"THROUGH THE LENS"
An interview with Rosie Leaney
Liquid Lens had the privilege of catching up with renown nature photographer Rosie Leaney, whose groundbreaking visions in the ocean arena have identified her as a force to be reckoned with.
Rosie's journey as an underwater photographer is inspiring and relatable, and one which all visual artists can aspire to in their own photographic odyssey.
what got you into underwater photography?
It was my move to Australia from the UK in 2009! I had been diving for about 10 years before I moved here, and never taken a camera underwater. When I moved to Sydney, I started my divemaster course, so I was in the water all the time seeing some really amazing things. The underwater photography started as a way to show my friends and family back home what I was seeing. I didn’t realise back then that it was going to become such a big part of my livelihood.
What type of photographer would you consider yourself to be?
A wildlife photographer (both above and below water), and inside of that…I guess a mixture of documentary and portrait photographer. I like to capture animal behaviour, but also love to capture a connection with the animal. I love it when the viewer can feel a connection with the image too.
What is your setup & favourite lens?
I shoot with Olympus OMD EM1 MK2, in an Olympus housing. I have 2 favourite lenses: the Olympus 8mm fisheye for wide shots, and the Olympus 60mm macro lens for small critters. I have 2 Inon Z240 strobes, but I also shoot a lot with natural light.
What is your go-to local dive site for underwater photography?
I have two. Firstly, Cabbage Tree Bay, because it’s so easily accessible, and I love the diversity of wildlife there. Also, I worked as a divemaster there for many years, so I knew it like the back of my hand, and I think that really helped my photography. My second one would be inside the nets at Manly Wharf…. I used to spend hours underwater there just finding critters. It’s such a good place to play around with macro!
What are your greatest challenges in underwater photography?
Getting cold! But over the years, I’ve learnt how to cope with that. I think drysuits are the best invention ever, I love mine and find it very comfortable. Even when I’m in warmer waters, like Tonga, I’m dressed in a full wetsuit, gloves and a hood, whilst others are swimming around in a bikini. And when I get out of the water onto the boat, I’m dressed like a polar explorer. I’m fine with the fact that I’m never going to look cool or glamorous whilst shooting!
A recurring subject on your socials is sea lions. What advice can you give with photographing them?
Yes, Australian sealions are beautiful animals. They are endemic to South and Western Australia, are one of the most endangered pinnipeds in the world, and there are a few licensed operators that can take you to snorkel with them. My advice would be to prepare for a serious cuteness overload! Also a fast shutter speed is handy. Spend time watching their behaviour and let them come over to you so they are in charge of the interaction – they are naturally curious so that won’t be a problem.
Congratulations on your recent exhibition 360in360. Are you able to talk a bit about the journey you've gone through to get to this point, and what it was like for you to show your work to the world?
Thank you! My husband, Scott, and I had been planning a big trip around Australia for years. We finally departed Sydney in January 2020, and of course faced challenges firstly with bushfires, then lockdowns. But we still managed to photograph some incredible places and wildlife. It was wonderful to see our work printed and on the walls, and people coming to enjoy it. We also have a coffee-table photobook available for pre-order, via our social channels.
What are your go-to settings when shooting in Sydney waters?
When SCUBA diving I shoot in manual. The settings I choose depend on multiple factors, but, for example, when shooting wide with strobes, I’ll generally start off with aperture of 9, shutter speed around 200, and ISO around 320. I’ll adjust the SS & aperture & strobe power/position to get the effect I want, and I’ll keep the ISO as low as practical. When snorkelling or freediving with fast animals I’ll generally use shutter priority and set the shutter speed around 800- 1000.
What is your favourite technique used in underwater photography?
For a while, I was really into shooting underwater stitched panoramas. I liked it because it was so different, challenging, and I went through such a learning curve before I started to get results. The photo that I’m most proud of is my “Cleaning Up” panorama. At the time (in 2016), I was running the Dive Against Debris programme at Dive Centre Manly, and wanted to depict the great work of the dive community. It was a team effort with my instructor colleagues to get the 6 separate shots exactly right. This image was the 2018 Theme Winner at the UN World Oceans Day comp, and was exhibited at the UN headquarters in New York for a couple of years running. It also got a “highly commended” in the Marine Conservation category of Underwater Photographer of the Year in 2021.
Post processing is a very important part of photography. There are many schools of thought with regards to editing. Would you consider yourself more of a purist, or do you dedicate a substantial amount of time to post processing?
I will make the effort to get the image how I want it in-camera, so that I can minimise post processing. That being said, there are things that I often adjust in Lightroom like minor exposure changes and basic colour correction.
The last question we have is regarding something/anything that you’d like to share with our community of women in water photography. Whether it be technical insight with settings and equipment, lessons learned, or even what the industry has been like for you as a woman. We’re all willing and eager to learn something!
I am still learning all the time! One of the main lessons I am learning is to have more confidence in myself and my abilities. I guess having to navigate the pandemic, making a drastic career change at the age of 40 (…..a whole other story!), has convinced me that anything is possible! Also, if there is something that you love photographing, or are particularly passionate about, concentrate on that, enjoy it, and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.
We'd like to thank Rosie for her valuable time, and thank her for her insight through the lens.