Editor’s note: “Melanesia – Islands of Diversity” is the name of Michele Westmorland’s exhibit to be showcased at the prestigious China Pingyao International Photography Festival starting September 19. Michele’s featured imagery represents her passion for the marine environments, countries and cultures she experiences in her work and travels.
She is a Fellow National of the Explorers Club, an inductee in the Woman Divers Hall of Fame, and a member of the Society of Women Geographers, International League of Conservation Photographers, Wings WorldQuest, ASPP, ATTA and NANPA.
Michele was kind enough to share several of her stunning exhibit images with us – a cool preview for Lowepro fans before the festival – and talk about her work, gear and favorite camera bags. Enjoy!
Above: Michele stayed in one position and let this large male Endangered humphead wrasse (they can grow up to 5 feet and weight up to 400 pounds) swim around her in order to get a different angle.
Below: A young man allowed Michele to photograph him in the doorway of his hut in his traditional clothing.
Tell us how you got involved in the 2013 Pingyao International Photography Festival.
In 2012, I was invited to a photography festival in remote Tekesi, China. I exhibited a number of images, gave a lecture, judged a contest and went out with participants to photograph the landscape and people of Xinjiang Protectorate located in Northwest China. The event connected me with the Director/Professor of the Beijing Film Academy and the organizers of the Pingyao Photography Festival. I received the invitation to exhibit a few months ago and feel quite honored. Pingyao is highly respected around the world.
Above: Michele used slow shutter speed to capture the movement of Huli Wigmen.
Below: A challenging task: to capture this pair of longnose hawkfish (a territorial species who only come together to mate).
What is the common thread among the images in your solo exhibition, Melanesia – Islands of Diversity?
As an underwater photographer, I started traveling to Papua New Guinea/Melanesia over 20 years ago. The marine bio-diversity in this region is astounding! However, every time I raised my head above the surface of the water, I realized just how diverse and beautiful the people were. The tribes along the coastline of this island territory are hugely connected to the health and diversity of the oceans that surround them. My photography has diversified as a result and I love sharing the stories and the importance of conservation – both environmentally and culturally.
Above: Shy and beautiful young girls in traditional dress posed for this image – with permission from their mothers
Below: Michele’s signature shot: endangered green sea turtles captured by using a technique called the over/under method.
What camera gear do you pack for a trip to China and which Lowepro bags do you use?
Because I will be photographing land based activities in Pingyao, I will be using my Canon 5D Mark III and II bodies along with a variety of lenses such as the 24-70mm f2.8; 70-200mm f4; 16-35mm f2.8. I may consider bringing my 8-15mm fisheye for some creative work and 24mm Tilt Shift for architecture. Two flash units are a must along with a variety of filters and polarizers and accessories. All will be packed in my Pro Roller x200 case and I’ll use the Photo Sport Shoulder 18L for incidentals and easy use for one system in the field.
What is your typical workflow for capturing images for your documentary and conservation work?
When I photograph both the marine environment and land-based subjects, it requires me taking a lot of equipment. I have underwater housings, strobes and attachments for my Canon 5D Mark II. In addition, all my lenses, flash units and a myriad of accessories are necessary for the shoot. Planning is important for story -telling and must be done through a lot of research. You can view my process by going to the Adorama Learning Center link.
My images are downloaded to my laptop by importing to Adobe Lightroom. I then have the ability to review the shoot and do a basic edit.
Above: Michele’s technique of shooting on the ground and using a fisheye lens to get a different view of diverse tribes.
Below: Schools of floating and pulsing mastigias and moon jellyfish.
What’s up next for you after the photo festival?
After Pingyao International Photography Festival, I will be returning to Beijing to teach students at the Beijing Film Academy in the basics of underwater photography and story-telling techniques. I return from China in time to repack gear and leave for Papua New Guinea to lead a scuba diving/underwater photography tour.
Learn more about Michele’s tours, workshops and lectures.