How To Do a Photo Shoot Underwater (Really!)
Recently, Benjamin Von Wong shared some hot tips on shooting fire. Now he goes to the other end of the spectrum with tricks to help you make a splash with underwater photography.
If you just want to give underwater photography a shot, chances are you’re not looking to spend thousands of dollars on an underwater housing. (Starter housings, like the Ikelite, cost over $1500, body only!) Luckily, there are alternatives. DicaPac, which is basically a glorified plastic bag, is quite secure and can house a full-frame DSLR and lens. Price tag: $75. Just remember to test it regularly by sealing it and putting in a sink/bathtub/toilet full of water to check for leaks. Manufacturers will not reimburse your camera costs if it leaks!
1. Water will affect your shot and your lighting!
As you probably know, the deeper you go, the less light reaches your subject. On top of that, water acts as a massive filter that eats up the entire spectrum of reds… which means that your shots will get bluer as you go deeper. Depending on lighting conditions, you might want to stay as close to the surface of the water as possible. This will give the best skin tones and keep your shutter speed from getting too slow. Additionally, the farther you are from your subject, the blurrier it will tend to become! Keep all of this in mind when planning your shots!
2. Radio triggers don’t work underwater!
If you were planning on triggering surface strobes using radio triggers, think again. Unfortunately, radio waves don’t travel through water. So you’re limited to optical triggering using underwater strobes, or hoping that your flash+plastic bag combination is powerful enough to trigger strobes on the surface.
If you plan on triggering using the on-camera flash, cover any part of the housing/bag directly in front of the internal flash with duct tape/gaffer tape. This will prevent backscatter from the internal flash that could ruin your image!
If you happen to be a bit on the handy side, look into this fabulous DIY solution.
Dave Reynolds, mastermind behind the Underwater Realm checks out his nifty underwater lights.
3. Plan for time! Things take 3 times longer to happen…at least.
Normally takes you 30 minutes to nail a shot? Don’t count on it. Things take exponentially longer to happen underwater. Everything is more complicated: framing, focusing, breathing, directing, changing settings, moving lighting. Even worse, as the day goes on, you get tired and things only get harder!
4. Think oxygen & comfort!
Niceties like breathing and staying warm are harder underwater.
Best case scenario: get an entire scuba kit.
Worst case scenario: grab some fins to increase your mobility.
Also consider suiting up with a full body wet suit . It will help keep you comfortable and ensure that your mind stays focused on creating the image rather than surviving hypothermia. Finally, be sure to bring snorkeling goggles over standard swimming goggles. Keeping water out of your nose will make your life so much more comfortable in the long run.
5. Beware the drowning face.
Unfortunately, most people tend to look quite ugly as they strike glorious graceful poses underwater. Many a time, shots are ruined because of a missed expression. Before taking photos of your models, run them through the poses underwater making sure that they’re comfortable. Getting them to perform the same routine over and over again while your attention is 100% focused on their face will help both parties understand what needs to be done to pull off the perfect expression.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to deal with the drowning face, some amazing portraits can be created by simply cutting off/obscuring the heads of your models. Brooke Shaden does this quite often in her amazing underwater works. (Beware: a lot of her stuff is NSFW).
6. Light floaty clothes and props are magical underwater.
Light, transparent clothing look amazing underwater and adds a sense of ethereal beauty to your images. Just keep in mind that it will hinder your model’s movements.
Underwater props will make things even more surreal as simple objects take on a whole new meaning. Some starter ideas: guitar, chair, flowers.
7. Run through breathing and visualization techniques to help improve your shots.
Speaking of drowning expressions, one thing that will greatly help you stay underwater longer and get a better expression is to perform a combination of visualization techniques and breathing exercises.
Surprisingly, it is not the lack of oxygen that triggers the urge for air after you hold your breath, but the body’s buildup of carbon dioxide. That can be controlled with a little practice.
8. Bring swim noodles and lead weights!
Swim noodles are the perfect flotation device, allowing your models to (literally) hang out rather than swim to the edge of the pool/lake/sea after each take. They’re long, bright, hard to lose and ridiculously useful.
Lead weights, on the other hand, can be useful for sinking your models rapidly. This saves time and energy if you need your model at the bottom of a deep-water environment, like a pool.
9. Prepare a safety person.
I cannot stress how important this final point is. Having somebody standing by to help your model if, for example, she becomes entangled in clothes is absolutely critical. Water is dangerous. You always want people on-hand just in case anything goes wrong.
Manly guy with the massive GATES underwater camera system is Richard Stevensen doing a practice filming run on the folks of the Underwater Realm.
And finally, inspiration from some great creative underwater photographers:
• Zena Holloway
• Elena Kalis
• Alix Malka
And here’s a behind the scenes video on how I shot the Underwater Realm:
Ready to dive into underwater photography? Check out Benjamin’s blog (where these tips came from) or follow him on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.