I like to shoot underwater, not only because I am into diving, but there is also some demand for it - especially from the model side. Must be because underwater shootings are a standard feature on those freaky wannabe-model TV shows. Dive, duckface-smile and get your shot ... well, it isn't that easy. Because no one hears you scream underwater. And no one hears me swear either.
Underwater shootings are easy. Just hop into a pool, dive, give a happy-happy smile and *click* you are done. Underwater shooting? Done that, got the t-shirt and the mug. Mom! Dad! Facebook friends! Look! I can open my eyes underwater! And I can make a duckface, too! A big "say cheeeese" ear-to-ear grin captured with a wide angle lens! And no one effing cares that *everyone* sees that it's made in our local communal swimming pool, because there are tiles everywhere, even in the surface reflection. Hell yeah. It could be that easy. Unfortunately not for me. I tend to be - much to my own dismay - somewhat complicated when it comes to underwater shootings. And complicated for a reason that is.
Using Light to Kill Light
When working in a pool I do have to work with strobes. There is usually plenty of available light, but this would mean that there are also plenty of tiles. So I have to light the scene to have at least a chance to get rid of that horrible pool feeling* (unless of course you are shooting swimwear or sports). But water sucks light. It also sucks colours. And underwater strobes are somewhat asthmatic when it comes to wattseconds. Means the model must have the capability to hold a certain position for some time, not for the focus - that one being on continuous mode - but for the light. Which is a problem when floating in water. So fixing the model at the desired spot is the only feasible solution. Just tie her down. Heels with concrete. Fashionable Mafia-Style. An offer that no model can refuse, so to speak. Works like a charm - but then the breathing issue arises.
Contrary to popular belief even models are human beings. They need to breathe. They need to be safe. So you need someone who provides just that: air and safety. Not just an additional diver. You'll need a scuba instructor. Someone who knows the ropes - no pun intended. Someone the model can trust. Which already adds some more complexity to the entire venture. This can be organised, though. But this isn't the biggest problem, because you'll find it hard to breathe. Even with air supplied. Because your brain is telling you not to.
Now, here is the thing: Try breathing through a snorkel when submerged, but *without* a diving mask. Uh-oh - surprise, surprise. That's called the "nose-water reflex". It kicks in to protect you from drowning. The civilised part of your brain will tell you that you can breathe using a snorkel or regulator. But the other part of your brain - the primitive prehistoric part, responsible for fighting or running, mating or sleeping - will tell your body a completely different story. It tells your civilized ego to take a break and have a fag somewhere. And then Mr. or Mrs. Neanderthal will take over. In a big and nasty way. Your breathing *will* stutter, and soon panic will show up for a quick dip with you too. Breathing may even become impossible, regardless of the 2000 litres of fresh air to your disposal.
So, above all the model needs to control and overcome this natural reflex. This can be learned, but it has to be learned, and that's why the safety diver is always a diving instructor. So, prior to the shoot comes the diving lesson. Not like in the afore mentioned TV shows where it is most likely the most lame excuse to show girls in swimsuits, but a proper diving session. Which will make the model confident and calm - even if the set sometimes more resembles a warzone than a shooting location. And a calm and relaxed model makes me swear much less.
So, picture this: It is dark. It tends to be cold. Your movement is heavily restricted by the lighting - but also by the even heavier weight on your feet. It is at least difficult to breathe. Your posing will not work the same way as it does above water in a warm, dry studio. You will also look different. Your posing has to be slow. Very slow. You can't talk, nor can anyone talk to you. All communication is done by signs and claps on your shoulder. You don't see a thing. That's what a shooting underwater is about. If everything is running to plan.
To sum it up: You have to be confident in yourself and you have to be able to trust strangers. That includes people like me. A shooting underwater is never easy, unless you are in for tiles and that pool feeling. But that's not my thing. I am doing this, because I am planning a certain shot, at a given time and a given place somewhere in the sea. That's why I can't fake it now. If I would do so, no one would trust the results that I may come up with later.
If you are, however, driven by similar ambitions and therefore still interested in having your picture taken underwater then let me know. But try the snorkling thing** in your bathroom first.
* Photoshop is not an option. At least not for me, I am not into paintings. If you start to PS it, it is easier to do the shooting in a studio environment. And to add water in Photoshop. If you can't light it, don't dive it, but fake it.
** Get yourself a snorkel. Have a dip in your bathtub. Submerge. Open your eyes. Breathe. If you can't breathe, hold your nose. Try again. A-ha. However, holding your nose under water will ruin the make-up. And it will make you look like Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer ;)