Photographer Lisa Labinjoh

Photographer Lisa Labinjoh BBC Blue Planet

Meet Afribeing Lisa Labinjoh. Lisa fell in love with photography when she was 14 and has been taking pictures ever since. Although Lisa grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland, Africa has always been in her soul. Lisa was raised in a mixed family surrounded by Nigerian uncles, aunties and cousins. Lisa moved to Cape Town nearly five years ago to pursue her passion for the marine environment and has being using her photography and television skills here in SA. Her combination of filming, diving and marine expertise led her to produce and direct a South African Film and Television Award Winning Show following free diver encounters with the incredible Marine Mega-fauna along the Cape Coast.
Most recently Lisa’s work has been recognised by the BBC Natural History Unit with her images being used in the iconic image for the Blue Planet 2 series as well as being featured on the front cover of the accompanying book.

She currently lives in Kommetjie, Cape Town.

Tell us about your journey with photography and how your seal photo ended up on the poster for the Blue Planet sequel?

I’ve been taking pictures on dry land since the age of 14. I was lucky enough to have access to an SLR camera  and a dark room at school where I developed my own pictures. Not long after I left home my mum bought me my first SLR camera and throughout my time at university I took roll upon roll of pictures. After failing yet another set of exams in my 3rd year I finally gave up on engineering and went to study the one thing I’d actually been good at — photography. 

By 2001 I was finally making enough money to take a holiday so took a solo trip to Israel and Egypt. I didn’t go with the intention of learning to dive because I’m afraid of what’s hiding in the ocean but I’m one of these people who believes in facing your fears head on. So I signed up for an Open Water diving course. From then on I was completely hooked. I love the weightless feeling and the meditative rhythm of inhaling through the regulator exhaling thousands of bubbles and my eyes were opened to the most incredible and transfixing underwater cities. 

Photographer Lisa Labinjoh BBC Blue Planet Photographer Lisa Labinjoh BBC Blue Planet

In 2004 I was finally able to combine my love of photography and the underwater world. As one of my advanced diver training modules, I took an underwater photography course and if I thought I was hooked before I’d now officially become an addict. Between 2004 and 2010 I dived around the word taking pictures simply for the pleasure of it. 

 In one of those lucky life moments I was in the right place at the right time and accompanied an NHU team on a trip to Holland to filmed ‘behind the scenes’ footage for the Frozen Planet series but although I was literally working across the car park from the centre of incredible TV production I was massively under-qualified to work on the calibre of shows they produced. I realised if I wanted to get a foot in the door I was going to have to go back to school.

I began studying Environmental Science and Oceanography part-time in 2010 with the Open University. Because it was a distance learning course I knew I lacked practical experience so looked for an opportunity to work with a conservation charity. An opportunity arose to work with a coastal conservation charity in northern Madagascar so I took time out from TV and for 12 weeks we traded skills.

At the end of my time with the charity I planned to travel and explore southern Africa for a further three months. I travelled through Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia before arriving in Malawi where I struck a deal with a dive centre. I offered them a free promotional film in return for free scuba diving. From there I spent six months filming and photographing the underwater wonders surrounding Zanzibar and the Protea Banks in South Africa. Over that time I amassed hours of footage and photographs which I began selling as stock images.


Photographer Lisa Labinjoh BBC Blue Planet

After my adventure, I returned to TV work in the UK. At that time I still had the idea of working for the NHU and knew I was going to have to continue my studies to Masters Level. After graduating from the 2013 Applied Marine Science course I was finally able to combine my producing and directing skills with my knowledge and experience of the underwater world to make a TV show about something I was genuinely passionate about. 

Ocean Adventurer was a three part series aired on SABC3 which followed four free-divers and introduced the audience to the wonders of the Cape of Storms. It won the award for the best factual education programme at the South African Film and Television Awards 2017 — which you can take a look at here:

Since the success of Ocean Adventurer I teamed up with the shows underwater cameraman and we started a company Aqua Images providing marine support for the film and television industry. I was contacted by a BBC Blue Planet 2 Producer who asked me if I had any images from around Cape Town as they were short of images to be use for promotional stills. There was a month or so before the deadline for submission and during that period we had some incredible sea days and over a couple of shoots we able to fulfil just a small fraction of the wish list. I sent the images back to the UK, where they were loaded with submissions from other professionals all over the world.
 Photographer Lisa Labinjoh BBC Blue Planet

Two months later one of the BBC Blue Planet team made contact to say they’d like to use some of my images in the show and the rest is history. I knew at the time that they were going to make up part of the iconic image for the show but it wasn’t until the London Premier that I realised how iconic the image was going to be.

Never in my wildest imagination did I think my work be adorn the front cover of the BBC Blue Planet book and poster for the movie.