An Interview With Underwater Portrait Photographer Sacha Blue

0Comments

Until earlier this year I had never heard of underwater portraiture.  But in researching underwater housings for my DSLR, I came across Sacha Blue’s website.  I got even more excited to find out she lived right here in the Puget Sound region of Washington State.  While she also shoots weddings and traditional portraiture, her work under the surface is a refreshing look at portrait photography.

1. Tell me a bit about your photography background. When did you first get interested in cameras and photos?

I grew up with a portrait studio and darkroom in the house and I can’t think of any specific defining moment where I fell in love with photography. I do remember being 15 and taking pictures of my best friend and that when my mom saw them she decided that I had “the eye” and was born to be a photographer.

2. What prompted you to make photography your current career?

It sounds silly but it just kind of happened. I have a hard time imagining myself doing something that wasn’t photography related.

3. How did your interest in underwater portraiture begin?

I received my scuba certification in 2008 and immediately wanted to photograph everything I saw while diving. Torn between getting a housing for a DSLR and a point and shoot I found a great deal on a used housing for a D200 and justified the extra cost by deciding I would use it for underwater portraits when I returned. Given that so many of the couples I had worked with before had gotten in water it wasn’t much of a stretch to think I would enjoy shooting under the surface too.

4. How big or small was your learning curve once you decided to start shooting portraits underwater? What unique photographic challenges have you had to overcome?

For starters shooting with my camera in a housing was an adjustment that made me notice just how automated I’d made things above the surface. Suddenly I had to stop and think about which dial to turn to adjust basic things like aperture and shutter speed and just turning the camera on and off was a challenge. I think it was pretty easy for me to adapt my experience as a photographer to taking pictures underwater. The obstacles mostly revolved around discovering differences in the way things worked underwater and finding ways to compensate for them to get the images I wanted. The biggest challenges for me have been working with fabric, achieving flattering facial expressions, open eyes in group portraits, and keeping hair manageable and looking good. It’s not all bad though – people are a lot more flexible underwater and can position themselves in ways that would not work elsewhere.

5. What type of equipment do you have to employ for your shoots? Do you use SCUBA gear?

In most cases I’m using a D200 in an Ikelite housing without scuba gear.

6. Are most of your shoots done with available light, or do you take strobes underwater with you?

I have yet to take strobes underwater and everything I’ve done has been with available light. Sometimes available light is the light built into a swimming pool.

7. For those wishing to try this obviously fun, yet demanding style of shooting, what advice can you pass on?

I usually suggest renting a housing or starting with the less expensive bag style and purchasing a full housing if they find it’s something they enjoy and will do a lot more. Start in the calm waters of a swimming pool and use models that are really comfortable in the water. I’ve had really good luck using competitive swimmers for this. Shoot at or near the surface to get reflections and avoid color casts and use wide angle lenses to get close to your subject and avoid hazy images. Dresses are a lot of fun underwater but remember they can get very heavy when wet and are awkward to swim in so pay close attention to your subject and their comfort and energy levels and be prepared to take frequent brakes. Much like other types of portraiture direct sunlight can be quite harsh and the even light of shade is generally more appealing.

——

More of Sacha’s work can be found on her website, Facebook or by following her on Twitter.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Panama, Alaska, Seattle and Los Angeles. He is also the creator of 31 Days to Better Photography & 31 Days of Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

  • Matt

    I would imagine that shallow DOF would be good in most cases to eliminate focus on the pool walls or other distractions.

  • Great to see this topic covered.

    Most of the underwater photographers in the world are featured in one set of really unique galleries. There are a ton of underwater portrait, fashion and commercial photographers in there. Hhope you all enjoy!

    http://www.divephotoguide.com/underwater-photo-galleries/

  • Mei Teng

    Inspiring interview.

  • Phil

    Another great underwater portrait company:

    http://www.flashpoolproductions.com

  • Sherry

    Check out another excellent underwater photography site at http://www.lonelily.com/Lone_Lily/Home.html

  • This is so awesome. I would like to try under water shooting one day.

  • We’d love to do underwater pictures, but we don’t have a swimming pool. Maybe some day. So do you have to take special precautions with the safety of your clients when you’re shooting underwater?

  • Matt,

    Yes, shallow depth of field can help blur out background distractions. But it can also make it hard to nail your focus on your subject beacuse it’s hard for people to stay in the same place underwater. Even pools have water moving constantly. Visibility is also different underwater and sometimes it is enough to bring your subject out into the middle of the pool and the walls sort of fade away. Other times I drape fabric along one of the pool walls and keep whomever I’m photographing near that wall.

    Mei and Andre,

    Thanks 🙂

    Larissa,

    Being safe in and around water is my biggest priority. I taught swim lessons for years and when I started diving I was sure to complete both the advanced and resuce classes even though most of my work takes place in relatively shallow water.

    A lot of the people I photograph are swimmers which helps.

    For those that are not I like to get a feel for swimming ability before the session. I start most sessions in shallow water and make sure people have a chance to get comfortable and relax before we begin. I only use depths where they cannot touch if they are strong swimmers and comfortable doing and I use those sparingly. Most images can be taken in 4 feet of water or less. I make a point of checking in with them frequently and giving plenty of time to rest. In open water I choose locations that are known for having calm water, stay close to shore, and make sure the people I am working with are comfortable in the different elements found in open water.

  • if only i had the money for the equip sounds fun… oh yeah and a pool

  • I’m a bit tired and I read “underwear photographer”… Boy was I surprised to see all that water.

    Great interview anyway and great photographs.!
    But maybe you could try to get some more lingerie into your shots?

    I’ll go to sleep now.

  • Underwater photography can be very enjoyable, especially if the models are having fun. The hardest thing I found is staying underwater (I tend to float) and positioning myself for a good shot.

    I have a gallery here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindilindi/sets/72157606950697933/

  • Just for a first test, I tried dunking my 5D Mark II in the pool. You can check out some photos in my “Kids, Don’t Try This in Pool” album. However, I was not prepared for the deep blue color cast that served as a constant reminder that these were indeed photos in the pool. (Admittedly, that was a secondary concern next to getting my camera out alive!) Anyone have tips for avoiding the blue cast next time? Attempting to fix the cast in post-production only yielded so-so results. There just didn’t seem to be that much color data to begin with. Thanks for any tips!

  • Hi Kenneth,

    I looked at the pictures you posted and have had plenty of pictures come out of my camera looking similarly blue. Generally I see this more with pictures taken in several feet of water but yours look as though they were taken at the surface. Is that the case? Were you shooting RAW? If not what color balance were you using? Water absorbs colors at different rates and red is the first to go. It can be added back in some images using Lightroom/Photoshop/etc but that can be pretty time consuming and doesn’t work with all images.

    When I started shooting underwater I spent a lot of time experimenting with post production and color changes in Lightroom and Photoshop. When I found processes that worked I saved them as presets/actions and labeled them based on the environment so I could save time editing future sessions with similar color casts. I find the saturation/vibrance options in Lightroom to help a lot. I also use the local adjustment brushes at times to help get skin looking the way I want it without ruining the color of the water.

    How blue was the pool itself? How far away from your subject do you think you were? I’m artistic minded and not a scientist but I am pretty sure the water absorbs colors by distance not just depth so going deeper would decrease the red but I think being further away from your subject would do this too. What focal length were you using?

    As for preventing it in the future your answers to the above questions might change my suggestions a little but here are the general options that come to mind:

    Shoot with wide angle lenses which allow you to be close to your subject and stay near the surface
    Choose a pool that is either white or a lighter blue
    Add a red filter while shooting underwater
    Use a custom white balance device ie Expodisc
    Use strobes

    Hope this helps!
    ~Sacha

  • Yes, Melinda, buoyancy can be a real challenge to shooting underwater. One thing that helps is to expel all of the air from your lungs as you go down.

  • Harry Phillips

    *breaks as in taking a rest, not brakes as in what you stop the car with.

  • Sacha, thank you for the reply! Thanks to your tips and encouragement, I went back tonight and managed to improve a lot of the images in my album. I’d have to blame many of the initial problems on (tired and sleepy) operator error. Here are some re-edited shots that I felt like I just had to repost: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2283681&id=201655&l=a9dfbb9efa

    There are still some photos that still ended up being too blue for my tastes (with a lack of red data, as you suspected), even at Lightroom’s “maximum” Color Temperature setting of 50000K, but they are definitely a huge improvement. Since it was my first attempt, I didn’t know any better and pretty much shot everything at 70mm. I will have to try a wider lens next time to minimize my distance from the subject. I’m also intrigued by the idea of trying a red filter and using wireless strobes underwater!

    For those who are wondering what “less expensive bag style” underwater case Sacha might have been referring to, the one I used with my Canon 5D Mark II for this fun experiment was the DiCAPac WPS10 case. It’s just under $100, as opposed to the $1000+ custom DSLR cases you’ll probably want if you get serious about doing underwater photography! However, I must admit that I was somewhat nervous putting my DSLR into what appeared to be a glorified ZipLoc bag and dunking it in the pool, even after the bag passed my “tissue test” (i.e. test out the waterproofing by putting a tissue in the bag and just testing for leaks underwater first).

    Good luck with your photographic endeavors, everyone. And thanks again for the inspiration and tips, Sacha!

  • Wow those look a lot better – I’m glad I could help. 🙂

    I’m impressed that you shot those @70mm – you must have had a pretty clear pool to work in. I think if you go wider and get closer a lot of the blue will go away.

    How do you like the Dicapac? How hard is it to change settings on the camera using it?

  • I shot these underwater pool photos on an overcast end-of-summer day in California in an outdoor pool. It did seem like I had pretty good light (all things considered). However, I think I need to shoot at a faster shutter speed next time. Apparently 1/100s did not cut it for freezing motion even in “posed” shots, since my subject and camera were probably swaying (and shivering!) more than usual in the water.

    As for the DiCAPac WPS10, I think it’s great in that it helped me get my feet wet in underwater photography. For $100, it was worth it. But no doubt it was clunky to work with compared to a dedicated hard case — the reason I was at 70mm was because that’s the focal length of my 24-70mm lens when it’s fully retracted, and the DiCAPac lens portal seemed to naturally keep pressing at the lens until it retracted. The case includes some finger holes for manipulating the lens, but frankly it wasn’t very easy to do, at least without prior practice. I’m sure even the lowest end underwater case for specific DSLRs will offer much better control of the camera once in the water. But the DiCAPac gets major points for keeping my camera dry and allowing me to get some fun shots underwater for under $100!

  • lateef

    very nice article I like it

  • Hello Darren, Peter, guys!

    First of all, thanks for interview.

    I was much surprised that Sacha doesn’t use any Scuba Gear during his shooting 🙂

    Regards,
    Igor

  • AWESOME POSTS! Thanks so much! Got a pool, been wanting to try this out, been afraid of putting camera in the water! Wish me luck!!!

  • loving the way the lights plays with the colours. not sure i want to take my 1DS for a swim though…

Some Older Comments

  • Barney Delaney - Landscape Photography May 11, 2012 10:22 pm

    loving the way the lights plays with the colours. not sure i want to take my 1DS for a swim though...

  • Shannon Long June 7, 2011 03:16 pm

    AWESOME POSTS! Thanks so much! Got a pool, been wanting to try this out, been afraid of putting camera in the water! Wish me luck!!!

  • Cool Pictures February 8, 2011 09:13 pm

    Hello Darren, Peter, guys!

    First of all, thanks for interview.

    I was much surprised that Sacha doesn't use any Scuba Gear during his shooting :)

    Regards,
    Igor

  • lateef November 7, 2010 10:05 am

    very nice article I like it

  • Kenneth November 6, 2010 10:25 am

    I shot these underwater pool photos on an overcast end-of-summer day in California in an outdoor pool. It did seem like I had pretty good light (all things considered). However, I think I need to shoot at a faster shutter speed next time. Apparently 1/100s did not cut it for freezing motion even in "posed" shots, since my subject and camera were probably swaying (and shivering!) more than usual in the water.

    As for the DiCAPac WPS10, I think it's great in that it helped me get my feet wet in underwater photography. For $100, it was worth it. But no doubt it was clunky to work with compared to a dedicated hard case -- the reason I was at 70mm was because that's the focal length of my 24-70mm lens when it's fully retracted, and the DiCAPac lens portal seemed to naturally keep pressing at the lens until it retracted. The case includes some finger holes for manipulating the lens, but frankly it wasn't very easy to do, at least without prior practice. I'm sure even the lowest end underwater case for specific DSLRs will offer much better control of the camera once in the water. But the DiCAPac gets major points for keeping my camera dry and allowing me to get some fun shots underwater for under $100!

  • Sacha Blue November 6, 2010 07:37 am

    Wow those look a lot better - I'm glad I could help. :)

    I'm impressed that you shot those @70mm - you must have had a pretty clear pool to work in. I think if you go wider and get closer a lot of the blue will go away.

    How do you like the Dicapac? How hard is it to change settings on the camera using it?

  • Kenneth November 5, 2010 06:09 pm

    Sacha, thank you for the reply! Thanks to your tips and encouragement, I went back tonight and managed to improve a lot of the images in my album. I'd have to blame many of the initial problems on (tired and sleepy) operator error. Here are some re-edited shots that I felt like I just had to repost: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2283681&id=201655&l=a9dfbb9efa

    There are still some photos that still ended up being too blue for my tastes (with a lack of red data, as you suspected), even at Lightroom's "maximum" Color Temperature setting of 50000K, but they are definitely a huge improvement. Since it was my first attempt, I didn't know any better and pretty much shot everything at 70mm. I will have to try a wider lens next time to minimize my distance from the subject. I'm also intrigued by the idea of trying a red filter and using wireless strobes underwater!

    For those who are wondering what "less expensive bag style" underwater case Sacha might have been referring to, the one I used with my Canon 5D Mark II for this fun experiment was the DiCAPac WPS10 case. It's just under $100, as opposed to the $1000+ custom DSLR cases you'll probably want if you get serious about doing underwater photography! However, I must admit that I was somewhat nervous putting my DSLR into what appeared to be a glorified ZipLoc bag and dunking it in the pool, even after the bag passed my "tissue test" (i.e. test out the waterproofing by putting a tissue in the bag and just testing for leaks underwater first).

    Good luck with your photographic endeavors, everyone. And thanks again for the inspiration and tips, Sacha!

  • Harry Phillips November 5, 2010 05:22 pm

    *breaks as in taking a rest, not brakes as in what you stop the car with.

  • Sacha Blue November 5, 2010 01:32 pm

    Yes, Melinda, buoyancy can be a real challenge to shooting underwater. One thing that helps is to expel all of the air from your lungs as you go down.

  • Sacha Blue November 5, 2010 01:28 pm

    Hi Kenneth,

    I looked at the pictures you posted and have had plenty of pictures come out of my camera looking similarly blue. Generally I see this more with pictures taken in several feet of water but yours look as though they were taken at the surface. Is that the case? Were you shooting RAW? If not what color balance were you using? Water absorbs colors at different rates and red is the first to go. It can be added back in some images using Lightroom/Photoshop/etc but that can be pretty time consuming and doesn't work with all images.

    When I started shooting underwater I spent a lot of time experimenting with post production and color changes in Lightroom and Photoshop. When I found processes that worked I saved them as presets/actions and labeled them based on the environment so I could save time editing future sessions with similar color casts. I find the saturation/vibrance options in Lightroom to help a lot. I also use the local adjustment brushes at times to help get skin looking the way I want it without ruining the color of the water.

    How blue was the pool itself? How far away from your subject do you think you were? I'm artistic minded and not a scientist but I am pretty sure the water absorbs colors by distance not just depth so going deeper would decrease the red but I think being further away from your subject would do this too. What focal length were you using?

    As for preventing it in the future your answers to the above questions might change my suggestions a little but here are the general options that come to mind:

    Shoot with wide angle lenses which allow you to be close to your subject and stay near the surface
    Choose a pool that is either white or a lighter blue
    Add a red filter while shooting underwater
    Use a custom white balance device ie Expodisc
    Use strobes

    Hope this helps!
    ~Sacha

  • Kenneth November 5, 2010 12:23 pm

    Just for a first test, I tried dunking my 5D Mark II in the pool. You can check out some photos in my "Kids, Don't Try This in Pool" album. However, I was not prepared for the deep blue color cast that served as a constant reminder that these were indeed photos in the pool. (Admittedly, that was a secondary concern next to getting my camera out alive!) Anyone have tips for avoiding the blue cast next time? Attempting to fix the cast in post-production only yielded so-so results. There just didn't seem to be that much color data to begin with. Thanks for any tips!

  • Melinda November 5, 2010 08:09 am

    Underwater photography can be very enjoyable, especially if the models are having fun. The hardest thing I found is staying underwater (I tend to float) and positioning myself for a good shot.

    I have a gallery here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindilindi/sets/72157606950697933/

  • Borsuuk November 5, 2010 07:37 am

    I'm a bit tired and I read "underwear photographer"... Boy was I surprised to see all that water.

    Great interview anyway and great photographs.!
    But maybe you could try to get some more lingerie into your shots?

    I'll go to sleep now.

  • bryan November 3, 2010 12:04 am

    if only i had the money for the equip sounds fun... oh yeah and a pool

  • Sacha Blue November 1, 2010 06:15 am

    Matt,

    Yes, shallow depth of field can help blur out background distractions. But it can also make it hard to nail your focus on your subject beacuse it's hard for people to stay in the same place underwater. Even pools have water moving constantly. Visibility is also different underwater and sometimes it is enough to bring your subject out into the middle of the pool and the walls sort of fade away. Other times I drape fabric along one of the pool walls and keep whomever I'm photographing near that wall.

    Mei and Andre,

    Thanks :)

    Larissa,

    Being safe in and around water is my biggest priority. I taught swim lessons for years and when I started diving I was sure to complete both the advanced and resuce classes even though most of my work takes place in relatively shallow water.

    A lot of the people I photograph are swimmers which helps.

    For those that are not I like to get a feel for swimming ability before the session. I start most sessions in shallow water and make sure people have a chance to get comfortable and relax before we begin. I only use depths where they cannot touch if they are strong swimmers and comfortable doing and I use those sparingly. Most images can be taken in 4 feet of water or less. I make a point of checking in with them frequently and giving plenty of time to rest. In open water I choose locations that are known for having calm water, stay close to shore, and make sure the people I am working with are comfortable in the different elements found in open water.

  • St Louis Wedding Photographer October 31, 2010 04:28 am

    We'd love to do underwater pictures, but we don't have a swimming pool. Maybe some day. So do you have to take special precautions with the safety of your clients when you're shooting underwater?

  • Andre' Wright Jr. October 30, 2010 11:37 pm

    This is so awesome. I would like to try under water shooting one day.

  • Sherry October 30, 2010 05:17 am

    Check out another excellent underwater photography site at http://www.lonelily.com/Lone_Lily/Home.html

  • Phil October 30, 2010 04:57 am

    Another great underwater portrait company:

    www.flashpoolproductions.com

  • Mei Teng October 30, 2010 04:18 am

    Inspiring interview.

  • Jason Heller October 30, 2010 01:55 am

    Great to see this topic covered.

    Most of the underwater photographers in the world are featured in one set of really unique galleries. There are a ton of underwater portrait, fashion and commercial photographers in there. Hhope you all enjoy!

    http://www.divephotoguide.com/underwater-photo-galleries/

  • Matt October 30, 2010 12:18 am

    I would imagine that shallow DOF would be good in most cases to eliminate focus on the pool walls or other distractions.

Join Our Email Newsletter

Thanks for subscribing!


DPS offers a free weekly newsletter with: 
1. new photography tutorials and tips
2. latest photography assignments
3. photo competitions and prizes

Enter your email below to subscribe.
Email:
 
 
Get DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS feed