Photographer Spotlight - Michelle Manson

Photographer Spotlight - Michelle Manson


I am excited to introduce my January Underwater Photographer - Michelle Manson. If you live in Washington or California, you will probably recognize her photos and I am so excited to have her as a Spotlight this month! You can find her on instagram at @mansonfotos ❤️  Keep reading to find out more about Michelle and her journey with Underwater Photography!

Michelle Manson Underwater Photographer Scuba Diving
Photo of Michelle diving by Joe Platko


Hi Nudi fans, my name is Michelle Manson and I LOVE Nudis! I currently live in Santa Cruz, CA just down the road from Monterey, CA which is where I predominantly dive every chance I get. I love cold water diving and I’m so happy to live on the west coast where I have easy access to so much diving where I can enjoy the amazing kelp forests and marine life that it supports. 

Hooded Nudibranch Melibe leonina on kelp
Hooded Nudibranch (Melibe leonina) on kelp by Michelle Manson


When and why did you start diving?

I’m a Pisces and have always been drawn to any activity that involved water so when I got a decent tax refund when I was in college, I decided to make my dream of getting scuba certified happen and got certified in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and let’s just say, I was hooked. I was spending my days off sitting at the local dive shop helping out which naturally led me to get my PADI instructor certification and taught soo many classes in Phoenix which led me to move to Catalina Island, CA to teach and then finally I ended up in Monterey, CA teaching there as well.

While I was teaching, I had someone offer to sell me an old Nikonos V set up and I thought, hmmm, while I’m not teaching that might be a cool way to enjoy the sport. I didn’t really start taking photos consistently, though, until I actually stopped teaching and had the time to enjoy taking photos and I have to say I loved it! I loved the hunt looking for critters and being able to show landlubbers the amazing underwater world.

Polycera atra nudibranch
Polycera atra nudibranch by Michelle Manson


Flabellina marcusorum nudibranch
Flabellina marcusorum nudibranch by Michelle Manson


Tell us a little about your setup! Dive gear & photography gear must haves

My first camera was a Nikonos V film camera which I shot for a very long time and while I miss film’s color saturation, going digital was a game changer.  I went from shooting a roll of film, turning it in for developing, going diving again, coming back turning that roll in and getting the previous one to see what mistakes I had made, several times a day to seeing the shot within seconds of pressing the shutter. 

My current setup I am very happy with and love the quality of the images. I shoot a Nikon D850 which was an upgrade from my previous crop-sensor setups.  I pair that with a Nauticam housing which works great for my grip and two Sea & Sea strobes.  I started with homemade snoots to isolate my subject but now use a Backscatter flash/snoot combo for my macro photography. Using a snoot has really opened up playing with my vision of the shot and how I want to showcase it.

Triopha catalinae nudibranch with eggs
Triopha catalinae nudibranch with eggs by Michelle Manson


Your favorite Nudibranchs and where you can find them

Oh wow, my favorite nudi? I can narrow it down to two which, lucky for me, happen to live on the West Coast, the Melibe lion’s mane and the Spanish Shawl.

The Lion’s mane or Melibe leonina is the best example of a cross between an underwater fairy and venus flytrap with rhinophores that look like teddy bear ears. Probably the cutest nudibranch you’ll see until it opens its flytrap mouth to feed and you’re like what the heck is THAT?!  We’ve had them showing up consistently in Monterey every year which has been a real treat.

The Spanish shawl or Flabellinopsis iodinea is also my favorite nudi.  Those bulky-orange to big for its face rhinophores and cerata that look like flames coming off their backs, these beauties range from Mexico all the way to Monterey, and they LOVE flapping in the current so it’s always a challenge trying to get the best photo of them.

Spanish Shawl (Flabellinopsis iodinea) Nudibranch
Spanish Shawl (Flabellinopsis iodinea) Nudibranch
Spanish Shawl (Flabellinopsis iodinea) Nudibranch by Michelle Manson


Hooded Nudibranch (Melibe leonina)
Hooded Nudibranch (Melibe leonina) by Michelle Manson


Your favorite place to dive and a few places at the top of your bucket list

By far, my favorite place to dive is any place on the west coast, preferably spots that have very thick kelp forests since my favorite thing to do is roam up and down the 50-foot stalks trying to see what critters I can find hiding in the kelp. I’m also a sucker for sea lions and harbor seals so if you throw them in with some kelp, I’m in heaven.  On my bucket list is diving both in Alaska, South Africa and the Galapagos Islands.

Smooth-tooth Aeolis (Apata pricei) Nudibranch
Smooth-tooth Aeolis (Apata pricei) Nudibranch by Michelle Manson


Some tips and tricks for other underwater photographers and your goals for underwater photography! 

Best advice I can suggest is never to forget to make it fun.  It’s super easy to get wrapped up in the pressure to get your shot and getting frustrated comes with combining an underwater activity while shooting marine life with an object that can potentially not work as well as just the pressure of other photographers and their shots.  Keep it simple and remember, you started taking photos because it was fun.

The best advice I was given was, “Get close to your subject, and if you think you are close enough, get closer.”

Nudibranch by Michelle Manson


Nudibranch by Michelle Manson


Nudibranch by Michelle Manson


Nudibranch by Michelle Manson


Thanks to Michelle for the writing and beautiful photos in this #PhotographerSpotlight 💕⁠ which photo is your favorite?⁠ Do you know someone that loves Nudibranchs & takes great photos of them? Email me so I can reach out!

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