INCREDIBLE AS IT MAY SEEM, ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT SUBJECTS TO SHOOT UNDER WATER IS MAN. Difficult, that is, if your goal is to integrate a diver with the underwater environment as a natural, harmonious element. Lets look at some of the more important factors in achieving a great diver portrait:
The description model applies to any human set before a camera, whether young or old, male or female, petite or large. In a submarine environment, for which were less than adequately adapted, we are at an instant disadvantage compared to the grace and splendour of its natural inhabitants. But looks arent everything, are they
Were big, blubbering bulks of neoprene and steel, ungracefully suspended in a medium for which we were not born, but that doesnt mean we cant be pictured in an attractive way. Remember: photography is a more objective form of complete deception!
Using as models divers who are fit and in control of their movements and buoyancy is a good start, and serious divers usually meet those requirements. One aspect often overlooked, however, is their equipment.
Long, narrow fins help enhance body silhouette and make your model look more dynamic and slim. Single-bladder or back-wing BCs add less bulk and again make the diver look less stocky.
To enhance your models visibility and colour definition, avoid dark colours, especially for the suit. Professional black has a place only behind the camera, unless you want to picture buddy Fred as the resident black hole in a galaxy of colour.
Whether a suit is as colourful as a butterfly or in co-ordinated pastel shades is down to your taste and needs, as long as it isnt dark. Yellow, grey/ silver, pink and neon-green are the best colours because of their high contrast to the surrounding water.
Wearing old-style single-lens oval masks shows more of a models face but makes sense only if the model is dominating the picture, quite close to the camera so that you can see detail of the face.
Some of my models find such masks the most comfortable they ever had - but they must be very clean and centred properly, and care should be taken to avoid any skin folds, because you can see everything behind the glass.
Much as it may sound like what Naomi Campbell does for a living, posing is the best way to describe what models do in front of cameras: all kinds of models in front of all kinds of photographic gear.
A prerequisite for success in underwater modelling is communication between photographer and subject - before the dive, not 25m down. Efficient work is possible only if everyone involved (this can include several models and camera assistants) is clear about all conditions of the shoot.
Once under water, any attempts at art direction and communication of complicated instructions will be a waste of time, air and nerves. The likely result is chaos. Good briefings, especially during the early days of collaboration with a new model, facilitate understanding and lead to perfect teamwork.
If your model knows your intentions and gestures, delays will be minimised. A school of fish will easily be centred between the two of you, or your partner will assume a perfect position and at the right distance to camera and other elements.
Neutrally buoyant and swimming effortlessly against a slight current, the model should be able to stay in position as long as the photographer takes to complete a series of shots. Holding onto coral or bearing down on it is verboten.
Model photography uses all kinds of lenses at all distances. The trick is to know what to use for which effect. Half-body portraits are best shot using 35mm and 28mm focal lengths. Optical distortions resulting from shorter lenses, the superwide angles, would disfigure the human silhouette too severely.
At short range it is advisable to combine this with the use of a flash diffuser, usually a white plastic cap you put over your electronic flashs reflector to soften the lighting. Diffusers do cut light energy, but close up that is less of a consideration.
If your aim is to picture the entire diver or integrate your buddy into a landscape shot, the focal length applied cannot be short enough. Angles between 90 and 180 drastically reduce distance to subject and subsequently diffusion and absorption of flash light. The result is a clearer, better-defined and sharper picture with improved colour definition.
To avoid chalky skin tones, it is advisable to minimise flash application and use a strobe yielding a colour temperature of around 5100 Kelvin.
Professional underwater photography poses even greater challenges to the model, as this genre is dominated by the reportage style in which a series of pictures tells a story.
This approach calls for a model who can double up as camera assistant and is competent in handling technology. What youre looking for is a photogenic ace diver with a knack for gadgets and considerable carrying capacity: an advanced aquatic human being, capable of hooking up vast arrays of cable and slave strobes, at home with multi-dive profiles on air, nitrox and trimix, and perfectly focused on the intended outcome of your artistic ambition (yep, Im getting carried away!).
More realistically, it helps if your model enjoys diving and is competent at it. Photographic experience is a big plus, as the model understands your intentions and needs. Photographer-models make sure that their eyes are in the same focal plane as that lionfish, keep perfect diagonals in mind as they swim into the frame or point a light, and are more patient - unless they too carry a camera...
Experienced models will go one further, alerting the photographer to the flash pointing away from the subject or signalling in case of flash failure - or to take the lens cover off that venerable Nikonos V.
HOLD HER BREATH: The most aesthetic way to photograph female models is without regulator or BC. This can be managed by free-diving, but its easier to use a tank placed nearby so that the model can breathe between shots. If the model is the dominant subject, and near the camera, avoid super wide-angle or fisheye lenses, which can cause distortion.
KEEP THEM BUSY: The person in the pictures should always be doing something, whether its pointing a torchbeam at a soft coral or taking a picture with a camera. The flash should be set on slave mode, so that the units fire at the same time and the result looks realistic. The model should never look towards the camera, but to where the action is.
PASSING THROUGH: The most common situation using a model - the diver swims through the scenery to prevent the image looking too static. For this type of picture, super-wide-angle or fisheye lenses are best. To achieve proper picture composition, follow the wide-angle rules in the second of this series (May)
FASHIONABLY DISTANT: The peak of the art, for the model as well as the photographer. Ability to find, approach and behave with animals responsibly calls for knowledge and understanding. Fortunately out of fashion nowadays: touching animals, riding turtles and mantas, or lying on coral in a pin-up pose!
one Anyone in front of a camera is a model, but depending on the situation and the planned pictures the photographer must decide if a female or male fits the shot best.
two It helps if a model is your long-time buddy, or a resort divemaster who does it all the time. Never expect good results from asking some diver on the boat to play model for a few minutes.
three The model needs to fit into the underwater environment. Modern diving gear can look quite aesthetic if you shorten straps and other hanging items and place the hoses so that the model doesnt resemble an octopus.
four Models usually swim behind the main subject and are therefore less well illuminated by the flash. Dressed in a black or dark blue wetsuit, they will disappear in back as a flat and low-contrast subject. So use bright suits - the best colours are yellow and silver!
five Performing diving procedures must be routine and automatic. If too many things interrupt the concentration of the model and photographer, the results will be disappointing.
six Model and photographer can become quite separated from one another, especially in a situation full of action - for example, when encircling a large school of jacks or penetrating a wreck. Its vital that time, air, depth, currents, distance from boat and other safety factors are not overlooked while you are preoccupied.
seven The photographers etiquette with regard to the environment must be reflected in the behaviour of the model. A good model can hover above the reef, not land on it, and respects animals by not touching, chasing or feeding them.
eight Photographers say that a good briefing is half the picture. This is especially true before going under water. But during the dive a good way to make the model understand your intentions is to demonstrate shots yourself - for example, swimming along a wreck, remaining at a particular point and aiming the torchbeam at a soft coral. The model should watch from the shooting position.
nine Models should never stare into the camera unless they are intended to be recognised for some reason. They must act naturally. They can point a flashlight or draw the viewer towards the main subject element by looking at it very obviously, head position and all.
ten The more the model know about underwater photography, the easier all this becomes and the better the pictures. Send your model to a photo- workshop to learn the basics (this will be appreciated) and always discuss the pictures together - over a nice dinner at an exclusive restaurant !