if there was a problem, and just see my limits, and work within those limits.

[Slide shows a person underwater, one arm crossed over the chest, with bubbles coming out of their nose]

Again, these photographs are taken in, you know, two meters of water; and middle of the day; but you can play with exposure, with light, and not have to go into crazy depths.

And I just walked up from the ocean, from the beach into the water.

Michaela's Camera Equipment - Getting To Know It and Being Comfortable With It

I also think just use the tools that we have.

A lot of the times, it’s very unattainable to be doing underwater photography, because of all the logistics that are involved.

And part of the expenses, of course, comes from the scuba diving part of it, and the housings as well.

There are so many different options now, and it makes it really achievable for people to be able to do it.

So you can use like a little point-and-shoot, which shoots RAW images now as well, and you can have different kinds of housings.

And I really love, obviously, the lighter.

So, a lot of scuba housings are massive and they’re really heavy; which is really good when you’re underwater, because you are negatively buoyant; however, if you are free diving, and you’re chasing a whale; you’re going to…a big housing is going to be a lot of hard work; so something smaller suited me a lot better.

[Slide shows an image of a woman’s profile, underwater, with bubbles coming from her nose in procession]

Again, so get to know your camera equipment.

Part of being able to document in a really free way, is not having to think about the settings.

So that’s why I choose one lens; I choose my settings; and I practice; and I basically, go in - even if it’s horrible - let’s say I’m working with a different kind of equipment that I’m not used to, the layout might be a little bit different.

So what do you do? So you have to know, and the good thing is like, the back of it is clear, so you can kind of see, and buttons are very clearly assigned - but for me, I just want to be able to go, yeah, this does this, this does this - I don’t even have to think about it; I don’t even look at it - so then I can switch from stills to video really easily as well, because I already know the settings, and I know which buttons; and I can even assign buttons and just switch it really quickly.

And then, it just allows a bit of freedom; and just getting… just being really comfortable.

Of course, with the cameras now, they’ve got so many settings and so many options that we can be working with; but, really we just need basic things.

The Best Time To Shoot

[Slide shows another tip from Michaela]

And of course, I’m big fan of just going at different times of the day.

When I was learning underwater photography, I always got told, go in the middle of the day because it’s nice and bright, and you’ll be able to expose, and go when the conditions are good; but, then you just never find what it actually looks like in those times when you shouldn’t be going; and you get the most beautiful light when the sun is setting.

And of course, it doesn’t really work, maybe if you’re on scuba, and you need more light or those kinds of things; but when you are just having fun, or you go into the waves – but, you just have to get out there and have a tool that allows you to do that with ease.

Experiment And Practice And  Practice

So that’s why I’m a really big fan of just having little cameras; little lenses; and I’d often take like, even a point-and-shoot when I’m exploring – like, let’s say I’m hiking - and even though this camera is small, I might not I really have time to be stopping my friends, who already like you know, kilometres ahead of me, and go, oh, can I just take a photo?

So a little point-and-shoot camera allows me to kind of explore light.

And what I do every single morning, and throughout the day; I wake up and I start photographing straight away.

So it’s just practice; it’s like doing exercise; or anything that you do… you know, if you’re learning piano; so you’re always, always practising and seeing new things; and the light will change throughout the day as well.

So I have a point-and-shoot and I just have fun, and just, as I say, I’ll be just taking photos of everything all the time, and then eventually that will seep through into my work; and I’ll see things that I didn’t before; and I might be walking passed something and I’ll see the light has changed, and I’m just like, oh, well that’s different; and then I’ll bring my camera and document that afterwards.

[Slide shows a quote from Andy Hatton]

This quote is from one of my best friends; he’s a Melbourne-based photographer; and he’d always say: every time I go on a  trip and I come back, and I go I have no images; I completely stuffed up the whole thing. And now, because it’s always so different to what I expected; it’s just… you go in with an idea - for example, my Antarctica work, which I’ll show afterwards - I went in to photograph underwater, you know, I was like yes, I’ll get penguins; I’ll get these animals; it’s going to be amazing! It was the worst visibility I’ve ever been in, it was worse than Sydney Harbor because there was an algae bloom.

So it was great for the environment, but of course, it was impossible to photograph; I wasn’t sure if I was photographing my foot or a penguin - that’s how bad it was!

So, and I had to really recalibrate and go, oh, what am I doing? I’m not going to be able to bring back what I really thought I was going to.

And I was quite devastated about that, and also just going, how do I look at things?

And then I just kind of relaxed a bit, and started to photograph and explore differently.

And one of the greatest things that my friend had told me, “We can only see what we in tune to see, as it happens. We capture what we’re drawn to. We get to share our entire life story in the images that we create, and that’s why it’s so special.”

We All See Differently

So, if you ever take a trip and you’re looking through other people’s photographs, and we go, oh, they got that so much better than I did; but I just… it can’t be true because we just didn’t see it - we see something different - and that’s what makes the vision unique; because it’s the only thing that you can make, and no one else will be able to replicate that.

So from this approach, from the worst visibility in the world, in the greatest place in the world, I believe, this project came about.

[Slide plays a video of various icy water scenes from Antarctica in black and white and dark colours, scuba diving, seals, ice, Orca]

So this one is a behind the scenes of Antarctic.


So, basically, this clip was all shot handheld and kind of pieced together afterwards.

I wasn’t sure again, what it was going to look like.

[Slide shows a very dark image of a glacier side or ice berg]

And then this body of work emerged, and again, I just never expected to make anything like this.

And of course, it’s got the same look, the same style, but it wasn’t what I was going there to capture.

[Slide shows another image of an iceberg]

It just created these kind of, beautiful, but dramatic, pieces of icescapes; and just this glistening ocean; and just kind of galaxies underwater.

[Slide shows light coming through a cracked piece of ice]

In this particular image, the piece of ice was about this big - it was tiny - and again, so I was like, I can’t see the animals underwater, so what else can I do?

And we were not allowed to go near big icebergs because they flip and you need specialist training for that as well and it just wasn’t part of the expedition.

So, I just got a wide-angle lens and I went in right close, literally, the dome pod was touching the ice, and it allowed to kind of create images that have a distortion in scale.

And with the soundtrack of that last piece, I actually used the Hydra phone and recorded the sound of icebergs underwater, and it sounds like popcorn; and then I gave it to a music artist – again, based in Melbourne - and he extracted… he kind of stretched the sounds and created an atmospheric piece, he also created a sound for this next coming piece as well.

[Slide shows a short video of the Antarctic again – with close ups of icebergs and ice shelves, dark water and things seen from underwater]


So with this one, the music dictated the pace the shots were cut; so it’s a very slow piece, and there are a lot of bubbling sounds and textures; so it’s really dictated the way that I edited.

And I’ve got footage that will just be like single takes, and it’s really kind of interesting because when I was creating this I’m going, this is never going to work on a small screen, and I go how can I work this? How can I share this? Because, of course, we all want to be sharing our work on social media etc.; but I just know on a small screen, the impact is not there.

And in an ideal world these kinds of works would be felt on a really large scale, but I know that might not happen for a couple of years.

So I have to be really patient and, which is difficult, and go, okay, I have to hold back on this work, and when the time is right and I get the opportunity, I’ll be able to show it in the way that I would love to show it.

[Slide shows a diver floating in front of a whale and a baby whale near the surface]

And part of the other things that I want to chat about is the equipment that I use.

So that’s me, and that’s a whale, and a baby whale, and you can see, I’m just underneath the surface.

With wildlife, you don’t always get - with whales especially - you don’t always get to go under because you have to kind of gauge the behaviour, and we always go with guides, and we get educated about how to approach; and certain different scenarios allow for certain different things.

Michaela's Choice Of Camera Equipment

But you can see, so I’m just under the surface, and I’m actually filming there, and I don’t use the viewfinder, and I use handles; and I have a chest mount as well, which has got a (TD) tracker on it as well.

The camera is, so it’s the M5 Mark II, and the housing is so tiny and so light.

[Slide shows a camera body and an underwater mount on a white background]

So this camera is this big [Michaela holds her hands up to show the size] and the housing is about that big.

It also has a flat port, as well, which basically means it just has one point of contact where it could leak, and that’s amazing.

So for a really beautiful, professional type capture, but with very little opportunities for anything to go wrong; it also floats, so it’s ideal if you’re looking to do surf photography as well, and it’s really light.

So, with surf of course, like, the camera can hit you in the face, which is not ideal.

And of course, if you get like tumbled, you want to be able to let go of the camera and it will float up to the surface, and you’re not going to lose it.

So obviously safety in your life is more important than the camera, which will just float back up and you can collect it afterwards.

And you can see the range of lenses that I use: I used a 12 mm lens, which I love using for underwater. A lot of the times people lean towards the fisheye, which is beautiful, but it destroyed the animals a lot as well - so it will stretch them, so it doesn’t really give an accurate kind of representation of the shape - so I love using the 12 mm, which is wide enough for whales; and then a 25 and a 60 mm as well.

For Antarctica, I used this kit: which I’ve got here.

[Michaela holds up a water rig]

So, a little bit bigger.

The beauty about this particular housing is that you can actually change ports.

So if you’ve got different lenses you can switch around.

This is a port for a macro 30 mm lens.

And, it’s a little bit heavier, but that is good for filming, and also that’s a reason why I use the handles as well.

So, it gives me stability and I can kind of move the camera away from my body a little bit, and just do smooth takes.

The lenses that I’d be using as well, is a 25 mm, and 12-100 mm; which is this lens.

[Holds up a longer lens, attached to her camera]

And it has image stabiliser on the lens as well, so it works with the internal stabiliser, and it’s just incredible for a handheld.

Like, to be able to film on a boat, on a zodiac that’s going like this, handheld, and it not to be shaky, is incredible.

A lot of the times you’d need to have some sort of curved (Ronin) or handheld gimbal; you don’t need it anymore with this kind of equipment.

So it allows me to travel and, of course, if you’re taking underwater housing, if you’re taking a camera; your wetsuit, dry suit, whatever you have with you, your luggage is going to be 20 plus kilos already; so anything that you can save the kilos on is a good thing.

[Slide shows the kit – small camera with interchangeable lenses on the left and handles on the right, on a white background]

And that’s the handles that I use.

And I actually have just started to explore with the TG5; and it’s such a fun little point- and-shoot camera.

It shoots RAW; it does 4k video.

I used to take my phone and then go hiking, and then it would just get smashed, and you know, and it would start raining and things like that; well, this is a waterproof camera; shockproof; freeze proof, and you can do things that you can’t do with your phone.

And of course, you can like, you can even jump into a waterfall for instance; and have a floating device on it.

So if you let go, it will just float back up.

So, for me, the most important thing about the kit is how unbreakable it is?

And how easy it is for me to use, and how light; because I’m not a big frame person, so how do I get from A to B as quickly as possible, without getting exhausted; especially for the whales.

The tours, for example, for Antarctica; they’ll be four eight days, and we’d be swimming from, you’d be on the boat from 7 o’clock in the morning, till sunset; and you’re in and out of the water, swimming a lot.

And of course, that wears you down over time; so I want to be able to conserve as much energy when I need to, and that’s why I like lighter pieces of kit that allow me to do a lot of different things at a time.

Questions & Answers

So I wanted to open up the room for any questions that you might have.

[Audience member asks about the water housing]

Hardly ever. So a lot of people think you have to keep them, like, really lubricated.

[Audience member talks about the “old kits”]

You don’t have to…

[Audience member continues]

Really? Well, um, for me - I never changed the seals; I keep them lubricated but, again, not too much.

People think every week or so - not true at all. I think just every couple of months, you can check them; have a look, see if they’ve got dirt on them.

When you’re flying it’s really good to remove the seal - you pop it out - because the compression might damage it.

So you want to make sure that that’s out of the housing, and then you can just put it in like a clear bag, so it doesn’t get dirt and hair stuck on it; lubricate it again; wipe it, so you don’t have like excess silky seals; and then just pop it on.

I definitely don’t overdo it, because again, you want to… you can just do an eye check and see if the seal is good.

And for me, to be honest, I don’t go that deep as well.

So if there is a leak or anything like that, I can come up to the surface really easily; and I’ve never had a leak.

And generally speaking, if a housing does leak, it’s usually human error, and the best way to avoid that is you can set up your housing at home, without the camera, and you put it in the bathtub; all right? And then you just leave it in the bathtub; let it fall around, or sink, and you see, you take it out and see if there’s any water in it; and if there’s no water, then it’s very likely you’ll be fine when you put your camera in and you go for a swim; but always test it beforehand.

Anyone else?

[Audience member asks about the best time to go photographing whales]

The best time to go swimming with the whales is during the migratory season; which is now – so, June, July, August, September, October - and Tonga is one of the, legally the only place where you can swim with whales.

They’ve opened up opportunities in Australia, but Tonga is a nursing ground.

So basically, with whales, they can move pretty fast, and you want to be able to interact with settled whales and allow for quieter, slower interactions; and that’s usually the mums and the calves.

So that’s why people go to Tonga.

And there is a limit of maximum 4 people in the water, plus a guide, at any given time with a whale; and you can only be with a mum and a calf for up to an hour.

Sometimes the interaction lasts for five minutes; sometimes you get a whole day and you only get to swim once, or not at all.

So that’s why it’s good to go for a few days and give yourself a bit of time for weather, and of course, wildlife.

You don’t know.


[Audience member asks a question about something Michaela uses]


I use whatever I need to.

So I think the beauty of the cameras these days, is it allows for high ISO, without the noise.

With video, there are certain ISOs that work best; so, like 640, 320, the in-betweens.

So, if I’m doing video, I’ll be more mindful of that because shooting video is more like shooting as a JPEG - it doesn’t give you as much room for error - so I’d be mindful of that, but underwater, I find it’s actually quite bright, and the light is pretty constant; and because, for video, you want to be shooting at a specific shutter speed, like 100 or 50, that will kind of navigate what ISO I’m going to be using; so ISO 100, or 640, whatever it needs at the time.


[Audience member asks about how dramatically her kit as changed and if her photography has changed because of it]



So, what I used to have… I used to have a Canon, and I used to have an xxxx housing, which was really nice, but it was big and heavy.

So I would just leave it at home; when I went to the beach, I just wouldn’t take it, and that was the biggest change - is actually, this whole entire thing, my fins, and my wetsuit, fit in a backpack; and that changes everything.

It’s the fact that I actually have it with me to use, and then stabilisers.

You can shoot… I read that you can shoot the Milky Way, handheld with these kits; it’s ridiculous!

And for video, it’s really important.

So the worst thing with shooting video on an SLR kind of kit is that they’re beautiful; they’re little, but don’t give you much stability.

So you end up with a bit of shaky footage, and the stabiliser changed everything for me.

So I can get really high-quality footage with a tiny little kit.

And also, I don’t get as tired when I’m shooting; again, it’s the strength thing for me, and being able to kind of, move freely.

Just, you can flip up the screen, and then; the way I kind of move, I kind of sway like a stick insect; so I kind of, I’ll be moving around a lot, and kind of going like this.

[Demonstrates her way of moving with the camera underwater]

So unless you’re really quite strong - you have a strong upper body - you’re going to get tired.

So, and with a lot of my work I might be shooting for eight hours a day, for multiple days in a row; so what allows me to do that is something that’s light.


I also did a hike in Tasmania; I’d never camped before my life and I did the hardest; I did the most brutal hike in Tasmania, and it was an 8-day walk; 20 kg backpack; through mud like this; our stove was broken so we had no cooked food for days; and I was like, I’m going to die.


And then, I said to myself, if I had a kit bigger than that, I would have left it on the mountain and claimed it on insurance, like, for sure.

So something like this; and what I did actually I had this in my… I had a smaller lens, and I turned the screen around; so I wouldn’t get trashed, and I had it in my jacket, and it survived!

Like, I almost didn’t, but the camera did!


And I fell over, and I got, to know, and it just, it was fine!

And that’s the beauty!

And I’ve spoken to so many people that go and trips, and they travel, and they go, ”I don’t take my camera with me anymore, because it’s just too big!” and I go, well, the stuff that you get on your phone is great, but it’s never going to be as beautiful, and from my work, it’s really important to be able to get an image and be able to print it large; and that I know it will live in another place, in a physical form, eventually, somewhere; and if I don’t take it on a camera like this, I don’t get to do that.

So, and I find that the output out of these cameras; it holds its own; I can, and I have printed, for exhibitions from this camera, and it just looks beautiful, and that’s what makes me happy; that’s what I want!

And actually, if you guys do want to have a look, I’ve made a book from Tonga, and that’s from the M5 Mark II; and the photos just, they just look… they look stunning.

And that’s really, like for me, it’s the output.

What am I going to get out at the end of it? Is it going to hold up on a gallery wall?

And I say yes!


I’m not sure how much more time I’ve got.

We’re wrapping it up.


Thank you so much, everyone.



Thank you for coming!


Thank You


Well, now an idea of how Michaela’s achieved so much in such a short time: Hard, hard work, and diligent work, and an open mind!

So, thank you, again; and thank you to Olympus!


And so, hands together, please!





Thank you!

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