Underwater Fashion Photography
I’m looking forward to doing another underwater fashion shoot in May. I’m still a beginner and have much to learn about doing underwater photography with models. So far I have done 4 or 5 shoots and have learned a lot from the experience!
I’m inspired by Howard Schatz who does incredible work! Doing an image search for “underwater fashion photography” using your favorite search engine will give you lots of beautiful images for more inspiration.
Underwater fashion photography is very challenging for the photographer and the model. I use a Canon G9 with the Canon WP-DC21 underwater housing, which protects the camera while allowing me to control it from outside the housing while I’m underwater. It’s a little scary submerging my camera so I’m very careful to make sure that there are no leaks. The controls are a slightly different than they are without the housing so it takes some practice to get used to them. I’d love to get an underwater housing for my DSLR too. Underwater housings for DSLRs are more expensive, but would give me more flexibility and image quality compared to compact cameras. The G9 is a pretty flexible compact camera, so it works well for me. Ikelite has a variety of housing systems for different cameras. Canon and Olympus have some more information on their websites.
For the model, posing underwater is challenging but fun! Models can quickly get cold in the water, so I work as quickly as possible. The model must be comfortable with opening her eyes underwater, and she should be able to relax and look natural. It’s really tough to do this when you’re underwater! The makeup artist should use waterproof makeup, however, even waterproof makeup comes off quite quickly underwater. The makeup artist will need to be standing by for touch ups. I like long flowing outfits for the models because they look so great underwater. Anything goes as long as it’s OK to get it wet!
I use a diving mask and snorkel to go underwater and get in position for the shot. The model then goes underwater for her pose. She must not only hold her breath and look natural with her eyes open, but also should avoid blowing bubbles. I also have fins so I can move more quickly in the water and a wetsuit for cold water. I bring lots of towels so the model can get warm and dry as quickly as possible. Once she starts shivering, the shoot is done!
Some of the photographic issues that I have encountered include color cast, focus and lighting. Underwater, the light has a very blue color cast. Some cameras (like the G9) have an underwater mode, which corrects for the blue. I also shoot in raw format (another nice feature of the G9), so I can make adjustments to the white balance during post-processing. The G9 is a little slow processing raw files though, so I can’t get many shots in before the model needs to go back to the surface for air.
Focus is a tricky because the model will appear to be much closer underwater than she actually is due to the magnification effect of the water. At first it confused me – I would prefocus above water and then submerge with the model only to find she is suddenly too close! So I learned to focus underwater and normally use autofocus. The G9 has face detection and different autofocus modes that help me to work quickly.
Lighting is challenging because light falls off quickly underwater. The water clarity will also effect the amount of light available. All my underwater shoots have been in pools with relatively clear water. However, lakes and ocean locations may be cloudy, limiting the amount of light. Bright sunlight works the best, so I like to shoot on a sunny day. The beams of light going through the water look great! However, sunny days are not always possible, especially in Vancouver. To deal with the low light, I usually use the maximum aperture (f2/.8 for the G9). I also have the SeaLife SL961 underwater strobe. It is triggered optically by a fibre optic cable attached to the outside of the housing in front of the camera’s built-in flash. It must be used fairly close to the model and the light quality is not great as it is a bare flash without modifiers, so I use it only when necessary. As a last resort, I increase the ISO. I don’t like to go above 400 with my camera due to the higher noise levels. One advantage of DSLR cameras is they have less noise at higher ISOs than compact cameras.
After the shoot, the next step is post-processing. I will normally increase the contrast, adjust the white balance, filter out the noise, and remove unwanted bubbles. Since the makeup fades easily underwater, I often will touch it up in Photoshop too.
I’ll be posting an update in May with the results of my next underwater shoot!
Here are some more of my underwater photos: