How to Start a Successful Career in Underwater Conservation Filmmaking with Inka Cresswell
How do you break into the world of underwater filmmaking? This marine biologist made the jump and shares her story plus strategy tips with us.
Many of us grow up absolutely fascinated with the ocean or more specifically, the creatures in the ocean.
When I was a little girl, I was absolutely fascinated by sharks. Those were my creatures. Other people love sea otters, or whales, or dolphins, or sea turtles. Most of us are fascinated with this world that we rarely see outside of photos or filmmaking.
I grew up on the coast of California, so I saw the ocean all the time. But I never ventured underneath it as a diver. And yet, I still have a connection to it thanks to the imagery brought back by underwater filmmakers and photographers.
Inka Cresswell is one such person who brings back the magic of the underwater world back to us, with a strong conservation message.
A marine biologist turned professional photographer and filmmaker, Cresswell works with large companies to craft films. She's taken all of that passion that she has for the ocean and for conservation, and gets her message of conservation out in front of broad audiences not only through her films and photography, but also through public speaking and communication, mentorship, doing panel discussions, all kinds of really amazing work.
She is joining us today to talk about what it's like to move into this industry, what it's like to navigate through it.
And I have to admit that one of my favorite parts of the conversation is actually a very specific part of her website that she has done better than any other professional photographer or filmmaker I've ever seen, and definitely one that we all should absolutely copy!
Episode 087: How to Start a Successful Career in Underwater Conservation Filmmaking with Inka Cresswell
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
0:00:00.3 Jaymi Heimbuch: Many of us grow up, absolutely fascinated with the ocean or more specifically, the creatures in the ocean. When I was a little girl, I was absolutely fascinated by sharks. Those were my creatures. Other people love sea otters, or whales, or dolphins, or sea turtles. No matter what though, many of us are really fascinated with this world that we rarely see outside of photos or film-making. I grew up on the coast of California, so I saw the ocean all the time. But I never ventured underneath it as a diver. It just wasn't something I ever did and yet, I still have a connection to it. Thanks to the imagery brought back by underwater filmmakers and photographers.
0:00:45.1 JH: Well, Inka Cresswell is one such person who brings back the magic of the underwater world back to us, with a strong conservation message. Inka Cresswell is a marine biologist, turned professional photographer and filmmaker, working with large companies. And even right now, she's working on a blue chip film project. She is someone who has really taken all of that passion that she has for the ocean and for conservation, and figured out the most effective method of getting that message of conservation out in front of as many people as possible, not only through her films and photography, but also through public speaking and communication, mentorship, doing panel discussions, all kinds of really amazing work.
0:01:30.4 JH: And Inka is joining us today to talk about what that's like, what it's like to move into this industry, what it's like to navigate through it. And I have to admit that one of my favorite parts of the conversation is actually a very specific part of her website, that she has done better than any other professional photographer or filmmaker I've ever seen, and definitely one that we all should absolutely copy. If you're wondering what improvement to make on your website next, make it this. Okay, without further ado, let's dive in.
0:02:05.0 JH: Welcome to Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place. From conservation to creativity, from business to marketing, and everything in between, this podcast is for you, the conservation visual storyteller who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in in.
0:02:36.5 JH: Inka, welcome to Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast. I am thrilled to pieces that I get to actually interview you. You are someone who I've been really excited to talk to for a long time, so thank you so much for being here.
0:02:49.6 Inka Cresswell: Of course, more than happy, always happy to talk everything ocean photography, wildlife. It's my passion, so I always love a good conversation.
0:02:57.0 JH: Wonderful. Well, I would love to start out with, I call this sometimes the hardest question of the interview, which is who is Inka?
0:03:06.1 IC: Who am I? I am somebody who is just obsessed with the oceans. And I think I'm someone who is driven by that passion to protect our oceans, because I love them so much. And I think that at times, trying to define who I am or what I do is a bit of a minefield because for me, it's all about ocean conservation, and it's about how can I be the most effective in that space. So sometimes it's writing, sometimes it's photography, sometimes it's film-making or speaking to an audience, or speaking to school kids. So ah, and I kind of dabble in 100 different things, and it's all because the things that I feel are powerful and will help us to reach different audiences when it comes to ocean conservation. So a bit of a mixed bag, but someone who's very ocean-oriented.
0:03:47.8 JH: Nice. You really are a mixed bag in terms of talents because you do... I can almost feel the passion radiating off of you for this one thing, the conservation of the world's oceans. And does that really drive you to tap into these different areas of communication, from photography to speaking, to film making, to science presentations? Does that drive you to try all of that, or are you just naturally a curious multi-faceted person?
0:04:15.6 IC: I'm from a family of crazy artists who are very much so of the mindset that you don't do one thing. I don't think there's a single person in my family that has one specific career path. My dad is a musician and a filmmaker. My mom's an artist and a farmer. And it's kind of just like everybody has these different pockets. And I think growing up in an environment, where you're told that you don't only have to be one thing, opens your mind to feeling open to trying different things. And I think for me, when I look at ocean conservation as a whole way, and I look at different messages that I wanna convey, sometimes one medium is more effective than another.
0:04:50.8 IC: I love photography because it can grab people's attention immediately. And if you can get that right picture, you can tell that story in that one image. And you don't need to have anyone's attention for too long, but you can still convey something really important. As for film, for me, that is an opportunity to take it to the next level, to really dive into stories. And the same comes to writing. One of my favorite things is writing voice-over, and I take a lot of inspiration from authors and poets, and I love trying to bring that side of things into my work. So I find a lot of it although it seems separate in some ways, it kind of all works together, and I think that I am stronger creatively by dabbling in such a variety of things.
0:05:27.2 JH: Well, that also makes you the quintessential conservation visual storyteller, in that dabbling in various mediums allows you to capture different audiences in different ways, and to really be present on an audience's terms in order to convey the message that they most need to hear. So how powerful it makes you to feel comfortable dabbling, and dabbling almost sounds like it's brushing it off. You dive into all of these different realms, and master them in their own ways, and use them when you need them.
0:05:58.0 IC: Thank you.
0:06:00.0 JH: Well, so what was growing up like for you then? How did you find this deep connection to the ocean?
0:06:06.1 IC: I grew up in Brighton, which is... Well, I say a little town, but it's very much so a city, considered to be a city now, but it's on the coast of Brighton. It's right there, that might make sense. [chuckle] I grew up in Brighton which is on the coast of England, so down on the South Coast, about 45 minutes outside of London. And it is a seaside town where the ocean was literally my backyard pretty much, so we lived very close to the beach. And for me, growing up, that was somewhere that we frequented all the time. So any kind of recreational time, you spent down by the ocean, playing at the beach, swimming in the sea, and rock pooling on my local coast line.
0:06:42.8 IC: And I think I was just completely mesmerized by it. And my dad has always been an avid scuba diver. For as long as I can remember, he's been scuba diving, and he would always come back from these dive trips with so many amazing stories, and these photographs of sharks and species that I just... Took my breath away, things that were just too wonderful, and too exciting, and too magical. So I think from him, I picked up this curiosity. And he absolutely nurtured that. So from a really young age, we would go and we'd go exploring on the rock pools, and we'd go looking for mermaid's purses and other kind of beach treasures. And I just became completely obsessed with this underwater world.
0:07:22.7 IC: And it was through my dad that I learned to dive when I was about 11, and I've been diving all my life since then. So it was very much a... My family brought me into it, but I think it was... I had a personal drive behind it as well. So every time my dad was working mainly in the music side of things, that I was decided I was gonna be a marine biologist, and they were really supportive of that. But I think he always had that curiosity as well, and I think if he hadn't gone down the film-making and music route, he probably would have been a marine biologist himself. So there was definitely a little bit of him living vicariously through me. And I love the fact that dinners at my house would always be filled with conversations about the ocean, and exploration, and conservation, and all these different things. So I kind of definitely was a product of my environment in some ways.
0:08:08.0 JH: Well, so you started out with a marine biology background, and then brought in film-making. Was that also an influence from your father as well, to go into the film-making side?
0:08:17.9 IC: Yeah, not so much. I decided that I was gonna be a marine biologist when I was about five or six years old. And it was very much so me at first, I think I said to my dad that I wanted to work with dolphins when I was older, because I just love dolphins. And he was the one who told me that the real word for that was a marine biologist. [chuckle]
0:08:37.4 JH: Nice.
0:08:37.6 IC: So I was just like, "Okay, that's what... I get to work with dolphins if I'm a marine biologist, so I'm gonna do that." And I was so kind of head strong that that was exactly what I was going to do every single part of my life, leading up to going to university was geared around "How am I gonna be able to do that? How am I gonna make sure that I am the best prepared possible to go to university to study these things?" And I think that at the time, because I decided that that's what I was gonna do at such a young age, I was inspired by people like Jane Goodall, who got to go out and study behavior, these scientists that got to completely immerse themselves in these species and understand them. And that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be just like someone like Jane Goodall, but of the ocean. I wanted to understand the dolphins, understand the whales, understand what they were saying to each other.
0:09:22.4 IC: But when I got to university, I think I was very struck by the amount our oceans are changing, and how these pristine oceans that I'd kind of grown up hearing the stories about what's slipping away at such an alarming rate, and for me, the idea of becoming a behavioral biologist just no longer felt like it was the right thing to do. I felt like I needed to go into conservation. There was no point in understanding something, if there was in no way of protecting it. And I found myself increasingly frustrated with this lack of knowledge, between the scientific community and the general public.
0:09:56.7 JH: And through my scuba diving, I'd started playing around with small disposable cameras. And what I realized is that that was the best way for me to communicate these messages, to show people my photos, to take people on that journey with me. And if I could show them just how amazing this place was, that was the best way to communicate these messages. So it was kind of a bit of a... I think it was very much of a science that guided me in that direction, and it was just trying to find the best way to connect with a different audience.
0:10:22.7 JH: That's really amazing. I think that people like you who are focused on ocean conservation are incredibly important, because you are going into worlds that most people are never going to actually see. And so it is really critical that you're bringing back really amazing footage and photography. We've known this, ever since the days of Jacques Cousteau, how huge that is. But I find, people who work in the conservation visual storytelling for ocean work, really important because it's not something where we can just book a plane ticket, and go on a hike, and see. There's special skill sets, and equipment, and everything in order to be able to see this and it's outside of the capability. Do you think that that is one of the reasons why ocean conservation is such a challenge, is that it's a place that so few of us actually touch?
0:11:11.8 IC: Definitely, and I think it's a really interesting one. It's something that I've noticed a lot, and it's like a... A really good example of that is the decline of kelp forest in Sussex. Kelp forest in Sussex in the '80s were so prevalent along the coast line that there apparently, according to the old stories, I can't say, I wasn't around back then, but the boats used to have to row past the kelp line before they could start their engines because the engines get so blocked up with kelp. And today, it has declined by over 80%, and this is the my doorstep.
0:11:40.0 JH: Wow.
0:11:41.1 IC: So this is literally what I would have been waking up to every day as a kid. And that entire ecosystem disappeared and no one even noticed. And it's because it's just hidden by the surface layer of water. And if no one's out there exploring these places, it's like a forest surrounding your home disappearing, but no one has seen it go. And I think it's such an interesting thing when it comes to oceans. It's a part of what I love about the ocean more than anything, because it's the sense of mystery. And it's part of the reason why for me, every time I enter, I feel like I'm going into this new world, this massive adventure where you never know what you're gonna find.
0:12:15.3 IC: And that's the beauty of it, but it is also kind of the hardest thing about our oceans, and it absolutely is one of the biggest struggles for conservation. And especially when you look at a lot of island nations and smaller communities, where maybe ocean literacy isn't taught as well as it should be, and loads of kids go out not knowing how to swim, they lose that appreciation for their local coastline, those local ecosystems because they've never been exposed to them. And then we end up having more and more parachute science coming in from international organizations and as if you kind of take away that personal connection that people have to their coast lines, you'd lose that need for conservation. You lose that local understanding, and I think it's so critical that we find ways to get people more exposed to what is literally on their doorstep.
0:13:00.7 JH: Well, in your career, to be able to achieve this... Actually, let me back up. There's another question I wanna ask first. You're a very young woman. To see so much happen in what is a quite short lifespan, and to be so committed, I have to ask you, what is your sense of hope around ocean conservation? As a young person looking at the future of this scene, the rapidity of the decline, but being fully committed inside your career, what, emotionally, is this like for you?
0:13:32.2 IC: It's a really hard one. And it's interesting, I think, that you kind of... You have to put on a front at times. And I think there's a quote that it really stood out to me, which was that positivity in the face of disaster isn't naivety, it's leadership. And I think it's so important that you basically, you see what's going on. It's like I'm completely aware that where there's a possibility that there's a lost cause there, but I'm not willing to accept that. I don't want to accept that. I have seen these beautiful things, and I want that to be protected, and I just... I will not accept anything other than that.
0:14:06.8 IC: And I think that it is so important that we bring that positivity to everybody, not only the next generation, but the current generation. I think it's so important that we all take responsibility, because we need to act quickly. And we need to be acting now, and it is so, so important. But there is a huge amount of hope when it comes to the scientists that I meet, when it comes to some of the innovative solutions that are coming up. There are some fascinating science going on up there. And I think that was the thing that kind of really made me do that transition into film-making, was that it seemed like a lot of the answers were just sitting there in shelves in the scientific journals. All of them were there.
0:14:41.1 IC: And it's just like, "Hold on. So this isn't a problem that is unsolvable. This is a problem that no one's willing to act on. Okay, well, how do we make them act on it? How do we take that science and convert it into passion and enthusiasm?" And I think that when you kind of actually break things down to that level, and you understand the solutions, there is a huge amount of positivity. And I have a lot of faith that there are enough individuals who are passionate, that they can spread that infectious positivity and hopefully, other people will also be able to get on board because yeah, it's a movement that needs everybody.
0:15:15.6 JH: In an era where the word infectious is not looked lightly upon, I love the concept of infectious positivity. [chuckle] And that is something that can be instilled inside of a body of work so that when you show that to someone, they feel that positivity and it becomes part of them, too. I love that concept so much. So okay, back to that question I had for you, you wanted to be a marine biologist because you hoped that that might lead to working with dolphins one day. But as you became a marine biologist, you're like, "Hey, there's something else even more powerful that I can do, which is to convey a science to the general public in ways that cause behavior shifts." So basically, you went from one career where it can be kind of tough to get a job inside of that once you're out of university into a career where it's definitely tough to get a job outside of university. Tell me a little bit about what it was like to go to school for these fields, and then to come out of it, becoming a professional, full-time conservation visual storyteller?
0:16:18.3 IC: So to study marine biology, I actually moved my entire life to California when I was 18. I decided...
0:16:24.6 JH: Smart move.
0:16:25.6 IC: Well, yeah. I decided that's where it was at. I went to San Diego State University, and what I loved about the university there is that they have these facilities that were on the coast. I had the ability to work in these incredible seawater labs. They had a dive department. I was able to dive with my professors and collect specimens. And I knew that by making that move, I would be able to get that hands-on experience that I wanted. I wanted to be in the field, I wanted to be working directly with scientists. And I loved that at that university, the professors at the time were 60% research, 40% teaching regimen, that all the professors had to do a huge amount of cutting edge research. And that, to me, was so exciting. So I had to make that move, and I was very fortunate that I think through my degree and excited in working the film aspect into my degree, even in a way, is that I don't think my professors expected, I ended up being sent to China for a geography scholarship, even though I was not in the geography department, to make a film about golden monkeys in China.
0:17:23.3 IC: And I was like, None of my fields, but I've somehow managed to pitch myself just right to get the scholarship. So I started making films during my degree. And then I was able to persuade another one of my professors to allow me to give my final presentation through film. So I was able to document all of my research throughout the year, and make a little film about it, and present that instead of doing a paper. And I think that I realized that if you kind of explain to your professors what your goals are, you are amazed by how many people are willing to support you. If you have a direction you're going in, and if you're creative, and if you are passionate, and you really wanna push yourself, there are so many people that will lift you up and provide those opportunities and open those doors. So I was very lucky that coming out of the university, I was actually offered a place with an organization called The Waterman project. And I worked with them over a couple of seasons during shark tagging work and making vlogs about all of their research, and that for me was a really fantastic opportunity to work more as a Marine Biology Research Assistant, and get that hands-on experience of, okay, you're a scientist in the field and you need to collect all these things, and then also going, "I'm a scientist in the field who needs to collect all these things and I wanna make a film about it," at the same time, how are you gonna balance these?
0:18:34.0 IC: And I think that that skill set has been invaluable to me because after working... After doing that aspect of my life, I decided I was gonna go into the film side full-time and did a master's in wildlife filmmaking, but during my master's, I think as well, I was speaking to scientists on the phone, speaking to different people, I was like, I had that inside knowledge of what it's actually like in the field, what it's like to balance the needs and requirements of the film crew while also trying to get your research done. So I was able to kind of go into it with a more sensitive perspective of what it means to be a researcher in the field. So I found that kind of my background of marine biology didn't only allow me to understand the stories and understand the science, but obviously I put myself in the position of the scientists and understand what it is that they need and how you can work best with them. And I think that it's so important with filmmaking that it is a collaborative effort, as you said, absolutely, it is not an easy industry to get into.
0:19:27.5 IC: And I think for me, the number one thing was networking. In the same way that I approached university, I approached filmmaking, and that meant going to film festivals, talking to as many people as possible, taking up every opportunity even if it terrifies you at the time, and doing the jobs that you don't necessarily want to do. I did loads of internships, I made tea and coffee for people, several times, and sometimes it was also just putting myself out there. I think my first actual broadcast was I was working... I was doing work experience at a small company in Bristol who were doing a program for BBC and the camera operator canceled at the last minute for a blue shark shoot, and I was supposed to be the intern, and I was just like, "Oh I think I could do it," [chuckle] and it was that question of, "Do you think you can do it? Can you do it?" and I was like, "Oh, well, here's my portfolio, let me show you," and they're like, "Oh, I think she can do it."
0:20:19.2 IC: And then the next day I was sent out to film blue sharks and it ended up being seen on BBC a few weeks later. But it was that kind of thing of just getting that foot in the door and never knowing who's gonna open what door and going into every project with that same level of enthusiasm, even if it's not necessarily your dream job yet, but knowing you don't know who's gonna be in the room, who's listening, what opportunities may lead to the next opportunities and just trying to make the most of it.
0:20:43.9 JH: That's so well said, and it almost reminds me of someone who is talking about climbing the corporate ladder, and making sure that you're always networking...
0:20:53.5 IC: Definitely not expecting that. [chuckle]
0:20:56.4 JH: One question I have is, you talk so much about how you're kind of a jill of all trades, you have knowledge and experience in all kinds of areas, and part of what makes you so exceptional is you are inside of all these different areas of filmmaking that have nothing to do necessarily with being behind the camera. So what's a day in the life of Inka like?
0:21:18.0 IC: Currently, I am working as a researcher in a big blue chip project, and it's my first time working on a series that is big. [chuckle] Normally, I think if I'm doing an independent project, I do everything myself, so I'll do all of the writing, all of the research, all of the filming, all the phone calls, but in this case, my typical day is I'm on the phone to scientists, hearing about the latest research, trying to understand what is gonna be going on in the next six months, what their hopes are for their research over the next year, reading through endless amounts of scientific papers, trying to find that nugget of information that I think could connect to an audience, and then sometimes I'm building it out and writing stories about it and developing it into bigger sequences and pitching them. And then when all of that goes well, then I'll be doing logistics and planning, and then actually going out into the field and directing as well, and helping to basically drive that story through, and the last week, I spend an entire week in the edit, working with an editor to be able to cut together different sequences. And then kind of outside of all of that, I normally get home, play with my dog, and then I am on podcasts or panel talks or writing up different podcasts, writing for different podcasts, or writing different articles and various other things everything. So it's a busy day. [chuckle]
0:22:32.2 JH: Yeah, and you still, in all of that, managed to do things like judge the big picture competition out of California Academy of Sciences, you volunteer, you're a partner photographer with the non-profit Girls Who Click that teaches photography workshops to teenage girls, you volunteer with marine conservation groups, you are doing so many things. Do you ever feel like you're spreading yourself thin?
0:23:00.8 IC: Oh absolutely. [chuckle] There's a lot of spinning plates all the time. And I do have to sometimes take a step back and be like, "Okay, you need to stop and put your energy into this one thing," and I think for me at the moment, the big projects I'm working on, I can see the vision of what it could be and the amount of impact it can have. So I'm very much of the mindset right now that that is where I need to put majority of my energy because if I do, I know it's gonna be incredible, [chuckle] and it's kind of just trying to keep myself focused. But then I think that at times, I almost feel like a sense of guilt that I get to have these amazing experiences, and I get to see these amazing things and do this dream job, and I'm like, "Well, how much easier would it have been for me to get to this position, and how often would I see other people who look like me in my position if they had had a leg up on those early days?" So then I'm like, "Oh, well, I need to help other people too." [chuckle]
0:23:52.0 IC: And then the volunteering comes in, and the podcasts and articles and various other things, because I want to be able to help people, I think I want to diversify this industry, I wanna see more young people coming into this industry, because I think that as we kind of increase that variety and diversity of voices, we're gonna be much more impactful when it comes to conservation, that conservation is a global issue. We don't wanna only hear one voice. I don't want people to only hear my voice. I want them to hear loads of different powerful voices because we're all gonna reach different people. And it's so important that we do work collaboratively, and that's why I think doing all the other stuff is so important. But I definitely have to be careful because it gets to a point where I'm just like, "Oh, I can't take it, it's too much. [chuckle]
0:24:31.3 JH: Yes, yes, that's a really good point too, about diversifying the industry is critical on so many levels, but also it's critical inside of conservation because thinking about audiences and who audiences want to hear from, you mentioned earlier having parachuting in scientists, and we talk about parachute journalism and parachute photo journalism. And when we step back and think about how our goal inside of conservation visual storytelling is to show people things in ways that make them want to change behaviors or be part of a movement. Sometimes they need to hear that from someone who looks like them, or from someone who's from their community, or from someone who they relate to in ways that might not be tangible or even conscious, and that I think is critical for why we need to diversify this industry in addition.
0:25:19.0 IC: Oh, absolutely.
0:25:20.8 JH: One big question I have for you, I warned you that I was gonna nerd out on some business-y side of things, in that concept of putting your best foot forward and creating your opportunities, 'cause you are clearly someone who creates the opportunity... You set the stage for opportunities to appear for you, and that is not a passive thing at all, and one of the things that I really want to look at is your website and specifically your CV page, because you are a member of Her Wild Vision Initiative and we see a whole lot of websites from semi-professional and professional photographers and filmmakers that are in various states of being built or showing work or different designs and formats, but one thing that really stands out for me on your website is that CV page, because I have never seen, or was... And I'm sure they exist somewhere out there, but I personally have never seen a website that has your work experience so clearly laid out, and it's not just the work experience, but it's like precise detail about what went on inside of that.
0:26:23.2 JH: So as someone comes into your website, they don't have... You don't just have a film and you're like, "I made this," and it's like, "Okay well, did you direct it? Did you edit it? Are you shooting? Did you do all? What was your role inside of that? We need to understand more about what your skill sets are." You actually say, "This camera and this diving stuff," and you get really specific inside of that. So can we please nerd out a little bit about why you built that CV page and what's gone into it?
0:26:50.3 IC: Yeah, no, I think it's really interesting what you said about opportunities coming to me, and that is exactly what happened with that website, is that I decided that I need a professional website, it was just after I'd finished university and I decided that I was gonna start making this transition into filmmaking and photography professionally, and the first thing I decided I needed was a website. And it started off with me being like, "Oh, it will be a cool kind of blog where I'll post my pictures." And then I started to develop it more and more, and as soon as I put that CV page on my website, and a lot of people, what I've realized they do is they put a CV page, "Email for my CV." I don't think that works, because an employee gets to it and they go, "Oh, well I can't be bothered to email," and... Or they look at you and they go, "Oh they look a bit too young, they probably don't have the experience we want." But by kind of laying it all out there, you're going, "This is exactly what I can offer." If they were to invite me into an interview, that's exactly what I'd tell them.
0:27:40.2 IC: So why not just make it accessible there and then? And I know that for me in an interview, I normally do really well in interviews, so let's try and... I wanna tweak my website as interactive as possible. So when you're going to see my CV, if it says something that's obscure, there's literally sometimes even a video attachment, and some of them, for the work that I'm most proud of, the video plays automatically, so you have to scroll down to find the sound. And it was things like that that I kind of put in because it's like, "These are my strong suits. This is what I wanna draw your attention to," and then I'm gonna go into those details because when I do speak to people about doing camera work, one of the first questions they normally ask is, "Oh, what camera are you using?" and I was like, "Well, if I list you the cameras that I have experienced with, then you're gonna know that I am sufficient to work with the cameras that you are requesting." And I think... And I'm constantly building it and constantly work on it, but literally within weeks of having that website up, I started getting job offers.
0:28:30.3 JH: Nice.
0:28:32.3 IC: And it was like, "Oh, this kind of works [chuckle] genuinely." And I was like, and my website is just my name, there's nothing else more to it. I kind of... I looked... And I made it on Wix. It didn't cost me anything. I think I pay like 20 quid a year for my hosting fee, and then other than that, I literally just... I try and put articles on as regularly as possible, if I ever work with somebody or there's a podcast, I'll link it to my website so it kind of has that... There's always new content or new events coming up so that people want to check back. But no, it's been so, so helpful. And looking through the mailing, the amount of production companies or directors, it seemed to be attracting the correct audience. And I'm not quite sure how I did it, but it worked, so I just keep going with it.
0:29:13.7 IC: I'm always surprised by the fact that not more people put effort and time into the websites because they are so valuable, and as well as potential employees reaching out, the amount of teenagers that I get reaching out through my website because they're working on a school project and they wanna do an interview and they were looking for information because they wanna go to university and they want advice, and I probably get about two or three advice emails a week coming to that website, and sometimes they are a little bit overwhelming, if I do a big talk or something like that, it can be four or five a day, and then it's just like, "Oh my God, how am I gonna get back to all of these people?" But to be able to kind of put my work out there and also show people, "This is a really clear route as to how I did it. This is what I did, I went to university here, I volunteered here, then I went here, then I did this." And I think for a young person trying to break into the industry going, "Oh, well what experience do I need?" to see that and be able to go, "Okay, so that's what I'm looking for," I think is really helpful. And I wish that people had shared their CVs with me when I was looking to get into the industry, because I think that it's so hard sometimes to know what people are looking for in terms of experience.
0:30:19.5 JH: I think that's brilliant. And I believe that there's at least two reasons why you started getting job offers within a few weeks of your CV page. One is the more text that is keyworded, either consciously keyworded or not, the more text is on a page...
0:30:34.8 IC: Definitely unconsciously.
0:30:36.7 JH: The more people who are searching for exactly the type of work that you provide, you're gonna rise higher in the search results, and they have to weed through fewer people to find you and to land on that CV page. And so I think that by building out a very detailed CV page, I think that's really, really smart. And two, that is a darn shareable webpage. All they have to do... When someone lands on you and they're like, "Hey, I think she might be a good fit for our project, what do you think?" forward that page to someone else, and it's all the information right there and people could start making decisions. And I mean, honestly, as someone who sees a lot, a lot of websites, it really stands out in terms of just sheer professionalism, because you don't have just a blog with your pictures, and there's nothing wrong with that, I shouldn't say just a blog with pictures, a blog with pictures is a great way to go as you're trying to move forward, but also having a page that is so detailed on experience is brilliant. I just think that that was so, so, so smart of you. And I'm so excited that it paid off so quickly.
0:31:34.8 IC: It works. No, it's great, and it's like... I actually went and gave it. I now teach a part of the MA I go back every year and give people advice on finding jobs and networking and how to code your website, because I do think it is such critical thing. And one of the other things that I learned that I don't if you've come across was some of the wording I had to think about, so things like not using camerawoman but using camera operator or cameraman, because most of the time people aren't searching for camerawomen. If they're looking for a cameraman, they're just... They're gonna like cameraman. And it's like making sure that a lot of that wording, you're just making sure that you kind of... You're gonna fit what people are thinking off the top of their head, and it's... Yeah, no, it's worked.
0:32:13.2 JH: There's this riddle, I can't remember exactly how it goes. I'm gonna butcher it. Anyway, it's a riddle that basically allows you to challenge yourself on your own assumptions about sexism. It's something about like a kid goes to the doctor and the doctor says "I can't perform the surgery because it's my son," and it's like, oh, how does that... Oh because it's... Anyway, I told you I'd butcher it.
0:32:37.3 IC: I know the one. [chuckle]
0:32:39.5 JH: Okay, yeah. And so it reminds me a lot of that when someone would land on your page searching for cameramen, and then see you, and it's like, "Oh yeah, I only was thinking about cameraman, and here's this incredibly professional, proficient, experienced camerawoman who we can now hire." So when it comes to all of those advice requests, that is a lot of energy that goes into responding. So can you tell me a little bit about your approach to that? Because it's something that so many professionals get. And I've even had people ask me to please give them a complete review of their entire website, including portfolios, and I'm like, "I don't think you realize the scale of what you're asking me to do," [chuckle] and just like a cold email from someone, and you really want to be as generous as possible, but also that's a lot of energy and time. So what is your approach on answering all of those inquiry emails?
0:33:32.8 IC: It's really tricky, and I think that a lot of it comes down to what my work is at the time. There are some times where if I've got a lot of shoots going out and I have a lot of extracurricular projects going on as well, then there's just not enough time in the day and I have to... My website is set aside until I have time to sit down and do it. So sometimes it will take me a while to get back to people, it might take three weeks or four weeks, if it is the fact that I am just inundated and I have to put my work first. And I think for me, it's kind of making that priority and understanding like, "No, the outreach side is my recreational time. This is my actual job that I have to get done." But I do think it's important that I do get back to people, and I try and give as much advice as I can, and every time I'm like, Oh, what I should do is I should have a copy and paste list of answers that you can pop in and it will help everyone, and every time I sit down to do it, I'm like, "No, this requires an individual, unique response, and they deserve that, so sit down and do it."
0:34:26.6 IC: It does... It takes up a lot of energy, but I think that it's so worth it. And I think I get frustrated sometimes 'cause some of them are people who... They're just like, "Oh, what camera are you using? What information is this? How do I get in to do the MA?" and I'm just like, "Well, you didn't really sell yourself to me, you didn't tell me anything about you. All that information was available for you to read. You showed that you've got no initiative. Why should I help you? Why should I invest my time on you if you're not using your own time to find things out for yourself?" in which case, I might not get back to people. But most of the time I hear from young people who are looking for advice on how to break into the industry. They're trying to decide what A levels they should take, and their mom's telling them that they should go be an accountant, but they wanna go do this, so they're hoping that they can go and do photography, but everyone tells them that that's not a real career and all these things, and then I get all fired up and I'm like, "No, here's what you should do. This is my advice."
0:35:16.6 IC: And I love being able to have those conversations with people, and a lot of the time as well I'll be like, "Do you wanna just jump on a call? Like let's just chat it through." And I think that I've actually find that that's less draining on my time sometimes, and I feel good from it. I like having those conversations. I love talking to people. So I try and redirect it a lot of the time when I can. I do you think it's really important to put that energy and that attention into it, because I know that for me, a lot of people did that for me when I was that age, and I went to so many talks when I was younger and used to go and sit in at all of the key notes and all the panel speakers, and I'd go and speak to them after and be just like, "How can I work with you? How can I do this?" and I was always amazed by the people that would give me their time and tell me about what I could do and where I could go, and I took so much of that advice to heart and would not be where I am today if it wasn't for all of those people who'd given me advice along the way. So I think it's, yeah, really important that we do pay that forward.
0:36:08.8 JH: Absolutely. I think that beyond just the tangible information that we can take away from the advice and then go implement, it's the idea of being in that position and knowing that someone's taking the time to inform you and you almost feel hope, you feel a little bit more included, you feel a little bit more comfortable, a little bit more taken care of, which then allows you to wanna go implement all of that advice that you might be getting from them. So hats off to every person who's ever answered our random inquiries or hopped on a call to us as we've been like, "I don't understand how to do this, I don't understand what this looks like. Can you just tell me your story?"
0:36:45.2 IC: Absolutely.
0:36:47.0 JH: So I watched a video of yours before we hopped on this call that you posted in Saltwater Veins, and it's a five-minute short film that you created during COVID. And I would love to kinda toggle our talk from the professional side of things to the creative side of things. This film felt very sort of calming and therapeutic, and I'm wondering what caused you to create it, and what was it like creating this short, just sort of bit of visual poetry and narrative poetry?
0:37:18.0 IC: That was exactly it's goal. No, I made it during lock down, and at the time I had... I think it was the beginning of the pandemic, and I was stressed about everything, and I decided to leave my three-bedroom flat in Bristol that I shared with housemates where we were all working on top of each other to go to my parents house for the lockdown in the UK, which lasted about six months of basically not being allowed to go anywhere or do anything, so I moved in with my parents, and it meant that I was moving back to the ocean, and I've been away from kind of having that ocean on my doorstep for so long, and at the time I was really stressed with work and I was stressed with the overwhelming stuff like Black Lives Matter as well, which was all kicking off at that time of year. And I think for me, I always just felt like I was in such a tense state from just going from work and then on to social media, and then dealing with kind of all of the stress and the anger that came with a lot of the Black Lives Matter movement, and I found myself going to the ocean after work, and it would be like 6:00 PM, 7:00 PM, I would get in my car, drive to the beach, and I would go swim in the sea. And it was amazing to me how just that feeling of putting myself in that space again, made everything feel 100 times better, it was like I could breathe again.
0:38:29.4 IC: And it's something that I've always known about myself, is that if I get overwhelmed, if I get too frustrated, the best place that I can go is the sea and it is almost like it recharges everything about me, I'm reminded why I'm doing it, what I'm passionate about, what it means to be in the wild, to be in the nature, and I just feel better, like 10 folds my... I can go from being almost depressed to the most positive person in the world after five minutes in the sea. And I just find myself reminding myself, why don't I do this more? And why don't more people do this? Why do we have such a disconnect? How do I know so many people that live in Brighton who don't go swimming in the sea when it's literally on your doorstep, and I know they would feel so much better for it, and I started making my boyfriend come with me and making my dad come with me and just going for a swim after work, and it was just so... It just felt amazing. And then this opportunity came up through Panasonic, and they wanted me to test the S1H and put it for its paces and I was thinking about, oh, what can I do with it?
0:39:26.7 IC: And it had to be something that was local to me, and of course, being me, I was like, oh, the ocean, of course, that's what I'll do with the camera, and I wanted to do something that was kind of paying attention to that idea of blue therapy and blue mind, and how important our oceans are, but I also wanted to show you people how beautiful our local coastline is, and I think that the UK is often overlooked when it comes to beauty in the ocean, and I am absolutely guilty of it, I've spent so many years running around to tropical locations, to far away places, and I think that as kind of climate change is becoming more and more evident, we need to be thinking about kind of reducing our travel and trying to find those experiences more locally.
0:40:06.9 IC: And for me, the past couple of years, moving back to the UK, I was just like, God, there is so much on my door step, there are blue sharks off the coast, there are seals everywhere, there's kelp forests, there's beautiful walk polls and all those things where my kind of love of the ocean started, and I just wanted to be able to share that with people. And that was very much so the creative goal of it, but in doing that, I went back to what I love doing, which is writing and trying to kind of come up with writing that felt much more like almost a love letter about our oceans and about blue health and blue mind and yeah, it was a really fun project to work on and I was doing it while I was working full-time as well, so it was kind of my evening project throughout lockdown was that I'd finish work and then I'd go down to the beach and set up a time lapse or go for a swim. Yeah, it was a really lovely one to work on.
0:40:56.0 JH: It sounds like it was kind of a professional project because you were testing a camera, but also very much a personal project and do personal creative projects play a role in your life?
0:41:07.9 IC: Yeah, absolutely. I think all my projects kind of end up being passed on away because everything about me is so kind of oriented around protecting this one space, which is our oceans, and I struggle to separate professional from personal a lot of the time, and I think for me, a lot of what I do when it comes to working with partners and brands especially, I do less of kind of me working for them and more trying to figure out how they can support my passion projects and I find that that works really well because they get a better product because I'm enthusiastic about it, and I'll put that extra time and that extra effort in, and I get to do something that I genuinely care about. So the more that I work with these brands, the more that I try and kind of swing things in that direction, and I'm like, "Yeah, this sounds great, let's put a conservation angle on it," and they're like, "Oh really?" I'm like, "Absolutely." Yeah, it does tend to work.
0:42:00.7 JH: Awesome, you mentioned something earlier that I would love to talk about, but also please feel free to say, "Nah, that's not where I wanna go." But you talked about how not only in the midst of lock down, you're dealing with the stresses of that, which for the photography and film making, especially conservation photography and filming, that was a really, really scary time because gigs were just evaporating, tours and... Jobs just evaporated and so that was really stressful, but you also touched on the anger of the Black Lives Matter movement and how that personally felt to you. What has racism inside of this industry and as a whole meant to you as someone who has to deal with it, like how has that touched you in your work?
0:42:43.6 IC: It's a really interesting one because I think in the academic side, I definitely experienced more of the negativity around it, and I had some horrible encounters with professors who... When I was in high school and trying to get my A levels to go to university who just didn't accept that my predicted grades can be my predicted grades because it just wasn't realistic for someone like me to ever achieve those grades and things like that, where I was like, "Oh God, I'm gonna have to keep going over this," and even going into an interview once for an internship and being asked in the interview after I've done all these interview questions about my approach and my professionalism and my experience, and the last question was, "The team you're gonna be working with, is gonna be really racist. How are you gonna deal with that?" And just being like, that's an impossible interview question, I have no idea, and then having to come up with this answer that I myself didn't believe about how I'd be able to brush it under the rug and just get the job done, and I left that interview feeling so sick and just going, "What am I getting myself into?" And then getting the job and then spending the entire job actually thinking, "Oh, well, am I putting myself in a dangerous position?"
0:43:46.0 IC: Am I safe here? Should I trust these people? And I think that you end up questioning yourself in that way a lot, but then actually kind of transitioning into the film and photography side, I've been very fortunate that I've entered the industry at a time where some incredible people have come before me, and I think that I've kind of entered the industry at a time where so many companies are paying attention and they want to start to change, and they understand the importance of having diverse voices, and I feel like there's been a lot of doors have almost opened up to me because they are... People are ready to listen and they want to ensure that those voices are there, and I've been able to step through them, but I wouldn't be able to if it wasn't for so many people before me who have put in that hard hard leg work and the leg work is still not done. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to really kind of get it to that next stage, but I hope that now it's my turn, I take on that level of leg work so the next person can hopefully just have smooth sailing and a great career.
0:44:43.9 IC: Yeah, it's an interesting one, and I think it's tricky, but for me as well, there's an aspect of it where I think I've learned that my race doesn't have to be something that is a negative experience, and I think that it has actually only in the last... Maybe four or five years, I've become a lot more comfortable in myself, I'm happy to wear my hair curly now I don't have to straighten my hair for work every day, which is what I used to do to feel like I could fit in and to feel comfortable in this spaces. And now I'm kind of much more accepting of my Blackness and realize that it can be a strength, and for me, especially when I'm working with people who are minorities around the world, if I wanna go and tell a conservation story in the Caribbean, and I am half Jamaican and I can have that conversation and say can I have stakes in the game in the same way that they do, and I care about that place just as much, I think that's a level of authenticity that sometimes comes from when you see someone who looks like you saying it.
0:45:38.1 IC: And I think that for me, I've been able to use it... Not use it to my advantage, but have a connection to people that maybe somebody who is White in my position wouldn't have, and an understanding that's there, which allows me to kind of see a different perspective and to tell a slightly different story. And yeah, there's a lot of kind of just understanding those communities and understanding how we need to switch the conversation to be more accepting of all different communities and all different cultures, and I've been very lucky that I'm kind of entering the industry a time where people see the value in that.
0:46:07.7 JH: That's awesome. I do feel like we're seeing really important change happen, it's not fast enough or soon enough, but it is happening. I can't get that question out of my head that you were asked though, and it really bothers me, and my hope is that... Not only was that a horrible question to ask, but it was so frustrating to hear, what are you going to do about working with these other racist people rather than, we're gonna remove the racist people from this project, so that we can create a team that is cohesive, and it's just... I won't go down that rabbit hole though I hope that that is a question that soon will never be asked to anyone because there's no need for it inside of that... And I'm sorry that that happened to you. There's like 48 more things that I want to ask you so I'm going to try and narrow this down.
0:46:56.4 IC: Dive in.
0:47:00.2 JH: One thing that I would really love to talk with you about, because we were in that realm of creativity, is you are really skilled both at film making behind the camera and also photography, and those are often really difficult skill sets. You go into different parts of your brain, different ways of thinking about what's happening in front of you, how do you toggle between those two skill sets when you're working on a project?
0:47:22.5 IC: I think for me, I find that they're so intertwined in a way, but then absolutely, they are so, so different. And I think photography is something that I feel like I've mastered, I feel like I know exactly how it works, I know how to get the best out of my images, I know how to kind of bring that story in. The film making, well though, just opens a whole new level of creativity and I think that for me with photography, I would kind of often approach photography thinking of it like writing a photo story, that there was gonna be text that's gonna accompany the image to be able to take people on that journey. But when you're doing filmmaking, you're kind of almost having that same approach, but everything is visual, so you... I still kind of approach it in that same kind of format that I'm thinking about what the different parts are that would tell the different visual story, but I think as well with photography for me, there is so much effort that you put into composition because you're trying to get so much information into that one shot, that it makes me a much stronger filmmaker because you think so more carefully about each shot, you always compose each shot as if it is an image that would stand alone.
0:48:26.0 IC: And I think that there's a strength in thinking about things in that way, but filmmaking is definitely one area that I still feel like I'm developing and it is changing so quickly. I think with images, I can always... I can take an image and then I can just appreciate the beauty of the image as a standalone item, but with film, there are so many moving elements, there's the music, there's the editing, there's the writing, but it's a chance to really kind of play creatively and to really think about it, and just by changing the tone, just by changing the cut, just by changing the wording, you can transform the entire meaning by in the image, whereas with photography, the image is the image. For me, that's something that's really exciting. But it also means that you think really carefully about the two, and I think for me, when I'm working on a project and I am doing both, there are aspects where I plan them together with... In terms of the bigger format of the story, but then there are times where you go, no the image has to be so much stronger because it doesn't have that additional material.
0:49:21.3 IC: So being able to kind of jump between the two can be tricky because something that is composed perfectly for film actually might need so much more information if it's gonna be a standalone photograph because you can't add that storytelling aspect that you can in post if you're film making. So it definitely requires different creative thought processes, but it's great to be able to do both because they do just connect with people so differently.
0:49:46.3 JH: While you were talking, I was thinking about the idea of toggling between photography and film making, but while you're under water, while you're scuba diving or free diving and do you ever do that or is that just an impossibility?
0:49:58.5 IC: No, I've got a really bad habit of doing it, and you definitely... Sometimes it's a requirement, and sometimes you only have those moments, and it's like a lot of the stuff that I did with The Watermen Project when I was working with this on scientific expeditions was, okay, I've got a list of photography requirements, I have a list of film requirements and they need to get both of them down, and I only have 35 minutes of air. You're just like, "Okay, how are we gonna do this?" And the idea of going back to get another camera just isn't an option, which is why I use the Panasonic cameras is because they're great for video and photography, and I do do a lot of that switching between the two, but for me, when it comes to... I so often... Because I think more as a photographer, I think. I'll be in the middle of a shot and I'm like, "Oh, should I just switch to photo quick and just grab that" and I'm like, "No, it'll be in the middle of the shot. You've gotta wait and play it out," but it is really frustrating at times when you're kind of filming and you see the animals get into that perfect choreographed move and you're like, "Oh I just wanna capture that one moment," but you have to just watch it pass and there's definitely a patience in filmmaking that I've lost for photography that I need to hold on to.
0:51:02.5 JH: Oh goodness, I can only imagine what that feels like, that whole like... But no, oh my God. Now I have to... Oh, okay, fine, fine. I'm committed... Fine. [chuckle]
0:51:13.0 IC: Both of those comes down to knowing your shots and knowing what you've gotta get, and I think that for me often at the moment, my paid work is you're usually more geared towards videography, so I'll be like, "Okay, once I've got all of my video needs, I know I've ticked off that shot list, I can switch to photo and focus on it," because I think it is really hard to get the balance, and so often I think photography becomes the after thought on film projects, and if you do... Photography is kind of that last-minute aspect rather than actually building it into your work, you won't get the same images, and it's so important that you kind of almost give it that same level of attention for those behaviors to pay out for those moments to pay out, that you need.
0:51:52.0 JH: Yeah, I think it's easy, especially as you're getting started in film making, it's easy to forget how important it is to be getting stills the whole way through, and that stills are essential to your premiere, to your presentation of your film, to getting it out there with the press spotlight, there's so many reasons why stills are really, really important for that project. I have one more question for you, and it's gonna be kinda random, but you do so much of your work under water, so what does your fitness regime look like to be able to do your work?
0:52:23.3 IC: So I dive a lot. For me, kind of diving isn't something that I only do when I'm on a shoot, it's something that I have to maintain throughout the years, so at the moment, I'm training to do a lot of rebreather diving, which is diving with no bubbles on quite a complex system, and me and my friend Katie Blatter, we sit in a quarry almost every weekend, just doing laps of a quarry diving, and it is the most miserable place. We see nothing fun, I think there's a toilet, there's a couple of old traffic cones and an old tea pot that we see occasionally, but we do it every weekend because it's kind of... You have to build up that... Build up those hours, build up that experience, make sure you don't waste away any of those muscles and that you can still carry all of that equipment and that when that call comes for a shoot, you are completely ready to go outside of that, I'm somebody who... I hate gyms. They make me really uncomfortable. I don't know why, never going to them.
0:53:14.7 JH: Oh, I'm right there with you. [chuckle]
0:53:16.9 IC: I see all those people and they're just like, "That's so enthusiastic." And I'm like, "I wanna be, but I'm definitely not." But I will force myself to run, I hate it. Every part of me... And everyone is always like, "Oh, you'll get into it and then you love it more." It never happened every time I run, I do not enjoy at all, and I do bits of yoga as well, but diving is probably the main thing.
0:53:37.4 JH: Nice, that's awesome. I ask that every once in a while, because I know that with a lot of the work that we do in nature conservation, visual story telling, the ability to carry heavy equipment, be in really difficult physical situations, like all of that factors into storytelling, and if you're not out there continuously being in shape, it's harder and harder to do that, and I mean, I definitely... When I was not shooting very much or doing a whole lot during COVID and then picking up the camera, I'm like, "When did this get so heavy?" All my muscles just disappeared. [laughter]
0:54:07.3 IC: Oh I know how you feel. I definitely pulled a muscles on my leg loading on my rebreather in the first weekend back after the lockdown, I was like, "How did I... Why do my legs hurt so much? That isn't normal." Now, I think I am back to my usual fitness, and it's just a matter of maintaining it. Winter's always the hardest, quarries are nowhere as appealing when there's ice around the edges, but still gotta do it.
0:54:29.0 JH: I will admit when I watched that video just before our interview, and I saw you get into the cold water every part of me was like, "No!"
0:54:38.3 IC: That's a way to [0:54:38.8] ____, because I think the first couple of times that I did it... I used to do it when I was a kid, but then I stopped swimming in the ocean in the UK for a while, mainly because I was away and traveling and other places, but the first couple of times I was like, "God, it's cold, this is so unpleasant." But over time, it just becomes actually one of my favorite parts about it, and you get that kind of adrenaline rush and it just feels so refreshing, and after a few moments you're just like, "This is great." Yeah, we even went swimming in the ocean on New Year's day, and it was bitterly cold, but so, so wonderful.
0:55:08.7 JH: Well, I have to say thank you so much for doing this work because I wouldn't, 'cause I can't be cold... Just no to all of that coldness, cannot function in it, so thank you for being so strong to get into that cold water, for loving it so much, for putting all of your passion into the work that you do. I just think you are a phenomenal human being and the path that you've taken to get into this field, the energy that you bring behind it, I know that your career is just gonna be exceptional and you're gonna do so many incredible things for conservation for us as a species and as a planet, because of this energy and care and passion that you bring into it, I can't thank you enough for finding this field.
0:55:51.4 IC: Thank you so so much. I feel and quite a bit lucky to be in this field, and I think to be able to make what you're passionate about and what you love into your work is a huge prevention, I feel very, very lucky to be able to do it.
0:56:02.9 JH: Wonderful. Well, for all of the people who are listening and wanna send you inquiry emails, how can they find out more about you or follow your work.
0:56:11.7 IC: Absolutely, so my website is the most up-to-date place on all of my latest projects and events and talks, it's www.inkacresswell.com and on there, there's a contact form where you can get in touch, but there's also a link to events and there's regular talks and different panel discussions and things where you can also join in and ask questions, and those are sometimes... They're a great place to kind of have those more interactive conversations.
0:56:35.2 JH: Excellent, well, I will link to everything in the show notes, including that deeply impressive CV page, so everyone can check that out and model their own CV page after it. Inka, thank you so much for your time and energy, I can't wait until I get to talk with you again.
0:56:51.1 IC: Thank you. And I'll speak to you soon.