Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Swimming with the Fishies!

Hallelujah for new experiences! Last weekend I got to experience my first underwater photo shoot and it was a wild ride.

Last year my friend and fellow photographer Suzanne Clements had a pool installed in her backyard in Florida.  In her words, she "hounded and hounded" me with the possibility of exploring under water photography. I don't remember it as hounding, I just remember setting a date as soon as the pool would be warm enough!

In preparation for this undertaking, I studied Brook Shaden's wonderful video about shooting in a pool as well as Jennifer Thoreson's workshop on Create Live! where she shoots in a shallow, constructed baby pool-esque container.  I even made an underwater Pinterest board to collect ideas and see what was possible.  There's a lot of amazing underwater work out there that I respect even more now that I've tried it.

I found a few vintage dresses with full skirts and bright colors with this shoot in mind. My iPhone got a brand new shiny underwater housing.  I justified this by rationalizing that I could use it when kayaking too.  

It turns out thinking about a project can be quite different from the actual experience!  I can't remember the last time I went swimming, but I remember enjoying it years ago...    Super excited, I got into the pool and pulled down the mask to cover my eyes and my nose since I figured I didn't need to think about getting water where it didn't belong AND dealing with a camera.  At that point I had a little panic/claustrophobic attack.  That was unexpected! After a few stern words to myself, I went underwater and shot a few frames. Once I saw the possibilities, my fear evaporated and the right side of my mind said water - what water - get to work?!?  

There is a huge potential for happy accidents when shooting under water. I wish I could say that I saw this shot, carefully composed it, and shot exactly what I wanted, but that would be a big 'ole lie!  The truth is I was quickly floating back to the surface in dire need of a breath and using the spray and pray method of shooting. Whatever works, right?

Dealing with the color shifts and changing light was a challenge.  With full sun we had the typical pool water highlights.  I was delighted at the difference in the feel of the shots when the clouds came out.  We were only shooting in a pool that was 6 feet deep at the far end but with the super soft light, the background in the images appeared to stretch out much farther.  Without the water highlights on the floor of the pool, I could stretch that effect out even more in post processing quite easily.

Also - remember to shake things up.  Shoot from outside the water too. Have the model outside and shoot up through the water.  The possibilities seem limitless.

And now for some of my lessons learned:
  • If you are using a new camera or an old camera with a new housing - it pays to practice before you even come close to the water.
  • Take a few minutes to get accustomed to shooting under water.  Figure out your ISO and f stops to make sure your images won't be a blurry mess.  Then start to notice your background and reflections.  It took me a lot of trial and error to get my framing correct so I caught those amazing reflections on the surface of the water.
  • Remember to give it a second after your model goes under to let the bubbles dissipate.
  • Check your camera for water drops on the lens or housing if you start shooting out of the water or you will have random white blobs.
  • Sinking to the bottom or floating to the top - just keep shooting!
  • There was so much to think about that I thought my head might explode! Taking the occasional break to examine what you've shot and do a little on the spot critique will help to fine tune what you are doing.  It felt like a 500 mile race.  The shots started out a little wacky but I kept making changes until I was getting more consistent results.

Below are some lessons learned from the model's perspective:

  • A little goes a long way… there's probably no need to spastically flail around… think slow, steady movement.
  • Don't worry about trying to actually swim - you will not succeed… the clothing will drag you around. Instead figure out what the clothing will allow you to do and find a way to work with it.
  • Don't forget to pause here and there for the benefit of your photographer.
  • Check back frequently with your photographer to find out what's working and what's not.  (Melissa comment - especially if your photographer gets lost in the big picture and instead of giving you instructions just keeps muttering to herself ooooh pretty!)
  • Explore with different depths… you might not actually have to drown yourself for a great photo.
  • Take occasional breaks to drain ALL the water from your sinuses ;)
  • Oh and don't forget ear drops. Those are good for after the shoot to get water out of them ears of yers.
  • When underwater, concentrate on softening your expression. Plenty of us squint hard to keep water out of our eyes and noses… try to just let go and think soft.
Suzanne's cat Mr. Noodles did an excellent job
supervising our photo shoot.  I was
precariously balanced on this ledge when he
decided that I was in his way!

Upcoming Exhibition Schedule

Friday June 20, 2014
I will be the featured artist at the Walton and Main Studios for Lexington's Gallery Hop, 5:00 to 8:00pm.  

June 1, 2014 - July 30, 2014
310 Art Gallery, Asheville, NC
An Invitational Exhibition of National Artists working in Encaustic and Cold Wax - I have three pieces in this show.

September 2014
Three person show - "Remnants" at the MS Rezny Studio and Gallery.

March 2015
Solo show at the Fifth Avenue Art Gallery in Melbourne, FL.


  1. incredible work and I loved reading about your experience probably because, as a swimmer, I love the water

    1. Thanks Cathy! I'm back to loving the water too. Suzanne couldn't get me out of the pool once I got used to it again. I've had 3 of these pieces printed now and I started working on them last night. Water shots and encaustic go together so nicely!