Ah, this post has been a long time coming. The “Underwater Sirens” Series was the culmination of a month long planning and preparation this past August. We tested and tweaked our settings and camera setups until we go to the point where we can express underwater in the same way we do above. This post is a slight departure in that it gets very technical very quickly, I will do my best to keep it readable.
First, the question must be asked, why photograph underwater in the first place? The simple answer is that summers in Central Texas are hot, like cook an egg on the sidewalk at 7am hot. Pools are nice and cool. We can work longer in the water. The more serious answer is that water and the other elements have always fascinated me. Some years ago I became a licensed scuba diver and enjoyed seeing the earth from a new perspective which is a photographer’s job anyhow. This all combined to give us a series in the water. The crazy sirens/zombie/monster thing is just my brain playing around with ideas and notions. Partly inspired by the walking dead of Pirates of the Caribbean movies, partly by the sci-fi books I read.
Second, how did we make these photographs?
Let’s breakdown the process. A camera has to go underwater to take underwater photos, well, most of the time. We use a housing from Surf Housings to secure our Canon 5d II under and around the waves. This housing is light and agile enough to be used to depths of 33 feet and the pistol grip is superb for one hand shooting, more on that in a bit. Most scuba housings are rated for depth much deeper and need more bulk to seal the camera securely. I have rented some of them and just too bulky for my needs and workflow, and too expensive! For focal length simplicity I either use a 24-105 zoom and tape down my preferred focal length or use primes to continue my one hand shooting. Gaffer tape for the win.
The next thing we have to overcome is the control of light underwater, and this is where things get interesting/tough/pull your hair out. My initial thought was to get a strong enough underwater flashlight thing and then cover the top layer of the water with black material to kill ambient. That was a non-starter because you need a good working distance and the underwater torches lose their power very quickly. The next thought was my normal radio frequency trigger, the Paul C Buff CST and CSRB’s. They do work underwater, all the way out to 18 inches. We have found that an radio + optical is the way to go for us for now. Is that enough qualifiers?
I use the camera in the surf housing in my right hand with a stripped down CST in the housing connected by pc sync. In my left hand I have a battery powered flash inside an otterbox pointed towards my second and third lights which are set to receive in optical mode. The second light is a LumoPro 160 held underwater by my assistant and the third is a Einstein 640 sitting on the edge of the pool boomed out over the water pointed down into the water. This was my basic setup for the entirety of the shoot. I did change a sport reflector to a 24×36 softbox to protect against splashing once we got more crazy action going. And then at the very end near darkness I used a scuba flashlight for my main light.
Third, what did we learn from all of this?
Underwater takes 3x as much time to make decent photographs and a crew twice the size of our normal routine. Please plan your shoots accordingly. Sandbags are vital for anchoring down lightstands above water and people underwater!
Finally, thanks again to all the models, makeup artists and venue hosts that made this shoot and others like it possible. We all have a little whimsy in us and I appreciate those that let me express mine! And thanks to Jan and Austin for taking some of the behind the scenes photos