Whether you’re a model heading for your first underwater photoshoot, or just going on holiday and dreaming of getting some awesome underwater shots in the pool, getting a good picture in the water is very different to getting a good photo on land. While I’m not performing now I’ve had my son, I spent years working as a professional mermaid and underwater model, so I’ve pulled together this short guide for modelling underwater, to help you get the pictures you want.
Underwater Modelling Top Tips
1. Keep Track Of Your Location Underwater
Being underwater affords so much opportunity for creative, gravity-defying poses. When you’re getting into position it’s helpful to be aware of the frame that your photographer is shooting into, to ensure that you know whether you can stretch out your arms and legs and still stay in shot, or whether you need to stick to more compact poses. For underwater modelling, aim to keep diving in the same spot unless your photographer wants you to move, as otherwise you’re likely to get a lot of blurry pictures. It can be tricky to keep track of this in swimming pools, as there’s always a tendency to drift in the water, so try to get your bearings each time you surface.
2. Relax Your Face And Open Your Mouth
One of the things that can make your face seem tense or unnatural in underwater pictures is the fact that most people naturally want to keep their mouth closed when they’re underwater. When you’re holding your breath, you’ll naturally want to close your mouth, and most people aren’t that comfortable at first with letting water into their mouth, especially if it’s chlorinated.
But you’ll find that if you can open your mouth underwater, it will help your facial expressions to look relaxed – and gives you a much wider range of expression in your underwater modelling photos. It’s actually probably more important than being able to open your eyes underwater, as closed eyes don’t necessarily make you look tense.
At first, the fact that you’re holding your breath may mean that even with your mouth open, your facial expression will still look a little stiff or unnatural – I recommend just practising at home in the mirror. When you’re doing your breath hold practice, try using a range of expressions, and you’ll find your expression quickly becomes more natural and relaxed.
3. Getting The Poses Right For Underwater Modelling
You’ll find it helpful to go into an underwater modelling shoot with a mental checklist of poses that you want to try. It’s easy for your mind to go blank when you’re underwater, and communication with your photographer is much more difficult than on land, so it’s useful to be able to work through a set of poses that you’ve planned in advance.
Make sure you try each pose several times, to give your photographer the best chance of getting a good shot.
It’s also handy to be able to work through a mental checklist of key points as you’re getting into each pose (having something to focus on will also distract you from the fact that you’re holding your breath!):
- Point your toes (assuming you’re not in a mermaid tail!).
- Shape your hands – flat paddle hands won’t look good in a picture. Relax your hands and create some space in between your fingers.
- Relax your face – check you’re not squinting or pushing your lips out.
- Check your hair – if it’s not floating up, try running a hand up through it for that magical underwater look.
- Move slowly – give your photographer plenty of time to capture the shot.
- Use props – props can look amazing underwater! A simple piece of fabric will transform your shot.
- Think about your lighting (see below).
4. Manage Your Lighting
Just as with normal modelling, it’s important to be aware of your light sources. Underwater lighting can be more complicated, particularly if you’re relying on natural light or surface light, rather than using underwater flashes.
Using surface light in your photography creates that beautiful marbled lighting effect that can be one of the hallmarks of underwater photography.
The side effect of this marbled lighting is the weird shadows that it casts, quite unpredictably – there’s an example of this in the photo to the right. This means that it’s a good idea to have a few takes of every shot – even if your pose is spot-on, the lighting may not be!
If you are relying on surface lighting, remember to tilt your head upwards and towards your light source, to maximise the light falling on your face. But even if you do this, I guarantee you’ll get some strange shadows in your shots, so make sure you take plenty of photos!
5. Beware Of Bubbles
Unfortunately, bubbles have the propensity to pop up and ruin an otherwise awesome shot. If they’re in the right place, they can add to that magical underwater feeling in the photograph – if they’re in the wrong place, they will cast weird shadows and distort your facial features. When you’re doing underwater modelling, the key is to try to be aware of them and control them as far as possible.
When you first submerge under the water, the dive will usually create a cloud of bubbles and you will need to wait until after these have cleared to get the perfect shot. You can minimise this by diving into the water more slowly, and by getting your clothing and costume fully submerged beforehand, ensuring there aren’t any air bubbles trapped within the fabric. Checking your costume for air bubbles is a good idea in any case, as these can create peculiar floating bits of fabric in the picture.
So far, so straightforward. But now… introducing the ninja nose bubble! When you drop below the surface of the water, pockets of air are trapped in your nose and sinuses. These have a tendency of creating a surprise stream of bubbles from your nose at unexpected moments, particularly when you tip your head backwards in the water. The best thing to do is to just to be aware of the possibility of this happening when you tip your head back – if a ninja nose bubble does appear, just hold your pose and be prepared to wait for the bubbles to dissipate. You may need to repeat the pose a number of times to get the shot you want.
If it’s really ruining your shot, the best thing you can do is to get underwater, tip your head really far back, let the bubbles out and the water fill your nose, and then take your pose. This is not particularly recommended, as the sensation of water pouring into your nose is pretty unpleasant, especially if it’s chlorinated.
And those are my top tips for your next underwater photoshoot! I’ll be continuing this series of tips and tricks for underwater photography, so keep an eye out for the next blog – and let me know in the comments if there are any aspects of underwater modelling that you’d be interested in finding out more about.