Equipment

One of the most important aspects of underwater photography is the equipment. It can be bulky, heavy and costly but it’s important to research and find what is best to suit your needs. It’s also very important that it’s reliable and you look after it well to avoid leaks and yes I have had one!

My equipment has certainly evolved over the years from the earliest, waterproof compact cameras when it started as a hobby while Scuba diving, then when I got a little more serious about 10 years ago, I bought the waterproof housing for my Canon G10, then about 4 years ago I got a GoPro Hero4 black.

When I decided to make it a profession about 3 years ago, I did a lot of research. I was using a Canon 5D iii for my regular shoots and found the suitable waterproof housing for that with Ikelite. It was a big investment with the housing, lens, wide angle lens 16-35mm, dome port and strobes but I was willing to make it and found all the parts at ScubaCam in Singapore. There was a bit of a learning curve in setting it up, which I can now do very quickly but there is no room for error.

Usually I set up at home before a shoot but sometimes I need to do it on location and I had a close call recently when I did this and was a bit slack with the checks. One thing I always do is submerge the camera slowly initially and when there are bubbles coming out you know there is a leak. This time it happened and I pulled it out straight away. Water had seeped in because a small piece of rubber seal was out of place. A decent amount of water had got in but luckily hadn’t affected the camera! Big scare though and I will be more careful in future as it would be an expensive mistake.

So far I have been extremely happy with the equipment and it was worth the investment. The upsides are it’s easy to use once you get used to it, it’s reliable (if you use it correctly and look after it). The downsides are it’s heavy and bulky and sometimes kids (and adults) can be intimidated by it. When I go to a shoot I usually have my Lowenpro suitcase which carries the heavy weights I use to hold down a backdrop, the strobes, backdrops and all the extra parts like chargers and cables. I also have a Murph&Murph bag which is perfect for carrying the camera and housing and then compartments for my weight belt, mask, towel, suncream, water, phone and all the extra bits. Its a great bag which I use for days at the beach with the kids as well.

I also have a huge box of fancy dress items, props, fabrics and outfits which I will bring along depending on the shoot. Having a daughter and two sons means I have mermaid tails, princess and fairy dresses, superhero costumes, pirates, Christmas, Halloween costumes you name it! I do love a themed shoot and kids do too.

These kids had a great time dressing up and were fascinated by the equipment (as was their Dad) which really helped them feel comfortable and we got some super cool shots with them.

Three Generations

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Anouska decided to do an underwater photo shoot to use in a Christmas card to send to family and friends around the world. I think this is such a great idea, especially when you are living in tropical Singapore while your family is in cold, wet England : ) It is something unique and fun to capture your lifestyle in Singapore. They also live in a beautiful condo on Sentosa overlooking the sea so it was a great way to capture their surroundings as well.

It was going to be a fun, challenge to include three generations of their family which included Anouska and her husband, his brother, their two young children and his parents. Not everyone felt like getting wet which was fine and we did some over under shots to start. I like to do this anyway showing people’s legs underwater and the rest above.

Then the family of four jumped in for some fun underwater shots…

And some more over/unders for the two year old girl who couldn’t go under…

This was on Christmas Eve morning and I managed to edit a selection of the best shots to send to Anouska just in time to send to family for Christmas!

Ana and family maternity

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It’s so nice when the whole family gets involved in an underwater maternity shoot. I loved that father and son came dressed in their matching whites which looks really cool underwater and Mama was rocking a black bikini and we did some glamour shots in gold heels too.

This is one of my favourite pools to shoot in, which I happened to discover at a private party at the house and the kind owner was happy for me to use it from time to time for shoots. The smooth, white fibreglass surface lends itself very well to an underwater studio.

Poor Ana was struggling a bit during the shoot as she’d had some sinus issues, which is particularly common towards the end of pregnancy and was find it hard to put her head underwater. In this case I concentrate more on over/under shots (split between above and below the surface) or just her head above water, showcasing the beautiful bump as seen below.

After a while it got easier and we got some beautiful shots to celebrate the impending arrival of their baby girl.

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Mermaids

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I was asked to shoot some mermaids for MermaidMe mermaid tails. My eight year old daughter already had one of these tails which she loved and was very excited to be involved in the shoot and try out their gorgeous new designs and material. It was a super fun shoot with four gorgeous mermaid girls in a lovely, deep swimming pool (not easy to find in Singapore).

These cleverly designed mono fins allow the wearer to glide gracefully through the water and channel their inner mermaids.

Here are some fun digital montages showing the mermaids in their natural habitat of the ocean : )

Maternity with Becky

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I think underwater photography lends itself perfectly to maternity. Where else can you feel cool, weightless and graceful while 9 months pregnant but in the water! The trend is really catching on too, with the help of celebrities such as Beyonce, who did an underwater maternity shoot when she was expecting twins.

So when my gorgeous, pregnant friend Becky said she wanted to do an underwater shoot with me, I was thrilled. Being a yoga instructor with gorgeous, long hair I knew that the result would be special. However, she is quite critical of herself in photos generally and I do feel more pressure for the result to be amazing when it’s a good friend so I was a little nervous. She said she was as well and it’s certainly not the easiest holding your breathe underwater and trying to sink while looking natural and posing but she soon eased into it and we took it slow and had some fun.

We played with different fabrics which can look really amazing in the water and also different backgrounds. Some pools are better than others to shoot in and sometimes the tiles can be a distraction so I will use a backdrop. I also like doing digital montages, such as the one above which I combined with a photo I took of the stunning water in Ibiza.

As Christmas was coming up, we did a fun Christmas themed shot with this outfit.

Thankfully, Becky was happy with the results and even made a calendar of the images to give to family for Christmas which was a great idea. She had these lovely words to say:

“I was feeling a little nervous about the underwater shoot and my ability to hold my breath being so late in my pregnancy.  Vanessa is so patient and wonderful to work with, guiding me through the shoot making sure I felt comfortable and at ease.  The final images are absolutely stunning and this is big coming from someone who generally doesn’t like herself in photos, such incredible talent and I highly recommend underwater photography with Vanessa to anyone looking to feel extra special during their pregnancy or any occasion!” 

Here’s a little behind the scenes video…

The Kids

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Luckily my kids are all water babies. They have been swimming since they were a couple of months old and swim every other day. My daughter is pretty amazing at posing underwater and looking natural so I take advantage of that by using her as my guinea pig for testing out costumes, backdrops, video shoots etc. Often we are just having fun in the pool and I feel like taking photos so i’ve ended up with quite a few of them.

We have quite a good fancy dress collection now and I love to use them in my shoots. It just adds another level of interest and the colours really pop.

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I love bubbles and splashes and experimenting with the effects they make for a more abstract underwater image.

Underwater photos are also a great opportunity to do themed shoots such as Christmas, Halloween or Mothers/Fathers Day,

Fashion Collaboration 1 (Feb 2018)

I had seen some stunning underwater fashion and beauty shots and wanted to have a go at this myself. A while ago I contacted the most successful Hair & Makeup artist I knew of in Singapore, Andrea Claire asking if she’d be interested to collaborate on some underwater ideas, and luckily for me she agreed. Andrea had also noticed the increase in popularity in underwater shots for fashion, beauty and commercial and saw it as a great opportunity to get involved, get some stunning portfolio shots, expand skills and try out some waterproof makeup products to see if they stood up to their claims.

We talked about some ideas and were on the same page and so we moved forward with our shoot. I did a lot of research, which I always like to do if it’s something new or a bit out of my comfort zone. I came up with the concept of someone getting ready for a night out, which would be a good fit for showcasing different outfits and make up looks. I started sourcing props such as an acrylic mirror as it would be too risky bringing glass into the pool and pulling together some different outfits.

Andrea found a model who was willing to participate, Grace Bain from Mannequin models. She had a very striking look and I was so excited to see how this would go.
I secured the pool location for a morning shoot and luckily we were blessed with good weather.

Grace turned out to be an absolute natural underwater and I barely needed to direct her as she instinctively new how to pose and move her head to create movement in her hair as well as look stunning at the same time. It can get quite tiring after a few hours of working in the pool, holding your breath and posing but Grace was a true professional and didn’t complain once. I was thrilled how the photos turned out.

Natural look

All about the lips

Those eyes, that hair:
Who needs hair styling when the water does it for you! A few flicks of the head and you’ve got instant volume and wave. Red hair looks amazing underwater. Grace’s hair looks more blonde on land but the orange tones really came up underwater and in post production.

Before and After:
Good editing is essential for underwater photos, to take out the blue tones and get accurate skin tones. I use a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop.

Behind the Scenes Video

 

My Inspiration

When I decided to specialise in Underwater Portraits, one of the first things I did was research other underwater photographers and look at their work. Some of the first that I came across are still big inspirations to me today and interestingly most are women. Interesting because photography, especially fashion tends to be dominated by men. A big generalisation yes but I loved the fact that some of the best in the field were women.

These include:
Zena Holloway: Multi-talented, Award winning, British underwater photographer. Zena has mastered babies, fashion, beauty, commercial, ocean, video and worked with many celebrities. A huge inspiration and I was pretty chuffed when she recently liked some of my work on Instagram ; )

Jenna Martin: Super talented and super lovely, as I had the pleasure of taking part in some online workshops with Jenna. She has become a mentor and offered so much helpful advise on the technical and business side of underwater photography. Jenna is based in Montana, US which has some heavy winters so fortunately she is just as accomplished at land photography in the off season as well.

Lucie Drlikova: A very artistic and conceptual underwater photographer, Lucie’s work has a surreal, fairy tale quality to it and she even creates some of the incredible props and backdrops used in the shots, herself. Based in the Czech Republic, Lucie is a big inspiration as I really enjoy the conceptual work myself and using backdrops and props to create a scene and occasionally Photoshop to create an artistic montage. A long way to go to her level but I can dream.

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Elena Kalis: Based in the Bahamas, my dream destination to shoot and where many of the incredible photographers I follow on Instagram are based. Elena has some stunning ocean portraits, often featuring her model daughter and has also done some very recognisable pool work, such as the Alice in Wonderland series.

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Others are:

Adam Opris: his dramatic work, especially weddings, blows my mind. One of the best!
Ken Kiefer:  Does a lot of cool ocean work with animals and people interacting.
Christi Curtis: Beautiful portraits of mainly kids in pool. Founder of Underwater Kids.
Stephen Binke: A successful Aussie photographer, creating artworks you want to display on the wall.