Hello, everyone!

One of the things I’ve been wanting to do with the blog from the start was to do interviews with some of the most talented women photogaphers in South Africa, as I do believe that it’s important to hear from the ladies at the top of their game to inspire, motivate and uplift others. 

So for our first interview post, I have a lady whom I greatly admire as her work is truly in a class of its own. I present to you all, the incredible Ilse Moore!



1) Hello Ilse! You already have many fans in the group but to those unfamiliar with your work, please introduce yourself! 
I am Ilse Moore, underwater photographer and artist. I have aways been a water baby growing up and have since fallen in love with the creative potential of water and its weightlessness.
2) When and how did you get into photography?
During my studies ( I studied Visual Art), I received my first camera as a gift and while I was using more traditional media for my art at that time I soon got to the point where I had to decide whether I would explore my concepts through drawing or photography, and I chose photography. I don’t know how it would have been different had I gone the other route, but 7 years later I still adore what I do.
3) Why underwater photography? What attracted you to it and for how long have you been doing it?
A large part of my art of my studies had to do with the concept of flight and transformation and this eventually translated into working underwater; a place where gravity does not exist and transformation is inevitable. Water signifies both life and death, it nurtures and it erodes, it’s rebirth and decay… quite beautiful. It’s been almost 5 years now since I first started.
4) What are the biggest challenges in working underwater?
Being bold enough to try the things I dream about… and then also getting the visuals I have in my mind, across  in the final pieces. I cannot control anything underwater and end up being more of a spectator than a director, even when I direct the shoot from above water. Whoever works with me on a shoot need to understand and support the vision I have for the shoot in order for it to be a success. Once we go under the water, everything changes. The lighting becomes different, nothing can remain motionless and there is no communication once we go under. It’s a different challenge every time, but it’s part of the joy.
5) For the gear-heads: what’s in your bag?
For the first few years I used a Nikon D90 in an Ikelight housing along with two substrobes, but have since swith to my Nikon D4 in a custom built housing and I now only use continuous lighting.
My predominant lens is a 16mm f2.8 fisheye which is a little unconventional due to heavy distortion, but it suits my style of shooting.


6) Most photographers are very, very precious about their gear and wouldn’t dream of submerging it (I know I certainly am way too chicken myself) – what was it like to go into the water with your camera in the underwater housing the first time?
Haha, ja… Lots of trust 🙂 Especially with the D4, but I had a great builder with plenty of experience.

7) Do you find that working in water is sometimes limiting to shoot concepts and how do you get around it to make a shoot work?
Yes and no. While it is very hard to not have the luxury of controlling the different aspects of lighting, poses and angle as with topside photography, I still completely enjoy making the best with what I have. I have shot in very cold water for long periods of time and have also often worked with people who have no experience with underwater modeling, but if you keep an open mind and do not have too specific ideas about the outcome, the final product has the potential of being even better than expected! I love going through the images after a shoot and often change my approach a little before selecting images. Planning can only take me so far so the success of a shoot usually comes from being willing to experiment and then to simply work your butt off.
8) I’ve seen you work in swimming pools and in the ocean: which one do you prefer and why?
It’s hard to say. I adore the freedom of the ocean or any open body of water. I get a little “lost” in it. Shooting in swimming pools keeps me focussed I guess… I can set up lighting and create backdrops. It’s the same as shooting in studio vs shooting on location, each has its own perks. If I want crisp and clean images, I shoot in a pool and if I wanted to create a very natural look I’d choose the ocean. However, my access to the ocean is rare and limited so I use what I have and it has become a part of my style as a photographer.
9) What goes into planning an underwater shoot? 
I start with getting a basic understanding of the look and feel we’ll be going for and then follow this with an extensive mood board which may contain anything from colours to images and drawings. After this I create simple concept sketches which helps me to design and create an outfit. I often make these myself, but of course it depends on whether I shoot for a private client or a designer, in which case I will naturally base the sketches on his/her designs. I make use of a skilled make up artist for most of my shoots (especially fashion/editorial). Depending on the kind of shoot we do, we can be 3 people on set or 20, the latter which may consist of stylists, make up artists, divers, models and lighting and rigging assistants. The building and break down of our lighting rig takes a little while and preparing the set for a session can also be a little time consuming, but it’s all very relative to what we’ll be doing on the day.


10) How do you get around the safety issues of shooting underwater?
For smaller shoots our sessions normally take place in a heated pool where the model can either stand or she has something to hold on to. I free dive during all my shoots to keep communication open, so the model never goes under the water by herself. I will also always have at least one person with me in the water during small/short sessions. For elaborate commercial shoots, we make use of safety divers and only use experienced models.
11) Do you do other photography except underwater work? If so, please tell us about it!
My husband, Sean, and I have been running a wedding and lifestyle photography business called GingerAle Photography for about 8 years now. He started with me on a full time basis just over 3 years ago. He is also the one who build all my underwater lighting rigs as well as our upcoming underwater studio tank, but shoots next to me during weddings. It’s something very different from what I do underwater, but it enables us to pursue underwater photography and keep out photography skills sharp.
12) Any advice for aspiring underwater photographers, or just young photographers in general?
Firstly, it is not only financially expensive and if you’re going to make it worth it, it is going to cost you more time and energy than you can imagine… Having said that, it is creatively and spiritually rewarding, never without sacrifice and never without pain, but if you have a true passion for it, it will always be worth it. For young photographers in general; Nothing comes without a price, and heck, if we live one life I would rather spend it chasing something I would love doing forever than go for something I think will be easy and simple.


1) Favourite colour?
2) Favourite book?
3) Favourite movie?
Life is Beautiful
4) iPhone or Android?
Android (I have an iPhone…)
5) Cat or dog person?
Dog, give me a staffie anyday…. otherwise I’ll take a cat.
6) Red or white wine?
7) How do you like your coffee?
White and bitter.
8) Favourite country you’ve visited?
9) Tea or coffee?
10) Flying or driving?
Driving, unless it’s for fun.

• Ilse Moore Photography

• GingerAle Photography