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Dustin Snipes

Photographing Underwater

Everything is more difficult underwater. Not only are you thinking about lighting, grip equipment, lenses, also have to worry about the whole lack of air thing and being a bit more weightless than usual. I dont usually encounter this on a day to day basis so preparation for this type of shoot is a little bit more involved than usual.

On top of the fact that you are shooting with artificial lighting and a subject that is moving, you also have to take into account that you will usually be wearing goggles or a mask with a snorkel that gets in the way. The underwater housing that keeps your camera dry is super awkward and bulky and on top of that your camera is trying to float up so you either have to compensate by swimming down harder or use something to weigh it down. I ended up adding a 15 lb sandbag to the underwater camera “bag” to help keep it from floating up and ruining my composition.

As time went on it also became more difficult to stay underwater so I placed two sandbags on the bottom of the pool and put my feet through the hand straps to keep me in place while I took a few shots. Then came up for air and repeat. This helped me get a lower angle and to help me keep her in the middle of the black background we placed into the water.
Another thing to remember is its very hard to check and/or change exposure while underwater. If your subject is 10ft away or 5ft away its going to change your exposure because you’re basically shooting through an oddly colored ND filter while in water and the further they get away from you the more layers of sediment and water there will be, so try to keep your subject the same distance away from you when shooting.


First thing to prepare for when doing an underwater shoot, practice holding your breathe. You are going to need the breath support when you try an underwater shoot of your own. Unless your Michael Phelps or you have a large budget to support hiring someone with scuba equipment to come out (or you have your own), this is what you are stuck doing. Holding your breathe underwater for 1 or 2 shots each pass seems simple until you try to do it over and over for a 2 hour period. This is exactly what I did for this shoot.

I knew I wanted a lot of contrast in this image so I picked a black background, instead of the blue­ish tinted pool walls, this was to make the model stand out more. To do this, I used 2 10x20 black cloth backgrounds that you can buy from Amazon and placed 2 ­ 10ft “speed rails” (from Lowes or Home Depot) in the bottom to keep them straight and to make sure the water didn't move them around too much while we were shooting.

I then placed 2 p65 and 2 p45 reflectors with 4 mobiLED heads on the edge of the pool pointed down at the water hitting the backside of the model to create a nice separation light and also to make the air bubbles stand out a lot more than normal. I knew I wouldn't need any lighting inside the pool because I knew that the ground would supply enough fill light from underneath to compensate. Leaving me with a nice darker area in the middle.


Equipment & Credits

Equipment used:
4 Broncolor mobiLED lights
2 P65 Reflectors
2 P45 Reflectors
2 Broncolor Move 1200 L packs
Nikon D810
Nikon 24­70mm 2.8 lens Broncolor RFS 2.1 Trigger
Ewa­Marine EM U­BXP10 (underwater bag)

Model: McKenna
Photo editor: David Baratta Hair/Makeup: Lauren Lancaster
Video: Jess Clark
Assistants: Jess Clark and Patrick Cain