Interview with Michael Ishak from My Reef’s Diary
Spotmydive loves underwater artist and got a huge cruch on Michael Ishak work. Even if it’s difficult to believe, this Chinese Indonesian videographer is not a professional filmmaker. He became a dive instructor in 1995 and decided to travel to many places in Asia working in the diving industry as dive guide and instructor.
Now Mickael is freelance cruise director, nature conservationist and occasionally organised his own Liveaboard charters to do workshops, and marketing for resorts. He never thought of making money with his passion, but now more and more people start to be interested by his amazing footages. Here is the interview of our favorite underwater filmmaker !
Have you always planned to become an underwater photographer?
No not really, because it is difficult to make a living out of it. It’s more like a hobby, I enjoy taking photos and videos for my own pleasure.
What did raise your interest and lead you to become an underwater photographer?
Taking pictures is secondary, guess I’m keener on finding critters and observing their behaviors. To film it and share with people around the world – people who may not have the chance to dive in their life, to the people who are not aware of the important of our natural environment, and basically the most important, to the younger generation. I hope my work will make them interested so that they can learn about all this living creatures that around us. All of the lives in the world mean something and are important to the ecosystem, their existence is related to our existence and it has never been too late to start preserving.
How did you start, did you take any specific course or any academic program?
I started underwater photography when I dived at Lembeh in early 90s, and my first camera was the Canon F90 X with Nexus Housing. I remember that nothing came out from the first few rolls I took, because I haven’t read the user manual lol… just don’t have that kind of patient anyway…. I made many mistakes along the learning curve… And am still learning…
What are the major steps while learning?
The most important step is to learn how to be comfortable, relax underwater, but also have a good buoyancy control and patience to wait for the right moment. Can’t do it without these elements! Learning how to use the functions of the camera is secondary and will come naturally as we play.
Can you tell us a little about some difficulties you faced?
Well, I think the most difficult part is to put on my wetsuit and to take it off after the dive :
You are now specialized on photography, what are the challenges related to this kind of pictures…
I never took it as a challenge, instead I did it fun. And also because I don’t rely on photography or filming to make a living… So I have no pressure.
What camera do you use to take such beautiful pictures?
I abandonned SLR in the early 2000’s, and started again with compact canon Nexus 120, followed by canon S90, canon S100, and all the G series, my current camera is a G16, my philosophy is “being less is more”, I gave up stroke and start shooting with one stand/video light, may not be the best but I’m happy with it.
Do you have specific plans before diving, do you know precisely what you want to do or you just rely on feelings?
Yes definitely, I know precisely what I wanna do and what I’m looking for. Besides being lucky, planning the dive on the right time of the day with the right conditions is crucial, natural elements such as day light and current do help for a better end result.
How does business work? Isn’t it hard to sell pictures?
I don’t consider myself a professional videographer. Nevertheless, some of my works have ended up with Indonesian TV broadcasting 3 years ago regarding environment issues, also a TV episode about Alor in year 2014 with Hong Kong TVB Jade, and next Octobe, there will be an episode for France 3 about Bangka island, Nother Sulawesi.
What are the elements or species you like to shoot?
I live in a country with over 18,000 islands right in the heart of the coral triangle, with literately ten of thousands of marine species, I have a long wishlist… Everything is special!! Again I love observing species behaviors, and film it so that I could watch it on a big screen over and over again to learn and understand it. It is so amazing especially in the world of macro marine life.
What is your favorite dive spot?
Em… I love my country!! The richest of our seas and oceans that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet… I’ve travelled around the country for the past 25 years as l worked in the recreational dive industry still doing it today by the way, everywhere is my favorite spot! From every corner, there’s something special waiting for us to discover.
What’s your biggest underwater fail, mistakes or regret? And best memory?
Looking back… I can’t find failure related to underwater, I’ve no regrets and lots of good memories…
Any advice you would like to share with beginners?
My philosophy is “being less is more” not necessarily expensive big rig setup will make great pictures.. As proven from my work with compact cameras. Most importantly, being comfortable and able to relax with good buoyancy control is extremely crucial! Don’t forget we’re in a world of high density where most marine life’s are sensitive to surrounding vibration, being relax will help us get closer to the subject.
Lastly .. Remember to take great care of our fragile reef while taking pictures! No picture or movie is worth a broken coral! Dive safe and have fun!
Find Michael Ishak’s work on:
Interviewed by Léna Ponmia