Monday, May 16, 2016

Taking the plunge, photographing under water

Underwater play at Hubbard Swim School
           Where will you go to make a different picture?

          Sure this isn't putting on a bee suit to photograph a beekeeper at work or flying halfway around the world to work in a rural environment until recently a war and cholera zone, but it is a little different, shooting a swim article from below as well as above water.

          Sometimes it's about a simple question, what can I do that's a little different?

Whatever it takes for a picture.
          Jumping in at great risk of electronic bodily harm to gear, I trusted an inexpensive camera housing to do something a little different for a cover/feature shoot for Raising Arizona Kids Magazine at Hubbard Swim School in Phoenix. Of course, I tested it at home first, ensuring an absence of leaks. Still nervous about the quality of the what could more accurately be called a waterproof bag for the camera, I held my breath and went under to photograph my first subject.

          (For the record, I used a DiCAPac WP-S10 Waterproof Case purchased from B&H Photo. The material is a thin plastic and it is challenging to manipulate camera controls but it did work and did not leak.)

          In the two minutes or so that I could stay down, I discovered that finding the viewfinder and double-checking focus as the subject moved toward me proved more difficult that one would imagine. You discover just how quickly you're able to retrain yourself when challenged by the shooting environment.

          It became a process, count down with the subject, take deep breath, dive, find the viewfinder, find the subject, shoot, surface, check the bag for leaks, check images and, if necessary, open the now wet bag to change camera settings before carefully resealing the bag for another go. 

Using the fish aquarium method, shooting with
lighting through the side pane of a fish aquarium
          I've only shot underwater a couple times before, the first, long ago, with a disposable, film camera, while swimming the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The extent of the challenge, then: looking through the scuba mask,  and through the viewfinder while watching for the flash ready-light to light up Nemo and his friends.

          The second time, in a freezing backyard pool, (summer covers are shot in the early spring, after all), using a partially submerged fish aquarium to create an underwater window pane through which I could shoot with a dry camera.

           The hardest parts that day, holding the camera at odd angles and aiming it without the benefit of the viewfinder, while two moms held the aquarium, fighting the buoyant force of the aquarium, pushing up against the glass.

          For this latest shoot, I wondered whether there might be a better method, and looked for options and talked to colleagues. I came upon this plastic bag idea which was suggested by two colleagues, one of whom works in the ocean frequently, so I figured it was worth a try.

          When working with uncertainly, never put all your eggs in one basket when your client needs a nice choice of images for the cover of their May magazine. Try multiple methods for multiple results. I kept the aquarium method in my back pocket as a "plan B".

          The bag system did expose a technical wrinkle after I'd spent the first 45 minutes setting up my studio-style strobes in a scheme designed to turn the pool wall that would be behind me, into a wall of soft light for my subjects.  Apparently radio slave triggers don't work very well under even a very shallow amount of water.

          So after experimenting for a while with the bag using available light, I switched to partially submerging the fish tank so that the radio slaves would be able to fire a flash signal through the air space.

In all a fun day at work, breaking from routine, confronting technical challenges and working with a fun group of kids and grown-ups.


Of course, a complete assignment is shot below and Above the water level... Bob Hubbard, at left, the owner of the school and tireless assistant and young-person wrangler.
The hardest job on the shoot, young subjects having a good time.

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