The dreamy surreal look of an Underwater Photoshoot with a Model can be alluring to us creative types. The challenges to make an image with that look and feel require some preparation.
The first step is finding a model who is comfortable in the water. Competition swimmers are usually good at being able to relax their face, so it doesn’t look like they are holding their breath.
And then when your model first goes under the water there are millions of distracting bubbles everywhere. This can cause your autofocus to go into overdrive trying to find the subject. I found that pre-focusing on the model above the water and maintaining the same distance under the water created a higher percentage of in-focus photos.
There were many failed attempts to get the model’s hair to flow properly. When she descended below the water her hair would hang above her head and then with just a little movement towards the surface her hair would flatten against her face. You have to wait for the moment when the model’s hair begins to relax around her ears, wait for the bubbles to dissipate and hope she has enough breath to hold the pose before pressing the shutter.
One thing that helps the model stay in position is to take a deep breath in and then breath OUT before you go under. Breathing out makes you sink to the bottom of the pool. For the photographer, wearing a scuba weight belt helps to keep you from bobbing around like a champagne cork!
My Canon 5D and a 24mm lens was protected with a EWA marine waterproof bag.
I started out making test shots of my assistant using only the natural light. This gave me a baseline to know where to overpower the ambient light with strobes and sculpt the light only where I wanted it to land on the model. The daylight balanced manufactured light also helped to avoid any color casts and keep the model’s hair red.
For the shoot, I used 2 Elinchrom Quadras, one with a gridded softbox directly overhead on a boom, and the other with a cone to concentrate the light on the model’s face. An Elinchrom BX400 was used as a fill light. All the strobes were triggered with Pocket Wizard’s Flex TT5s.
A note to the wise, radio waves do not work underwater. But at approximately 4” below the surface they worked well. Anything deeper than that and you need to use an optical signal to sync your lights, or go big and get some underwater lights.