How to Shoot Underwater Portraits

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Underwater photography is a complex medium yet can be one of the most beautiful photographic projects that anyone can undertake, but photographing underwater has its share of difficulties and complexities.

However some underwater photographs can be done with some planning and right on your own pool or wherever a pool is available rather than on a lake or the ocean.

I have seen examples of this type of photography and it has never ceased to amaze me how realistic and fantastic the images seem to be.

This type of photographic technique has been practiced since at least the 1930s by truly innovative and creative artists.

This project is not that hard but it definitely needs some planning and preparation as well as some specialized equipment. Underwater photography portraits is not similar to any other photo project so think before you decide to do this or any other similar project.

You do not need to go and get an underwater specific camera, your regular 35mm will do as long as you enclose it in a good underwater housing and these can range in price from $399 to over $800 for all major brands of cameras including smaller digital versions at about $99. But the added cost of one of these can greatly increase your photographic horizon.

The particular project under discussion is to create fantasy portraits done under the surface of the water. You will need models who are comfortable with clothing and water together as the project involves having a model don a piece of clothing and going under the surface while you snap the shots.

The best photographs are obtained when the articles of clothing are those that feature flanges and extensions much like robes or fancy dresses. The water will make these appendages float in unusual ways as will the hair of your model.

Sometimes you will not need to use a fancy dress which by the way will probably be unusable afterward if you use a pool due to the chlorination, but any piece of clothing and/or by attaching several pieces of ribbon or any such materials pretty much the effect can be similarly duplicated.

Your model should be instructed to "walk" towards the camera. Other good images can be obtained as the model slowly sinks or just meanders at the bottom. You may have to take several images since often pieces of clothing or hair get in the face of the model thus obscuring it.

Try to not record the images too close to the border or side walls of the pool if they are painted in any color except white.

The project should also be done during the daylight hours or if you have a powerful underwater ready flash unit then at night even better since everything with the exception of the model will show up black thus adding emphasis to the model.

Larger Olympic size pools are great for this and many community center will allow you to conduct your project there after paying a small fee.

Do not overburden your model with too much clothing or bulky items since maneuvering underwater is hard enough and people quickly lose balance and begin to float sideways.

If you feel that you really want to be creative then think of using images that show impossible scenes and use them here. With water you can "freeze" the action and record images that seem to be frozen in time and for better examples see the enclosed image samples such as the soccer player.

Keep in mind that your models is holding her air and therefore you must compose and record the images rather quickly. Your model will not be able to see you as clearly either so please just give general directions and don't expect her to focus on you or make a particular pose. This time you will have to be the one doing most of the work besides snapping the shots.

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Some of the best costumes or dresses can be obtained at very modest prices at most party supplies stores and costume shops. The details of the dresses need not be that fancy.

Always discuss with your model the details about your expectations and try to plan some shots such as having her wave her arms while you record the images.

It is always very advisable to have an assistant to carefully monitor the model in case of unplanned difficulties who can quickly enter the pool and assist her.

Another helpful suggestion is to conduct an Internet search of similar images and gather ideas of what it is that you would like to accomplish with your project and to share these images samples with your model and assistant.

Don't leave everything to them you are in charge and should clearly explain what you want the outcome to be.

If the end results are not up to your expectations, several digital software programs can prove to be very helpful in clearing and enhancing the images and adding other effects that will make the images good enough to be published.

Keep in mind that most underwater photographs will carry a 'bluish" tint and the image should then be digitally color corrected. Follow the link for an excellent site full of tutorials and expert advice in using Photoshop.

Your best shots especially those that stand out from the rest can then be submitted to photographic stock houses and to general photographic publications as well as to specialized media.

Be creative as this technique allows you to get some shots and poses that are impossible in any other setting. Take advantage of this and come up with ideas and shots that defy reason and the law of gravity, let your artistic persona explode.

If you really want to see some exciting and excellent underwater photography, please visit the site of Zena Holloway who has gained international fame and prestige with the technique.

© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez

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Comments 13 comments

Emma Harvey profile image

Emma Harvey 5 years ago from Berkshire, UK

This isn't something I have really looked at before, but it really is amazing. I can understand that it can be quite complex to photograph under water, but the results are stunning. I would pay for a photographer to do my portrait under water.


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 5 years ago from Jamaica

Interesting project. I would love to try this...as the model. I love water!


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

Cardisa: thank you and I am not surprised


Lynn S. Murphy 5 years ago

Beautiful and informative as always Luis. This one sadly is not going to be on my list. I don't do UNDER water. But I can admire from afar!


Rachelle Williams profile image

Rachelle Williams 5 years ago from Tempe, AZ

These are beautiful...Thanks for sharing.


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

Emma Harvey: Thank you , this is one of the hardest but most creative photo projects that one can do.


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

Rachelle Williams: Thanks, glad you liked it


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Underwater photography is an amazing technique. Thanks for the information about it!


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

randomcreative: Thank you


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

Lynn: Don't be a chicken...lol...use a pool!


FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

I can't swim, so I can't see me as either the photographer or the model.


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 5 years ago from North Carolina

Fascinating! I have seen it done on top model before, but the photos were never as artistic as this. Very interesting!


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

Tammyswallow: Thank you

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