Watching ‘Humpback whale dance’ by the Slovakian born, Australian based documentary and underwater wildlife photographer Michaela Skovranova, affords a unique perspective on these photogenic creatures. [Olympus Special Promotion]



Shot entirely with an Olympus E-M5 Mark II, the footage gives us a glimpse into an underwater world where 35,000 kg, 15-metre long animals interact with each other in ways that at times resemble a surprisingly delicate and stately ballet.

To capture this awe-inspiring behaviour, Michaela travelled to the Pacific island nation of Tonga, where every year, between July and October, the Humpbacks come north to the tropics from their Antarctic feeding grounds to give birth.


A still from The Fallen Lover Project (featured at #MyStoryAu on Instagram)

Tonga is one of the few places on earth where it is possible to swim with whales in an environment that is well managed for humans and whales alike. Tour guides must be licensed and authorities restrict scuba diving near the whales. So, although she’s a qualified scuba diver, to shoot the sequences in Humpback whale dance Michaela was freediving ““ and therefore holding her breath for each and every take.

She travelled to Tonga with a pair of Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II bodies as well as two Olympus underwater housings. On the lens front, she packed an Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye, a 12mm f/2.0, a 25mm f/1.8 and a 45mm f/1.8.

Each morning before setting out to look for whales, she says ‘I always set the cameras up and put them in the housings before getting on the boat. You check all your settings and everything is set up beforehand so you don’t have to think about it too much later.

‘The amazing thing about the Olympus housings is that they’re light, but you have full access to all the controls that you need. And they’re super easy to use. You just slide the camera in  and close it, that’s all you have to do. Everything aligns perfectly ““ I like this part!’


Today a baby humpback whale smiled at us and it was a 10/10 life moment.

When photographing the whales in Tonga, Michaela says the boat leaves at 7am and often doesn’t return until late afternoon. Emphasising the importance of the guides’ knowledge to the success and safety of the whole project, she says ‘if you listen to the instructions you’ll be safe. Sometimes the guides will tell you to act sleepy.’

The guides know the whales’ body language well and the animals for their part aren’t entirely oblivious to their human visitors either. ‘The whales know exactly where a person is so they will gently move around you if need be,’ says Michaela.


Baby whale in its own dream world

For most of the whale photography Michaela ended up shooting with the Olympus 12mm f/2 and the 25mm f/2.8 because they accurately captured the shape and character of the animals.

Once she was in the water, she says ‘I would use the back-focusing button to pre-focus on my fin.’ By pre-setting her focus for the camera-to-subject distance she typically works at, she was then free to concentrate on framing and triggering the shutter at the right moments.


Dancer #2

Michaela, who likes to describe herself as a visual storyteller, says that although she originally trained as a stills photographer, 80 percent of her commercial work now involves video. ‘It’s a really great way for brands to communicate because it speaks to people in a different way than stills,’ she says.

Describing how a single short video clip she’d taken in the course of an underwater fashion shoot led to her being profiled by Instagram for its #MyStoryAU initiative this year, Michaela urges photographers to get in the habit of ‘capturing a little bit of video’ whenever they do a shoot. ‘You never know what people are connecting to’, she says.  

The Storyteller – Photo Review Magazine