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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.
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.
It sounds silly but it just kind of happened. I have a hard time imagining myself doing something that wasn’t photography related.
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.
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.
In most cases I’m using a D200 in an Ikelite housing without scuba gear.
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.
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.
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