Underwater Photography, Part One – shoot concept and test shots


just keep swimming, just keep swimming. no really. don’t drown.

I have always had a love affair with water and mermaids.  I never understood why Ariel wanted to become human in the “The Little Mermaid” because I would have traded places with her in a heartbeat.  Underwater photography is something I have always wanted to try but it’s a bit difficult when you don’t have a pool and also can’t afford to buy fancy equipment.   In college I was able to do a few underwater shoots using anything from a Kodak disposable camera to borrowing an acquaintance’s scuba camera gear. For a hobby photographer on a modest salary, even renting equipment seemed prohibitively expensive, especially when factoring the cost of renting a pool.  A thousand dollars for a day shoot?  Not that likely, even with my models chipping in to help out with the cost of all this.  So when I fortuitously got a hookup to a private pool through the friend of a friend who was house sitting at an amazingly posh house, I jumped at the chance.

I’ll take a moment here to highly recommend  – I have used them several times now and it’s just the best, simplest way to rent equipment for a shoot that you couldn’t otherwise afford.  I’ve rented lenses, cameras, and now casings.  Totally easy, fuss-free, and pretty affordable all considered.  I rented the Aquatech case for the Canon 7D.  It was amazing!

The main inspiration of our photo shoot was the Chinese fairy tale “Madame White Snake”, also referenced as “White Snake, Green Snake” or “Lady White Snake.”  It’s the subject of movies, Chinese opera, and a number of TVB series, featuring two sisterly snake demons who take on human form.  My friend AJ has always adored the playful character of Green Snake (check out her other cosplay and a dance homage to this character), and she wanted to do an underwater shoot to get the neat CG effect of this series of artworkWei-Ling has been AJ’s White Snake partner and as a fellow waterbaby, I really wanted to shoot her in the pool as well.

We were really all going to get our money’s worth out of this equipment, so we scheduled a shoot to also include the lovely Laura whom I had previously shot at Preston Castle.  Wayne planned to shoot her in several different outfits – and I thought,  I might as well make myself a sea nymph costume as well to fulfill my mermaid dreams.

bubbles!  my bubbles.

bubbles! my bubbles.

We scheduled the day of the shoot as far in advance as possible and the two costumers got to work designing and sewing their costumes.  One week before our scheduled shoot, we had the good luck to be able to do a test shoot at the location.  I was very concerned at how difficult it might be for our models to safely swim in their heavy outfits.  Swimming is one thing; trying to model underwater is entirely different.  We’re all good swimmers but I have read horror stories of poor brides getting pulled underwater during their “trash the dress” shoots and drowning – safety first!  Plus doing a run through of our shoot allowed everyone to practice posing, see how our fabrics reacted underwater, and a chance for me to check out the lighting conditions.  I don’t mind admitting my greatest fear was that our models would be disappointed in their shots because of my inexperience in this setting.




go go GoPro camera

go go GoPro camera

For the test day, I rented a GoPro camera but I ended up not really using that and going with my iPhone camera inside a scuba suit.  The GoPro was fantastic and easy to use in terms of making it take pictures, but hard for framing as there is no preview.  Luckily the very wide angle let me see everything that was going on in the scene anywhere I had the camera pointed, so I was able to get a fairly good idea of the lighting conditions and how the images would appear on the day of the shoot.

I’m super pleased with our test results from just using the iPhone, though!  I have an iPhone Scuba Suit that I had bought for a Cabo trip and it worked really well. I believe it only fihts the 4/4S, but there are other waterproof cases for the Iphone5.  This actually suited my needs really well for the test shoot day and I was very encouraged by our shots that day – my anxiety level went down and we all felt much more prepared.

Plus, after our test shots, we had time to goof off.

underwater pyow!!!

underwater pyow!!!

Lessons learned from that day:
1) underwater modeling is far harder than swimming.  After a two hour session, I was completely exhausted.
2) stick with light, bright colors.
3) less is more for makeup – stick with just eyeliner and maybe some cream-based shadow.  MAC gel eyeliner works great (magical stuff!), and this Aqua Seal from Sephora really did the trick for the rest of our eye makeup.  Test makeup stayed on for two hours in the pool!  We skipped lipsticks, but figured a stain would work better.


Stay tuned next time to see some of the shots from our day!

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