Underwater fashion photography combines two aspects of life that have captivated, inspired, yet largely befuddled humans for millennia – fashion and the aquatic realm.
And as the fashion and photography worlds start to appreciate, and take advantage of the sea of opportunities underwater photography presents, the internet will undoubtedly be flooded with facts, myths, and half-truths.
Knowing that some of our readers may be looking to dive into this exciting new world, we went all out and talked to some pros in the field, as well as several studio managers and came up with an in-depth and fact-based report.
In this post, we discuss all the basics of underwater fashion photography, with some practical tips thrown in for good measure.
What is Underwater Fashion Photography
Underwater fashion photography is a subset of underwater photography that involves showcasing models in various poses and outfits, deep inside a water body. The aim can either be to showcase a certain line of clothes and/or accessories or for artistic expression.
Underwater fashion shoots can be done in all sorts of water bodies, both natural and artificial. Some photographers and studios tend to prefer the more natural setting of seas, oceans, and lakes as they bring out all the aspects of “underwater” life. However, if you’re just starting out or are working with minimal resources, it would be much safer to shoot in a swimming pool.
Apart from the logistics and planning aspects being simple, shooting in a pool also makes it easier for the model(s) to come up for air in between shots.
Challenges of Underwater Fashion Photography
It may sound cool as hell but underwater photography can be a real pain in the backside, especially if you are new to it. To start with, you will need to get a new set of cameras and equipment (if yours are not waterproof). More on that in a minute.
Another notable challenge is that it’s excruciatingly hard to move underwater, which subsequently affects the model poses and photographer’s angles. If you are not an experienced swimmer, knowing when to hold your breath and when to release it (to control floating and sinking poses) can be a hassle.
Water clarity is also a big issue, particularly in natural settings and so is the lack of enough lighting, which means investment in a bunch of waterproof lighting. Last but not least, finding a model who can get into the required set of poses for however long the shoot takes is not exactly a walk in the park.
How to Shoot Underwater Fashion Photography
Shooting underwater fashion photography involves pretty much the same processes as other types of photography namely: preparing the model(s) and crew, getting the lights sorted and then getting the camera work done. Nonetheless, there are a number of differences in preparation that you need to keep in mind.
One, you need several assistants to hold your lights in position to prevent them from floating away. Secondly, you need specific camera settings, particularly relating to the focal length, and stand very close to the model to minimize distortions and blurs. And since the model (and the camera crew) won’t be able to maintain a position for more than a few seconds, snapping lots of shots in quick succession increases the chances of getting the perfect shot.
Different photographers use different types of equipment depending on the nature and objectives of their work, and of course, their budgets.
You can’t, understate the importance of good quality equipment (which are, unfortunately, not always cheap).
Here’s our top gear recommendations:
- Waterproof cameras – such as Olympus Tough TG-6 or the Nikon Coolpix W300. If you can’t afford a waterproof camera, consider getting a decent camera housing and turn your camera into a water-resistant unit. Diapac WP-S10, Nauticam, and Ikelite 200DL are some of the best housings in the market.
- Lighting – Strobes are more suited for underwater shots than continuous lights due to their high recycling speeds. Some great strobes you can check out include Inon S-2000, and the Ikelite DS51.
- Lenses – Wide angled lenses are highly recommended for underwater photography. For full-body shots, use a 12-24 mm and for portraits, a 60mm would be perfect.
- Clothing – The model should ideally wear soft and light clothing to make their movements easier and faster. Of course, if using makeup, ensure it’s waterproof.
- Weights – For deep-water shoots, weights on the model’s legs or waist may be necessary to reverse the natural inclination of the human body to float in water. Small 1-2 lb weights will most likely be enough.
Underwater Fashion Photography Camera Settings
How you set up your camera naturally depends on how you want your shoot to go. However, there are some commonly applied settings that you may want to know, such as:
- Use base ISO
- Set strobes to Manual Mode
- Keep changing your aperture from F11 to F22 until you find the best one for your camera
- Change the Focus Mode to Spot Focus
- Go full Manual Mode
Underwater Fashion Photography Tips for Models
The success of an underwater fashion shoot is considerably dependent on how prepared and determined the models are. So, here are a few helpful tips to that effect:
- It might seem obvious, but learn how to swim.
- Avoid inhaling the water, whether with your mouth or nose as it may cause you to choke when it gets to the trachea. Too much water in your body can also add your weight and limit your underwater movements. The trick is to inhale and exhale in slow and weighted movements, with the exhalation process being twice as long as the inhalation.
- Have a clear-set communication plan with the photography team. Talking underwater is extremely difficult, and establishing clear signals and gestures between the group is one way to keep everyone safe and focused during the shoot.
- Try to not exhale when holding a pose – the sight of bubbles coming from your mouth/nose may ruin the picture.
- When it comes to dresses and fabrics, longer is better (unless, of course, the plan dictates otherwise). The luxuriant sway of fabric from the underwater breeze creates for some magical photos.
Underwater Fashion Photography Ideas
Related: Underwater Portrait Photography Beginner’s Guide
Examples of actionable ideas you can try:
Underwater fashion photography is an amazing way to escape from the rigors and limits of reality and dive into a more exciting, albeit riskier form of art. With the noises around ocean conservation getting ever louder, there has never been a better time to do aquatic shoots.
Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.