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Inspiring Fine Art Photographer & Freediver – Janaka Rodrigue

Updated: Jun 16

When I first moved to the Gold Coast, I was lucky enough to meet Janaka, an underwater photographer and freediver from the local area. Cool, calm and intelligent, Janaka quickly became one of my favorite people to spend time with. I mean, if I could just absorb some of the man's creative genius by being in close vicinity, I would certainly try! We embarked upon many adventures, from diving to surfing, to wandering through art galleries and spending hours editing our images at the local cafes. His years of experience in the field and his open-mindedness allows him to work smarter and not harder, while always making time to pursue his creative (and culinary) passions. Since knowing him, Janaka has been a good friend and patient teacher, consistently inspiring me to continue working hard at the things I love. He leads by his own example, sees opportunities and takes them, so his life is like one big, fearless adventure! I hope you can be equally as inspired by his work as I am.


Tranquil Turtle: by Janaka Rodrigue

Hey Janaka! Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi, I'm Janaka. Born and raised on the Gold Coast 36 years ago, I've since lived all over the world, from the rugged landscapes of Iceland to the sunny coasts of Portugal and the historic beauty of Italy. Now, I'm based in Prague, but my heart always belongs to Australia! My photography journey spans 20 years, starting in fashion and advertising. Today, I consider myself an underwater artist, deeply passionate about capturing the ethereal beauty of women and marine life beneath the waves. I've also been involved in animal conservation, spending significant time in the Philippines working on sea turtle conservation, injured animal rehabilitation, and local community education. You can see my fine art print collection at www.janaka.com.au/prints. Currently, I'm advancing my freediving training with the ultimate goal of becoming a freediving instructor. This will allow me to combine my love and expertise in photography with the underwater world, teaching aspiring underwater photographers both skill sets.


Janaka Rodrigue at Kirra Reef, Australia

What inspired you to specialise in underwater photography?

My journey into underwater photography began much later in life, as I had a childhood fear of water after a near-drowning incident. I used to avoid swimming lessons and always had an excuse for forgetting my swimming gear. As a young adult, a close friend, married to a world champion surfer, let me use her underwater housing. We ventured into the ocean during a rainstorm, and I captured some stunning portraits of her. From that moment, I was hooked. I knew I had to overcome my fear and become comfortable in the water. I spent as much time as possible swimming in various conditions until the ocean became my second home. I discovered a place of utmost peace where all other thoughts disappear, leaving only you, a single breath, and the fleeting beauty shared between a wild animal or a woman dancing beneath the waves.


Rouge Dancer: by Janaka Rodrigue

Can you share one of your most memorable experiences while photographing underwater?

A lifelong dream of mine was to swim with humpback whales, so when the opportunity arose to visit Tonga with my friend and constant inspiration, Matt Draper, I eagerly embarked on the journey. I'll never forget waking up before sunrise to quietly motor out of the bay, anticipating a beautiful interaction. Following the spray of blowholes in the distance, the adrenaline surged as I dove into the water and came face-to-face with these magnificent giants. As they roared past me with effortless grace and power, the whales soon slowed and dove deeper below. It was here that they paused to rest, and I experienced the power of my first whale song, its vibrations resonating through my entire being. Tears filled my eyes as I floated weightlessly, enveloped in the sound. From that moment, I knew that sharing these underwater moments with marine life was a privilege I would cherish for the rest of my life.


Majestic Leviathan: by Janaka Rodrigue

What challenges do you face as an underwater photographer, and how do you overcome them?

Environmental factors pose the biggest challenges—swells, water clarity, and the unpredictable nature of wildlife encounters. You might travel thousands of kilometers only to find that the wildlife has moved. You have to appreciate every encounter you get. When photographing women underwater, the main challenge is often the cold. Winter brings the best water clarity on the Gold Coast, but many of the women in my fine art series are nude, and they lose body heat quickly. To ensure a peaceful and enjoyable experience, I always keep a hot water bottle and thermos of hot tea nearby and make sure they take breaks to warm up.

Grace: by Janaka Rodrigue

How do you stay updated on the latest techniques and technologies in underwater photography?

I've been using the same camera, lens, and housing setup for seven years. I don't feel the pressure to constantly buy new equipment, as I believe in improving vision, creativity, and technical skills first. However, I do plan to start creating videos underwater to complement my photography, which will require some new equipment like constant video lights for proper white balance and lighting in deeper waters.


Sea Nymph: by Janaka Rodrigue

Can you share any tips or advice for aspiring underwater photographers?

Start with basic equipment like a GoPro, DJI Action camera, or an underwater case for your phone, and gradually invest in better gear as you gain experience. Understanding marine life behavior and mastering your swimming and freediving skills with minimal disturbance are crucial for getting close to your subjects. Invest in a freediving course and practice regularly with a buddy until you're comfortable underwater—this is more important than the equipment itself. Once you're at ease underwater, don't be afraid to experiment with different techniques and conditions. Respect the underwater environment and its inhabitants at all times.


Reflections: by Janaka Rodrigue

What are your favorite locations or dive sites for underwater photography, and why?

I lived on a small island off the coast of Bohol in the Philippines, where the reef was mesmerizing with its abundant marine life and colorful corals. Closer to home, Julian Rocks/Nguthungulli Nature Reserve off the coast of Byron Bay is a favorite, offering an incredible variety of marine life, from Leopard and Grey Nurse sharks to Manta Rays and Green Sea Turtles. I'm always seeking new places to explore and have a lifetime of sites left to discover. When I return to Australia, I plan to embark on an underwater road trip around the coastline to explore the best freediving spots.


Leopard Shark: by Janaka Rodrigue

Have you ever encountered any unexpected or dangerous situations while photographing underwater?

I've been fortunate to have mostly positive experiences. While living in the Philippines, my colleagues called me the "snake whisperer" because banded sea snakes were inexplicably drawn to me. On every turtle research dive, at least one, sometimes three, would swim around my head and near my mask. Initially unnerving, I soon learned to ignore them. Though one of the most venomous creatures, banded sea snakes are timid and rarely bite humans.

How do you think underwater photography can contribute to marine conservation efforts?

Underwater photography plays a crucial role in marine conservation by raising awareness and inspiring people to protect our oceans. Not everyone has the privilege to explore the underwater world, so my goal is to create powerful imagery that evokes emotional connections and underscores the importance of preserving marine ecosystems. By showcasing the beauty and fragility of the underwater world, I hope to encourage others to support conservation initiatives and adopt sustainable practices.


Hammerhead Sharks: by Janaka Rodrigue

Check out some more of Janaka's work here:

Instagram: @janaka

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