Finally! Underwater photos that make sense!
So a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to do some underwater swim team photos for my local high schools. I say high schools, as in plural, because I sit smack dab in between the two of them. Both schools are only two miles away from each other. Because of the close proximity and city scheduling, the Clemens Buffalos and Steele Knights swim teams practice together. So my underwater team photo marathon was scheduled.
Now before I go off on this impressive feat, I want to acknowledge all the work that was put into planning this day. First off, I would not suggest any photographer to accept this challenge without full confidence in both their team photo experience and underwater experience. I have extensive experience now in both, but underwater team photos is very advanced photography, and I am not afraid to admit that this was a huge collective challenge. This particular shoot offered individual portraits and team underwater pictures. That means I had a photographer and assistant on land, and a photographer and assistant in the pool. The portraits included studio settings with lights, backdrop, and voluntary props. I also had impressive cooperation from volunteers, coaches, and parents. This was a major project, and I am thankful for all the help I had and recognize how lucky I am that everything went so smoothly.
If you consider yourself ready for a similar underwater undertaking, I have several tips that will be invaluable to your success.
Smaller is better
My largest group consisted of 10 girls. Yes, I said 10! It’s difficult to get 10 people to look at the camera on land let alone underwater. Some were better at holding their breath and some were better at staying at the bottom of the pool. Figuring out each girl’s strength became very important to factor in when placing the swimmers into a formation. The smaller the group, the better I was able to adjust to each of their abilities. If you can, shoot for five – Seven per group.
30 minutes per group
At minimum. Once you educate everyone with the basics of underwater posing, run a couple test shots, figure out each swimmer’s strengths and rearrange accordingly, then really begin shooting- you have already gone through 15 minutes of photo-taking time. Smaller groups work more efficiently, so sometimes you might have time to get creative with posing. But larger groups can easily use the full 30 minutes and then some.
Use dive weights
No matter your physique, human beings just tend to float. This is something I have learned to work through when I am one on one in a senior photo shoot. With seven people floating around, you need immediate results. Dive weights are an underwater model’s best friend. Just a couple extra pounds held in one hand can make a huge difference in the swimmer’s capacity to stay in formation, and allow them to focus on other posing aspects besides just staying under.
Have everyone braid their hair
Ok so this is mostly for the girls. We asked everyone to come ready for individual pictures that we would take on land before they got in the pool. This meant some of the girls took time to do their hair. No problem, it looks beautiful, but before I would allow them to get in the pool I made them all do a side braid. I didn’t want any hair from a girl in the front row to block someone in the back row. However, I also wanted to make sure that you could see they had hair (what’s underwater photography without beautiful, wafting hair?). A side braid was perfect. But be prepared to deal with braids in front of faces.
This is something that applies to all underwater photoshoots, but I still seem to be struggling perfecting this art. For our 6-hour pool adventure, I applied sunscreen twice. That means down all the parts in my hair and to the ends of all my limbs. But I still forgot somewhere. Even your lips need sunscreen, and the sunburn I got from this has cemented this tip in my mind forever. Wear and reapply your sunscreen!!
Stick to your priorities
This was my biggest struggle, and the lesson I will keep in mind for every shoot after. I knew I would be working with a lot of people. Each swim team had over 30 members. The kids were excited, and wanted to get creative with their poses. Some wanted quick individuals underwater, then maybe add a friend or two. Normally all of these things are awesome. Creativity, willing-models, networking. But the challenge was so huge to begin with, you need to remember what the end goal is: Awesome team photos. Adding more options risks the priority. Adding can be an option, but only with necessary preparation. Do not throw anything in day of, it just doesn’t work.
I have to give a HUGE shout out to my swim team mom extraordinaire Michaelle Voos! She was amazing at keeping the parents informed as well as helping the kids be where they needed to be. Thank you!
If you would like to schedule your own underwater session or your swim team’s custom photos feel free to contact us.