By Denise Pietsch
When I came onboard at Ikelite my underwater photography experience was limited to a snorkeling trip to Turks and Caicos with a "disposable" underwater camera. In the nearly two years since, I've had the opportunity to work with dozens of our customers and Ambassadors to help share their stories and images through our social media and Photo School. In this time I've learned and seen a lot, but there's just no experience like hands-on experience. This summer I got my chance - an underwater pool photoshoot! Joining me as an underwater model was Ikelite President and CEO Jean Rydberg. Follow along as we navigate gear, costumes, and develop a deep appreciation for the hard work that goes into underwater portraiture.
Underwater video was shot with a Sony a7 IV.
Setup and Settings
Armed with inspiration images and information gathered from reading some of our Photo School articles, I hopped into the pool with the Canon EOS R with dual DS160 II strobes with the DL5 DS Link TTL Converter. I found this setup to be quite user-friendly and fairly intuitive, especially for a newbie (although being surrounded by professionals didn't hurt).
We knew we wanted to try a couple different looks for our photoshoot: something simple, something flowing, and something fun. We started the day out with the simple look - this would give both Jean and me a chance to acclimate to the water without too much thought to flowing fabrics or props. Here's where I learned my first lesson: you need a weight belt. While we didn't have one at the ready, we did have some light dumb-bells I fitted to my bathing suit. This allowed me a lot more maneuverability underwater without having to fight floating.
We chose yoga gear for the first "simple" look but don't let this zen pose fool you - underwater modeling is no simple task. F/13 • 1/125 • ISO 100. © 2022 Denise Pietsch
Our second look was a gracious loaner dress from Karen Bagley, a red gown with 12 feet of billowing fabric. While this look was endless fun and beautiful to boot, it brought on a challenge: how do you handle all this fabric? Cue my second lesson: you may need a helping hand or at least a logistics debriefing.
The red dress required a faster shutter speed and some outside assistance. F/5.6 - F/10 • 1/125 - 1/500 • ISO 100. © 2022 Denise Pietsch
The last look of the day was what we dubbed the Kentucky Derby look, replete with a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses. From here we also wanted to try our hand at some reflection images. Alas, my third lesson: timing is everything. Without a completely still body of water, the surface reflection changes constantly and rapidly. Moreover, you've got a limited amount of time underwater when not using scuba gear so you've got to make sure you're using that time wisely and in unison with your model.
Props are a fun way to set your images apart but they tend to float away from you, another lesson in "Timing is Everything." F/11 - F/14 • 1/125 - 1/200 • ISO 100. © 2022 Denise Pietsch
By the end of the photoshoot I gained an entirely new appreciation for underwater model portraiture. Besides the physically taxing aspects, there's a lot of logistics to consider. Namely that you have such a brief window of time to get your shot before you need to surface for air. Add to that that your model needs time to pose (and make it look effortless). That being said, I think hopping in a pool and practicing your underwater photography is a great way to gain your "sea legs" and get used to operating a camera and strobes underwater for a newbie. I can imagine it might also make great practice for seasoned photographers between dive trips, too. Not to mention a potentially lucrative business endeavor. While I'm hoping my next underwater photography lesson happens in the ocean, I'll be glad to keep practicing my skills with anyone who's willing to let me commandeer their pool for a day.
What's better than a day full of swimming, photography, and learning new skills?
Thinking about getting started?
Email us today for any questions about equipment, settings, and technique. If you're ready to dive right in, consider a workshop with one of our underwater portrait Ambassadors, Karen Bagley or Alison Bounce.
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Denise Pietsch (pronounced “Peach”) currently manages Ikelite’s Photo School and social media presence. Denise hails from New Jersey, where she obtained a degree in Dance Therapy. After years teaching dance she migrated into the corporate world and eventually came around to Ikelite via the natural career path of fruit distribution and early childhood development. In the end, her lifelong love of photography and octopuses combined into the work she does now. In addition to sharing her energy and enthusiasm with the underwater community she also manages social media for her dog, Joe, collects vinyl records, and enjoys creating memories with her friends and family.