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How to Make and Photograph Your Own Shipwreck

Updated on December 31, 2014
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years. Hope you enjoy my hubs!

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) | Source

Make your own shipwreck is not a crazy suggestion inducing you to go get a boat or ship and purposely sinking it to take some shots but it does involve you creating miniaturized "shipwrecks" to photograph. Sounds like fun doesn't it?

You will need to either apply your arts and crafts talents or model building know how or have someone do it for you. Alternatively, there are many modeling shops or hobby stores which regularly sell already made sets but these can often be a little pricey. Much cheaper to do it yourself and probably more fun too.

Among the items that you will need are a large enough fish tank preferably one that is rather wider and you should considered building your own from sheets of glass or plexiglass and some silicone glue.

The images look better if the "ship" is placed at the back of the tank away from the front glass element. You will also need sand, rocks and a photographic softening filter and a blue photographic filter to create the deep ocean hues. You can also use Photoshop to create eerie underwater scenes that will add realism to your images.

If you cannot locate a blue photo filter, then adding a small piece of blue cellophane to the light source may do the trick and off course there is always Photoshop. For a softening effect in case you cannot locate a softening filter either, then slightly spreading some petroleum jelly on your lens produces similar effects.

The best models for this project are the plastic ones sold at most hobby shops. depending on the type of shipwreck; ancient or modern, you will also need paints and a small blowtorch.

Start by painting the hull of the models before assembling them; brownish/wood for ancient wrecks and metallic/silver for modern ones.

Do not be too picky on the paint, just ensure that you cover the entire outer parts. Other ships accessories such as bells, life boats, housing, motors, sails and so on should be painted in the colors used by real vessels.

The net can give you a good idea of what these colors are plus most sets have detailed instructions. Do not be too concerned with the interiors unless you plan to prominently use them in the final image. Do not worry if the painting is not 100% realistic looking, that's what the softening filter and Photoshop are for; they slight blur or "soften" the entire scene.

Once the paint sets and you have fully assembled the model and waited for the glue to cure then cut some rough lines and rough round shapes or basically irregular shapes into a piece of cardboard, place it against the painted hull and light paint spray with mostly non glossy black colors. this is used to simulated tears and scratches which a ship suffers as it breaks or tears on its way to the ocean floor and the effects of its landing at the bottom.

The blow torch mentioned at the beginning is to make some rough holes into the sides or bottom of the ship but be careful not do it too much and pay attention to the burning plastic as its melting can get out of hand very quickly. Make sure to keep a water spray bottle near to quickly extinguish any flames or stop the melting process.

Sails and other softer or cloth materials can be teared by hand; all tears must be rough, straight even lines do not work too well.

Once you are finished with the models and you have it looking the way you want it to then assemble the sand on the fish tank and carefully place the finished model on it. remember to place some lead fishing weights in the inside of your model to keep it from floating.

Make sure to have some sand covering the bottom of the ship in an irregular pattern as to create the illusion of it having gone into the ground not just laying on top of it. Next you should assemble your rocks which may require some paint touch ups to simulate marine growth; light grays and greens are good with light touches of reds. Use large "boulders" and smaller rocks.

A useful tool is to use a painted dark green piece of cardboard with splatters of black, grey and white paint place behind the fish tank to simulate the ocean depths. Place it about 2 to 4 inches behind the tank.

Commence inundating the tank but do so gently to prevent your model from being dislodged. Keep in mind that you will need to do further positioning after the water has been added. Wait to the sand to settle and prepare your photo gear. The best effects are obtained when the project is shot at night or in a dark studio with only one light source directed from above at the model.

The best fixture is a photo snoot and you can pretty much make your own from several materials. However even this narrow bean of light will provide enough illumination to still highlight other elements and the background.

Place your camera lens very close to the side of the glass and it should preferably be mounted on a tripod to minimize the chances of movement being recorded in your images. Use the widest aperture that your lens allows. this is used to create blur in any background and further enhance the atmosphere of the scene and don't forget to place the softening filter on the lens too.

Keep some small amounts of fine sand in hand. This will be slowly added at the top of the tank to simulate the conditions found in the ocean. The objective is to have water that it's not perfectly clear and the sand also has a diffusing effect upon the light spreading even further and adding an "deep ocean" effect to the scene.

Make you own shipwreck scene

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

Make sure not to use these models for actual fish tank decoration if you intent to keep live fish or plants as many of the paints and adhesives can be harmful to them.

Your model's glue and paints will also start to slowly dissolve in water so eventually your model will fall apart. Once you are finished with the photos, take the models out of the water and let them dry out of the Sun. They will then be ready for display or to be reused at a later time.

If you intend on reusing the tank afterwards to keep live fish and plants, then wash the inside with plain soap and water and let it dry completely before introducing livestock & vegetation.

These images can be used for some technical photographic publications, hobby publications and maybe for some arts & crafts publications. Very good images can also be used to submit to other publications and photo stock houses.

However the majority should be used as a way of further enhancing your photography skills and as a way of practicing the art.

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© 2012 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • KimberlyLake profile image

      Kimberly Lake 

      6 years ago from California

      Great tips. Very imaginative. Voted up and interesting.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 

      6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      My husband and I love crafty projects like this and would really enjoy the process.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Cardisa; Thanks, just make a model and then "shipwreck" it

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      I really thought you were sending me on a ship wrecking mission! he he lol. This looks like fun, a pity I have no idea who to ask to make the wreck for me. I like ship wrecks, they remind me of pirates!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This sounds like a worthwhile project. The detailed information gives a beginner the knowledge to give it a try. I can see where one can adapt your ideas and methods to make other interesting underwater scenes. Thanks.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      This looks like fun. When we were first married, my husband spent hours building model ships as a hobby. I can see where this would add another element of pleasure to it. Your photos seem realistic and could be taken for the real deal. Enjoyed your hub.


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