Underwater portraits are a new and captivating way to capture an individual’s beauty and grace in a unique and enchanting environment. When underwater, you can float weightlessly, creating a dreamlike and otherworldly atmosphere. The dynamic movement and lighting conditions underwater evoke a sense of tranquility and wonder.
Over recent years, underwater portraits have become increasingly popular, as more and more photographers and clients alike are drawn to their ethereal beauty and uniqueness. Beyond aesthetics, underwater portraits offer a sense of freedom and escape from reality; many people have found being in the water to be therapeutic, and underwater portraits offer a stunning representation of this meditative state. Underwater portraits continue to inspire and impact viewers.
Like any other photo shoot, it is important to be prepared. Choosing the right equipment is critical for a successful photograph. The bare minimum you need is a camera body, lens, and waterproof housing. I personally use a Nikon D810 with a 14-24mm lens.
My camera is enclosed in a Nauticam underwater housing to protect it. I love my Nauticam housing, it has a vacuum check system so that if there is a water leak an audible and visual indication will occur. If the light is green your housing is sealed. But if it starts beeping and the light flashes red you have a leak in your housing and you should exit the water immediately.
Lighting is the next step. Now you can capture a beautiful underwater photo by using the sun as your main light source. Make sure the sun is behind you so that the sun faces your model, lighting them up. You can also bring in artificial light to get more creative lighting scenarios.
I have two Ikelite underwater strobes that I use to photograph my subject. I can change the power and the position of the lights to create different lighting scenarios in the photographs I take. You can create some really magical photos by getting creative with your lighting.
Like any other portrait session, it’s critical to make your model feel comfortable, confident, and safe. I like to talk with my models first and get an understanding of what they want out of their photo shoots. What feeling do they want to evoke?
The majority of people I photograph are not models, they have never gotten an underwater photo taken of them. So if you as the photographer can understand what your model wants out of the photo shoot, you can work together to create lifelong memories.
Next, you need to get comfortable in the water. Some people will be more confident in the water than others. But surprisingly most of the time it’s the people who are nervous that end up getting the best photos. That’s because when you’re nervous you listen!
The photographer knows how to get the best photo out of you, trust them. Breathing techniques are a great first place to start before getting in the water. Take in one deep breath and let it out so you squeeze as much air out of your lungs as possible. To be able to sink in the water you need to empty your lungs.
If the lungs are full you will struggle to stay down because you are more buoyant. Letting all the air out of your lungs can be scary, but if you need to breathe just remember to pop up. Let’s try a breathing exercise now. Take one big breath in, hold for a second, and exhale. Now do it two more times. On that last exhale you will go underwater.
Even though you have exhaled you should still be able to feel a little bit of air reserved in your lungs. You shouldn’t be gasping for air. So then continue to hold your breath, exhale a little, and hold your breath, until you need to come up for air.
If your model is not the most confident in the water then definitely start shallow. I’d actually always recommend you start shallow with a new client because underwater is a new environment with different elements to consider. Safety always comes first.
For most underwater photos you don’t need to be very deep. In fact, I started shooting in a pool that was only 6 feet deep. By starting shallow your model can get comfortable and when they are ready you can move deeper if you want to.
Photographing in the ocean can be more difficult. I would normally only do this with confident swimmers. But you can take your model out to the reef and photograph them amongst the coral and fish. In this case, I would have safety divers around us.
There would also be a dedicated diver to give the model air underwater so they don’t have to keep coming to the surface to breathe. You can get some really amazing photographs out at the reef if you are keen!
Once your model is comfortable with breathing and being underwater, it’s just a matter of posing to get a great photo. Posing underwater is like a ballet. Slow, soft movements will create beautiful dynamic shots.
Visualize the moves and poses you are about to perform before going underwater. I find that you will capture more genuine poses if your model keeps moving slowly. Let them get into a groove that they are comfortable with. Their face needs to be relaxed as well.
You’ll find everyone holds their stress in their face or their hands. Tell your model to let all the air out of their cheeks and relax. A good trick is to push your tongue to the back of your mouth and hold your breath with water in your mouth. This will relax your face and make sure your cheeks aren’t puffed. Whilst underwater tell your model not to think about where they are, but focus on what they are doing.
If your model tends to carry stress in their hands then there are a few tricks to overcome that. The hands should be soft and elegant. You know how when you go apple picking and you reach for an apple? Your hands are cupped and long. That is what we are aiming for.
The fingers should be close together, not spread apart. If your model still can’t relax their hands then hide the hands. This is fairly easy to do with maternity photos. Have the model rest her hands on her belly. Or if the model is wearing a long flowy dress have them play with the fabric to hide the hands. If you are photographing a couple have them hold hands. There are lots of creative options for every situation!
Q. What equipment do I need to take underwater portraits?
A. At the bare minimum you will need a camera and an underwater housing. Depending on your budget and creative vision you may also want underwater lights.
Q. How do I choose the right location for my underwater portraits?
A. Look for a location with clear, calm water and good lighting. A saltwater pool is great because it is less harsh on the eyes. But a chlorine pool, freshwater creek, or the ocean on a calm day will do just fine.
Q. How can I get my subject to pose for the photo in the water?
A. Communication with your subject is key. Work with them to come up with a few poses and make sure they are comfortable in the water.
Q. What clothing is appropriate for underwater portraits?
A. Swimwear is the obvious choice for underwater portraits, but you can also experiment with flowy dresses or other types of clothing that will billow out in the water. Lighter fabrics like organza will take longer to sink and give you more time to pose with them.
Q. Can I take underwater portraits in a pool or do I need to be in the ocean?
A. You can definitely take great underwater portraits in a pool! In fact, it can be easier to control the lighting and the environment in a pool setting.
Q. How do I edit my underwater portraits?
A. Color correction will most definitely be necessary to fix the color cast that can result when shooting underwater. Beyond that, basic editing tools like exposure and contrast adjustments can help bring out the details in your photo. Adobe Lightroom is my preferred editing software. Then I take my photos into Photoshop for more detailed editing.
Q. What are some safety considerations when taking underwater portraits?
A. Always be mindful of the depth of the water and the swimming ability of yourself and your subject. Make sure to use caution around a pool’s stairs as they can be slippery. If you’re shooting in the ocean, it’s important to be aware of currents, tides, and any potentially hazardous marine life in the area. It’s a good idea to have a safety swimmer with you when in the ocean.
Thanks so much for reading, I hope you’ve found this article helpful. If you take any underwater portrait photos I’d love to see them! Tag me on Instagram @iheartunderwater so I can see your work!
If you are interested in an underwater photoshoot have a look at my page, Underwater Portraits by Angelina. I’d love to collaborate on an underwater photoshoot with you!