Underwater Photography – 13 Incredible Photos You’ve Never Seen Before
The world underwater is a mysterious and magical place. That’s the reason why we asked Lexi Laine, an Underwater Fine Art Photographer from the UK, to share her knowledge about creating amazing photos underwater.
Underwater Fine Art Photographer – Lexi Laine:
“The question I am asked the most about my underwater portraiture is how do I do it? It’s quite an open-ended question for any photographer, and I’m sure it’s one we’re all asked frequently. And the answer is like with any form of photography there are quite a few different elements to consider, plus a few more specific to being underwater. I’ve put together this post to talk a little bit about what I do. I’m definitely not claiming to know it all about underwater photography, so I’m just going to talk about what I’ve learned over the last ten years of my creative experiments.
First things first, you’ll need some sort of underwater camera or a way of making your current camera protected. If you’re just testing the water (pun intended) and you’re not sure if you want to invest thousands on housing for your pro camera, then there are a few ways to experiment with creative underwater portraiture before you take the full leap. When I first started dabbling in underwater photography, I bought a second-hand Nikonos camera which was a dedicated underwater 35mm film camera made in the 1970s. It was a tank of a camera, pretty hard to get shots in focus but it had a charm that gave me the bug, and I haven’t looked back since then. Another way to experiment without a huge investment is to use a go pro or quite a few brands these days make underwater compact cameras which can get surprisingly good results.
I’ve used a few different cameras over the years, but these days I shoot on a Sony A7iii and Sony A7Riii with housing made by Nauticam. It wasn’t cheap, but the amazing focus abilities of the Sony Alpha range just blows me away. And the detail they capture means I can sell really large prints of my photos knowing they will still look good. The main lens I use for most of my underwater stuff is the Sony 28mm f2 which I find is the perfect focal length for me.
What gear will you really use?
The whole setup is a pretty reasonable size which is another thing I’ve really appreciated since switching to this system. For most DSLRs or mirrorless systems, you’ll need to buy a housing and ports (that are designed for specific lenses), and there are many other bits to consider too like wide angle wet lenses, strobes, vacuum valves to name a few. All of this can add up to tens of thousands, so it’s definitely worth making sure it’s something you’re sure about before investing.
Some people choose a dry bag style case for their camera as a cheaper option when trying out underwater photography. You know the see-through kind of bag with a built-in bit for your lens to stick into and a roll top clip? I can totally see the appeal of these, they are pretty affordable, and as long as you don’t mind taking the risk of them leaking, then they can be good as an experiment. They can be pretty tricky to make any changes to settings though once they are inside. A better option, in my opinion, is to buy a kit second hand – these things don’t come up on eBay very often, but with a lot of people switching to mirrorless right now, it could be a way to bag a bargain.
Also, don’t forget to join our LOOKSLIKEFILM group on Facebook. And now let’s go back to the stunning collection of Underwater Photography by Lexi Laine.
Talking of gear, another thing I’m asked about is what equipment I use to stay underwater? Well, I’m a freediver, so it means I don’t use scuba equipment. Freediving is all about the art of diving down on one breath of air, so the only gear I use is a mask, fins and sometimes a weight belt. I feel like it gives me a much better connection with whoever I’m photographing if I do away with all the scuba gear. I train with an awesome club in the UK called NoTanx whose philosophy is about relaxation and enjoyment, and it has taken my ability to hold my breath up a notch. There are freediving clubs all over the world, but if you’re reading this and based in the UK, then I recommend these guys for sure.
Let’s talk about light. That key thing that we all spend our early years as photographers learning how to master. Well, light is light right? And underwater it isn’t that different to above water really? Well sort of, but there are a few big differences. Water absorbs different wavelengths of light to different extents. The longest wavelengths are absorbed first. The colors disappear underwater in the same order as they appear in the color spectrum. Red is the first to go, followed by orange & yellow. Even at just two meters under the surface, you’ll get a noticeable loss of red in your photographs. There are a few ways to work around this. You can use strobes or video lights to create a bit of light on your subject. Or you can use white balance to correct raw files to a certain extent. Filters can be used to remove some of the blue/green looks too. I personally just love working with natural light, so the latter two of these options usually work for me. Staying pretty near to the surface makes it easier to work with the light, and I don’t mind colors looking a bit off – I think it adds to the surrealness sometimes. And black and white is a good fall back option if all else fails!
I have worked with quite a few different underwater models over the years. Some were friends or people I met while traveling and others were professional models. One thing I’ve learned is that it can be pretty unpredictable who will look natural underwater. Being a model above water definitely doesn’t equal looking good underwater. A lot of professional underwater models got into the career because of their love of scuba or freediving and therefore have an affinity with being at ease while holding their breath.
It should go without saying really, but I must say at this point that whoever you shoot underwater, please make sure that they are a strong swimmer (and you yourself for that matter) The first rule of any kind of diving is never to dive alone. So please make sure you have a safety person or two at all shoots, someone who is comfortable with diving under the surface to whatever depth you are working in. I know a lot of photographers can be risk takers when it comes to getting the perfect shot, but it’s seriously not worth the risk of life.
Putting a model into a big wedding dress may seem like a great idea, but if they can’t stay above water, then you will be in trouble. The best, safest option is to shoot in a location where they can comfortably stand up and still have their head above water. When I first started doing underwater photography, I approached my insurance company to get my gear covered but also increased my liability cover too. It has more than doubled the amount that I pay for insurance now, but it’s really important to be fully covered.
Directing models for underwater shots can be a big challenge. The best way I describe it to people is that imagine you are taking a portrait of someone who is wearing a blindfold. And then imagine that you as the photographer have a gag over your mouth. So you can’t talk to them while you’re taking shots and you can’t even make eye contact with them because they can’t see anything at all. It’s one of the fun challenges that I’ve really learned to embrace. It means that your directing all happens above the surface before you go underwater, so you have to be really clear about poses, positions, hair and dress arrangement, everything!
Finding the best way to communicate underwater…
I got really lucky a few years ago when I met my friend Iara while on holiday – she now features in a lot of my underwater work as she is the most naturally at ease person underwater I have ever met. In fact, when I first met her, she told me she was a mermaid, so I knew from the start that things were going to work out well! Over the years of working together, we have formed a way of communicating so that I swear sometimes it seems she can read my mind underwater.
Location wise, swimming pools are a great place to start. Outdoor pools will be much better for light than indoor unless you’re working with studio lights or strobes. I love shooting in wild environments like the ocean or inland bodies of water. I love the interest of natural topography; rocks, roots, sand, not to mention fish and other sea life. I always make sure that whoever I’m working with are comfortable with swimming by testing them in a pool first – you can never be too safe.
Choose the location wisely…
Location hunting can be the hardest part of my work, and I’ve spent years driving, walking, climbing, swimming and diving my way to find the kind of backdrops and light I like to work in. Not only does the backdrop need to be interesting but I really need good water clarity and calm waters for how I shoot. Too often, all of the conditions can be just perfect only to be ruined by a swarm of jellyfish or recently even a crocodile(!).
Underwater photography is definitely not easy, but worth the effort when everything comes together for sure. The most magical light I’ve found has been a few meters under the surface, and that’s what photography is all about right? I’ve found it the most playful way to create interesting portraits. When gravity is reduced, you can really have some fun creating shots that just wouldn’t be possible above water.
This kind of photography allows me to express myself; like a lot of photographers, I want to explore my place in this world and my existence on this planet. I see my work as a kind of dreamscapes that I want to transport my viewers into, and hopefully, people can find their own personal meanings in the images.”
Lexi Laine – Underwater Fine Art Photographer
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