Just for fun · mermaiding

Things No One Tells You About Being An Underwater Model

Underwater modelling looks super cool, but I can tell you from experience that it has it’s downsides. So today, I present my list of the things no-one tells you about being an underwater model…

Things No One Tells You About Being An Underwater Model

1. You might look amazing but you will feel GROSS

Underwater modelling (and underwater performance more generally) may look incredibly glamorous, but the truth is… It’s not! If you’re shooting (or performing) in chlorinated water, by the end of the shoot your eyes will be bright red like some kind of mermaid vampire, and your nose will be running like mad. If you’re working in seawater or fresh water, your eyes probably won’t be as sore, but you’ll still have a gross runny nose and… You might smell pretty bad too. Ever seen a mermaid performing in an aquarium, looking magical alongside the fish and sharks? Yeah, when she gets out the tank backstage, she will stink of seaweed and shark poop. And she’ll still smell pretty bad even after her third hot shower that evening.

2. It takes FOREVER

That gorgeous shot of the underwater model hovering in the water, wrapped in elegant folds of transparent fabric that float around her in perfect symmetry? Yeah, the photographer will have about 500 versions of that photo that didn’t work out.

Getting the perfect underwater photo takes patience and persistence, sometimes to a quite ridiculous extent. So many things have to come together for the shot to work. The model has to be floating just right; so does her costume and hair. There can’t be any bubbles or floating debris obscuring the picture. If the model is moving in the water (and let’s face it, it’s almost impossible to stay still in water!), the photographer has to press the shutter button at the exact right moment, not too early or too late. Plus, all of the normal considerations that need to come together to create a great photo – the lighting, the model’s expression and open eyes, the make-up, the props… The list goes on.

So if you have a specific shot you’re trying to create, be prepared to try for the shot over… and over… and over… and then maybe just a few more times…

3. Being an underwater model is super cold!

So this one sounds obvious, but modelling underwater gets really cold. I presume that professional mermaids and underwater models who live in lovely hot countries don’t have this issue to quite the same degree, but if you’re in the UK it’s going to be an issue. Make sure you plan how you’re going to warm up once you’re out of the water – hot towels, warm drinks, a space heater or hot shower are all good ideas to have on standby. You also need to ensure that you’re not in the water for too long at one time – 15 minutes is the absolute max in cold water before you should have a break.

One of my coldest mermaid performance experiences was at an aquarium in Scotland where the water for their main sand tiger shark tank was fed directly from the Firth of Forth. After each stint swimming in the freezing water, we climbed straight into a large sink filled with warm water… It was heavenly!

Photograph by Mark Jones

4. Risk assessments are really important

Risk assessments for underwater models:

Modelling and performing underwater is inherently dangerous. You’re trying to hold your breath for long periods of time, often in cold water, often while wearing impractical costumes or working with props that could impede your ability to swim to the surface if you needed to. If you’re modelling or performing in open water, there are even more dangers – waves, tides, entanglement hazards from fishing gear, and so on. With all these dangers, it’s important to manage the risk to yourself and others.

I actually ended up with a concussion after one underwater photoshoot – we were shooting at night against a black background with a single beam of light, so it was pretty dark, and I surfaced straight into a metal ladder that had been placed across the pool as part of the lighting rig. Talking to my doctor the next day about how I sustained the injury required a LOT of explaining… And my GP always remembered me as the professional mermaid after that. So, proper risk assessment for underwater photography is really important.

How to do a risk assessment for an underwater photoshoot:

Essentially, the process involves identifying possible risks or hazards that could arise as part of the photoshoot, and taking action to eliminate or reduce the risk, as well as planning for what you’ll do if the risk materialises.

So for instance, linking back to aprevious section in this article, with an underwater photoshoot a risk could be that the model ends up with hypothermia; and you could plan to mitigate this by controlling the amount of time spend in the water, the temperature of the water (if possible), providing a heated area where they can warm up afterwards, having towels and warm drinks on hand, etc. etc. Or another risk could be the model getting into difficulties in the water; so think about having a safety diver or divers in the water, and/or a lifeguard on hand in shallower water, and agreeing a hand signal that the model can use to signal that they need help. Think about whether the model’s costume(s) could impede any rescue efforts, and how you can manage that.

By working your way through the possible dangers, and planning for how to keep the models and photographer safe, you can ensure you have a fun and low-risk shoot.

Other risks to consider in your assessment:

You should also think about other types of risk, such as whether you have the right insurance, and whether your photoshoot will be in line with the law. For instance, if you or your photographer is diving using SCUBA gear in the UK, you will be subject to the Diving At Work Regulations (1997). Make sure you do your research and know the relevant laws in advance of your photoshoot.

I’ll write more about risk assessing underwater photoshoots in a future post, so watch this space.

5. Being an underwater model is incredibly tiring

Underwater modelling is exhausting. Repeatedly diving and posing while holding your breath is very strenuous work, and it’s another reason why it’s important to schedule short diving windows – even if the water is warm. It’s really easy to underestimate just how tiring it can be! I recommend restricting photoshoot timings to a maximum of 20 minutes at a time before the model gets a break. If you have multiple models at a shoot, it’s best to rotate them; often the photographer will be able to keep going longer if they’re shooting from outside of the water or are using SCUBA gear, so it’s the best way to make use of the time.

Make sure you’ve properly considered how tired you will be after any extended session as an underwater model, and how you will manage that. It may be sensible to ensure that you’re not going to have to drive yourself home after the photoshoot – especially combined with the risk of things such as getting sore, dry eyes from the chlorine.

Photograph by Johannes Hjorth

6. You can’t communicate with your photographer

Again, this sounds obvious, but it’s easy to overlook. Underwater, the photographer cannot direct the model while actually taking pictures. In order to discuss how the shoot is going, you’ll both need to surface to talk to one another. That takes time and can be a real pain, especially if the photographer is using SCUBA gear, or if you’re shooting in a tank when it can be difficult for the model to hear anything that’s being said outside the tank itself.

So for a successful underwater photoshoot, make sure you have a thorough discussion with your photographer before getting into the water. Agree the type of shots you’re aiming for, the poses, location in the water, and any hand signals you’ll use to communicate with one another. That way, you’ll get the most of your time shooting together.

More tips and tricks for underwater models

This article is part of a series I’m writing called The Professional Mermaid’s Guide to Underwater Modelling! Why not check out the series page to see all the articles I’ve written about underwater modelling and photography? The series includes top tips on everything from learning how to open your eyes underwater, to styling hair and using wigs in the water, underwater makeup tips, and more!

Are you an underwater model or photographer? Do you have any tips that you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Use Props To Create Stunning Underwater Photography (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

Drawing on my experience as a professional mermaid and underwater model, I’ve been writing a series of articles with my top tips for underwater photography. These blog posts are primarily aimed at people who are new to underwater modelling, but they’ll be useful to models, photographers and anyone else aiming to create the perfect underwater photograph! In this article, we’ll be focusing on how to use props underwater for the best effect…

how to use props underwater to create stunning underwater photographs modelling top tips the sickly mama mermaid

How To Use Props In Underwater Photography:

Using fabric in underwater photography:

Loose fabric is one of the best props you can use in underwater photography, because visibly floating fabric is a simple way of enhancing the weightless sensation of being underwater. There are some simple ways to enhance the effect when selecting your fabric:

  • Pick the right fabric. Lighter fabric will float the best (and the longest) in the water, and fabric which is slightly translucent will catch the light and look most effective in your photographs. Organza, chiffon, voile, tulle etc. are all good choices.
  • Consider the background you’ll be shooting against and select a fabric that will contrast, e.g. white fabric against a black background, orange fabric against a blue background and so on. Bright block colours are usually more effective underwater than darker or heavily patterned fabrics.
  • Ensure the fabric is big enough to have an effect – if you are using loose fabric then you want at least a couple of metres of it, if it’s part of a costume (sleeves, skirts, etc) then again, bigger is better.

Then you need to think about how you’re actually going to use the fabric in your pictures. Some top tips for working with fabric underwater include:

  • Move slowly and steadily through the water, to maximise your opportunity to get the shot.
  • If you’re using loose fabric, aim to keep it at chest height or above, as this will accentuate the weightless effect of the picture.
  • Think about how you’re shaping your hands as you hold onto the fabric – you don’t want beautiful flowing fabric clenched in tight little fists!
  • Aim to keep the fabric mostly behind or above you unless it’s partially translucent, as otherwise it will block you in the photo.
mermaid using fabric prop underwater the sickly mama mairead claydon blog

Using Small Props In Underwater Photography

Often small props can be a very simple way to create some extra interest in your underwater photography, or to give it a fun sense of surrealism. One of the most fun photographs of me underwater is of me dressed in a mermaid tail, reading a newspaper at the bottom of a water tank (see below, by Shamira Crivellaro). I love it because it’s such a surreal shot – the floaty hair makes it clear that the photo really was taken underwater, but the calm pose reading the paper with my glasses on is not what you expect from typical mermaid photography!

mermaid reading a newspaper underwater wearing glasses

Here’s a few top tips on getting the most from using small props underwater:

  • Make sure they’re waterproof! Okay, it sounds incredibly obvious but there’s nothing worse than having a key prop disintegrate in the middle of a shoot (and then finding yourself swimming around the tank trying to retrieve the pieces!). So make sure they’re waterproof before you start – that includes making sure they won’t leak colour, or have bits fall off, and that they sink/float as you’d expect.
  • A single prop is usually more effective than loads of them. Getting the perfect shot underwater is difficult enough without introducing too many variables! Make it something simple that’s easy to interact with.
  • Combining ‘everyday’ items with underwater photography is often very effective at achieving that surreal look. For instance, newspapers, tea cups, fans, mirrors etc.
mermaid holding a model ship underwater david ballard
Photograph by David Ballard

Using Large Props In Underwater Photography

Large props, such as furniture, can also look incredible in your underwater photography, but they bring their own challenges! Again, you need to make sure they’re waterproof, but what other considerations are there when working with large props?

  • The biggest consideration is buoyancy! If your furniture is trying to float away, it’s incredibly difficult to work with. I once did a shoot with a chair that was almost impossible, because it just was not heavy enough to stay sunk at the bottom of the pool, and we both kept drifting away together! (See the pic below… We made it work eventually!) You can always add weights to help something sink if needed.
  • Working with large items creates additional risk, particularly in terms of getting the props into/out of the water and the risk of costumes catching on the props during the shoot and restricting movement. Make sure you’ve properly risk assessed the shoot and considered how to manage these potential dangers.

The Underwater Photoshoot Series

This article is part of a series giving advice on underwater photoshoots both for photographers and underwater models, drawing on my experience as a professional mermaid. Why not check out my previous articles, including top tips for modelling underwater and this blog post helping you learn how to open your eyes underwater.

Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Use Your Natural Buoyancy For Underwater Photography (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

Controlling your buoyancy is key to successful underwater modelling. Ideally, you want to be able to sink when you want to sink and float when you want to float. Everyone has a different level of natural buoyancy, so you will need to learn what works for you! I’ve collected together my top tips from my time as a professional mermaid and underwater model, to help you work on controlling and using your natural buoyancy for underwater photography.

Understanding Your Natural Buoyancy

On average, the human body has a density of 0.98 compared to water (according to Wikipedia!). That means that most people’s bodies are inclined to float, rather than sink.

Your body composition plays a large part in determining whether you’re more sink-y or float-y; muscle and bone are more dense than water and sink, whereas fat will float. Women naturally have a higher body fat percentage than men and so are more likely to be inclined to float – great in a shipwreck situation, but potentially more of a challenge when modelling underwater.

When it comes to learning how to control your buoyancy for underwater photography, you could work on changing your body composition, but that tends to be quite a long-term fix! In the short term, buoyancy control is mainly about controlling the amount of air inside your lungs, which effectively act as a floatation aid when full of air.

It’s also worth remembering that the salinity of the water will make a difference: if you’re swimming in salt water, you’ll always be more floaty than you are in a pool.

buoyancy for underwater photography two girls floating gregory brown the sickly mama blog modelling professional mermaid
Photograph by Gregory Brown

If You’re Floating Too Much

If you find that you’re constantly floating to the surface when modelling underwater, the first thing to think about is your breathing. Our natural instinct is to take as deep a breath as possible before submerging, in order to be able to last as long as possible underwater; however, having lungs full of air is likely to make it difficult for you to pose in place for long.

As you’re about to dive, take a deep breath and then puff out a little air before going underwater; you’ll need to experiment with this to find the exact amounts of air you need to breathe out in order to be able to float neutrally in the water or sink to the bottom and stay there.

If you’re a very competent swimmer and this is something you’re struggling with, you can also think about incorporating diving weights into your costume. Scuba divers use these to compensate for the buoyancy of their equipment. You can purchase small amounts of lead shot ballast online in pouches which can be hidden or incorporated in weight belts or costumes. However, being weighted down always has the potential to be dangerous – your weights should be quick release, and you should be careful not to weight yourself down too much. It’s always good practice to have an agreed hand-sign so that your photographer and/or assistants know if you’re in difficulty and can come to assist.

johannes hjorth monochrome bride floating water roses buoyancy the sickly mama blog
Photograph by Johannes Hjorth

If You’re Sinking Too Much

If on the other hand, you find that you’re sinking too much and you’re not able to simply float in place underwater, firstly make sure you’re taking a good deep breath before submerging. You may find that it’s your natural instinct to breathe out as you’re diving down in the water, thus making it easier to dive down quickly, but if you tend to have negative buoyancy (i.e. you sink!), you need to hold on to that breath of air while diving.

If that still doesn’t make a difference and you find you tend to sink straight to the bottom, this is probably a natural effect of your body composition. You’ll need to try to get good photographs on your way to the bottom, while swimming, or after pushing off from the bottom of the tank or pool for an underwater jump.

mermaid floating holly meadows photography the sickly mama blog buoyancy underwater modelling
Photograph by Holly Meadows

Playing With Buoyancy For Underwater Modelling

Finally, it’s worth thinking about how you can capture great shots underwater while working within the limitations of you/your models’ natural  buoyancy.

If you constantly float and can’t stay in one place for long, you’ll need to go for shots with more movement; try diving down to the bottom of the pool or tank and then allowing yourself to naturally float up through the water (remember: if your lungs are full of air it will mean that your torso floats up first, so you will pretty much always maintain a vertical body position if you do this).

Having a model with negative buoyancy who sinks straight to the bottom can be great for setting up more complicated poses or scenarios, or working with props.​

Having two models with different natural buoyancy affords a lot of possibilities for underwater photography; having one model with negative buoyancy who is able to remain at the bottom of the pool means they can act as an ‘anchor’, who can hold the more floaty model in place. This makes it much easier to catch the perfect shot of more than one model, while keeping the underwater ‘feel’ in the photograph.

buoyancy on a chair sickly mama blog gregory brown underwater modelling mermaid professional
Photograph by Gregory Brown

More tips for underwater modelling

This blog post is part of a series of articles on underwater modelling and photography, based on my experience as a professional mermaid and underwater model. You can read more top tips for underwater models here, or learn how to open your eyes underwater here.

Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Relax Underwater (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

Feeling calm and being able to relax underwater is a big part of being a good underwater model or performer, and that’s my background and where thus blog post comes from. But if you suffer from fear of the water, or enjoy freediving and want to improve your breath hold and confidence in the water, these tips should also be useful to you.

This is part of my blog series A Professional Mermaid’s Guide to Underwater Modelling – check out the other posts for more top tips on looking incredible underwater.

how to relax underwater sickly mama real mermaid blog

How To Relax Underwater

Why is it important to relax underwater?

Staying calm and relaxed in the water is likely to help you hold your breath for longer, enable you to keep going for longer – and ensure that you actually enjoy yourself. If you’re modelling or performing underwater and you feel panicked or you need to make a lot of adjustments to your pose, hair or costume, you’ll burn through your oxygen much more quickly and find that you can’t hold your breath as long.

Practise makes perfect

The number one way to ensure you feel relaxed underwater is just practice. It’s not the advice anyone wants, but it’s true! The best thing you can do is spend lots of time in the water, diving and holding your breath, until it doesn’t feel strange or unusual or even particularly exciting. Once being underwater feels kind of standard, you know you’re relaxed! Of course it’s important to always practice in the water safely, with a dive buddy (see more on this below).

Underwater photoshoots in particular can be stressful environments; there’s a lot of pressure to get the right shots within a set time frame. If you’re not comfortable in the water, this will only exacerbate the stress and pressure. Making sure you’ve spent a lot of time in the water in a non-pressured environment will help you to have the confidence you need to relax underwater.

mermaid with sunglasses underwater how to relax underwater modelling the sickly mama blog
Photograph by Mark Jones

Minimise the pressure

In order to feel relaxed, you need to think about your environment both before and during your time in the water. Think about how you can create a calm environment that will help you feel relaxed. Music can be really helpful for this – a few times I’ve done photoshoots in a tank which had a sound system, which was awesome but obviously is not always available!

Be organised and ensure you’re not rushing around before you get in the water. If you’re feeling stressed out before you even begin, you’ll find it difficult to relax once you start swimming.

Breathing exercises

Ideally, take time to do some breathing exercises before getting in the water. This will help you to hold your breath longer, but will also help you to feel relaxed and calm. Focus on your breathing, your inhalations and exhalations, and try some specific exercises such as this breathing technique recommended by the NHS for anxiety and stress.

mermaid diving underwater light and dark how to relax underwater modelling the sickly mama blog
Photograph by Vanessa Mills

Be safe and manage risk

It sounds obvious, but ensure that you are swimming or diving in a safe environment. This is especially important if you are undertaking an underwater photoshoot or performance, or swimming in open water. Making sure you’ve undertaken a risk assessment beforehand will help you relax when it’s time to get in the water.

Think about things like: is there a lifeguard? Are you diving or swimming with a buddy? Are there any obstructions or hazards in the water? If you’re wearing a costume with a lot of fabric, or something like a mermaid tail that might be quite restrictive, aim to practice being in the water in your costume to ensure you feel comfortable and safe.

You should also consider the way your tank or diving area is set up. When you surface for a breath after diving, will you have something to hold onto, to give yourself a break for a moment if you need it? This could be the side of the pool, a float, a rock, whatever – but it’s good to know you can take a pause if and when you need it.

Linked to the above, think about the length of time you’ll be diving for. For modelling or performing, ten to twenty minute sessions with decent length breaks in-between is sensible, to ensure you don’t get too exhausted or too cold, and have a chance to recharge your batteries.

Don’t push yourself too hard

If you’re modelling or performing underwater and you try to hold your breath as long as you possibly can on every dive, you will very quickly run out of energy and start to find the rest of your time in the water much more difficult. As with something like running, it’s important to pace yourself. It’s better to maintain medium length breath holds consistently over a twenty minute shoot, rather than exhaust yourself with a couple of really long breath holds right at the start and then not be able to maintain it. Running out of air will stress you out, so make sure you take the next breath before you absolutely have to.

Similarly, if you’re trying to get over anxiety about being in the water, don’t force yourself to stay in the water for a really long time at first.

Learn More About Underwater Modelling

This article is part of a series sharing top tips on various aspects of underwater modelling! Why not check out this article on general underwater modelling tips to look amazing underwater, this post about learning how to open your eyes underwater, or the series page to see everything I’ve published so far.

Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Do Incredible Make-Up For Underwater Photography – Tips From A Professional Mermaid

Chances are, if you’re looking for advice on make-up for underwater modelling and photography, you’ve found a lot of information on waterproof make up. Unfortunately, waterproof is definitely not the same as underwater-proof. A lot of time spent performing underwater as a professional mermaid and underwater model means I’ve learned plenty of tips and tricks that will help you get the best out of your underwater makeup up.

But before we even start to talk about brands and application, there are a few key pointers to be aware of…

makeup make-up for underwater photography from a professional mermaid how to top tips the sickly mama blog

Make-Up For Underwater Photography

Underwater Make Up Needs Drama

Make-up generally needs to be more dramatic in order to make an impact underwater; the water washes out the picture. It’s not dissimilar to the effect of stage lighting; you need to ensure make-up is more vivid than you would make it for an above-the-water shoot.

The clarity of the water and the distance between you and the photographer will also make an impact; the further away your photographer is, the more ‘washed out’ the image will be before post-processing.

Once You’re In The Water

Secondly: no matter your make up, don’t touch your face once you’re in the water. Don’t do it. When you surface out of the water and your nose is full of water and your hair is in your eyes, don’t touch your face. Your make up will smudge, and the only way you can fix it is by getting out of the water, drying your face off (probably removing more make-up!) and patching it up.

It’s also worth being aware that the water you’re swimming in will make a difference, and chlorinated water tends to be much harsher on your make up than unchlorinated water.

Photograph by Jules Abensour

Types of Make Up For Underwater Photography

Different types of cosmetics perform differently underwater. Oil-based, alcohol-based, and silicone-based products are all more resilient. Grease paints, such as those used for theatrical and film productions are oil-based and shouldn’t wash off in water; well-known brands such as Kryolan are widely available online. However, I’ve focused this section on easy underwater make-up solutions from personal cosmetic products, rather than high-grade film and theatre products, as it’s more likely to be useful for those planning their first underwater shoot.

Foundation and contouring

Look for liquid foundation that’s advertised as being super long-lasting. Obviously powdered products do not hold up in water BUT a number of companies make cosmetic products you can use to transform powder-based makeup into a gel or paint-like consistency, which allows it to set in place and makes it more resilient. This is great for using your normal pressed powder bronzer, highlighter etc. I use Face Atelier’s transforming gel, which I’ve found very useful.

Underwater Eyelashes

Don’t be tempted by false eyelashes. It’s not worth it. Unless you’re planning to shoot for all of three minutes, the glue will give way and you’ll end up with eyelashes hanging off your face – or worse, floating around in the water ruining the shot until you can catch hold of them (yes, this has happened at a shoot I was at… Although not with my eyelashes, fortunately!).

Getting your eyelashes permanently tinted, or having proper semi-permanent false eyelash extensions from a reputable salon are both viable, but more expensive alternatives. Or, just go with a really good waterproof mascara: I use Maybelline Great Lash Waterproof which lasts well even in quite strongly chlorinated water.

Photograph by Hugh Spence

Eye Shadow and Eyeliner

My favourite brand of eyeshadow is Inglot. They do a great range of colourful eyeshadows, which I’ve found the be incredibly resilient underwater without the need to use a transforming gel – and the eyeshadows still look pretty good even after repeated dunkings in an aquarium with no chance to top-up.

With regards to eyeliner, there are a lot of good waterproof eyeliners on the market which I’ve found to generally hold up well underwater. Barry M’s waterproof eyeliner is perfectly good and reasonably priced!

Underwater Lips

Lipstick can hold up underwater, but don’t bother with lipgloss. I find MAC lipsticks to be about the best, but even with MAC if you’re spending a lot of time in a chlorinated pool, it will fade noticeably and you’ll need to top up. The best tip I can give you to help with that is just: try not to touch your mouth when you’re surfacing from the water, and it’ll last longer.

Photograph by Johannes Hjorth

Lip liner is a good idea to prevent it running; lip seal products are also available, but I’ve never found that they make much of a difference if chlorine is involved, unfortunately.

It’s worth noting that underwater photography tends to emphasise the blues in a shot and suck out the colour red, so choosing a more vivid shade than usual is advised.

Learn more about underwater modelling…

This article is part of a series sharing top tips on various aspects of underwater modelling! If you’re interested, you can check out this article on general underwater modelling tips to look amazing underwater or this post about learning how to open your eyes underwater… or see all my articles on my Guide To Underwater Modelling page.

Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Open Your Eyes Underwater (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

I’ve previously given my top tips on underwater modelling, based on my time as a professional mermaid and underwater model. So I’m going to continue this as a little blog series! And I’m starting with a question: can you open your eyes underwater? Being able to open your eyes underwater is a really important part of underwater modelling. If you can’t open your eyes, you may still be able to get some beautiful shots with closed eyes, but to be a successful underwater model you need to be able to open them. As the old saying goes, the eyes are the windows to the soul – and in underwater photography, seeing a model with their eyes open is part of what really brings that magical, fantastical quality to the picture.

So if you’re not comfortable with opening your eyes underwater, how do you get there? Realistically, you do need to accept that opening your eyes underwater is likely to sting, and you’ll need to practice to get comfortable with it gradually, over time. Here are some key pointers that will help you get there.

Learn How To Open Your Eyes Underwater

1. Start By Staying Still

If you swim forwards with your eyes open, it’s more painful, because you’re effectively forcing the water into your eyes. For your first attempts at opening your eyes underwater, try to stay quite still as you open them.

Photograph by Gregory Brown

2. Avoid Chlorine If You Can

Chlorine and heavily salted water are the most unpleasant on your eyes, but even fresh water will sting a little bit. Aim to start trying to open your eyes underwater in lightly chlorinated water, or natural water such as an ocean or lake that is clear and free of other irritants (such as a lot of dirt or sand).

If you’re in a public swimming pool, remember that these tend to have higher chlorine levels than private pools or tanks, so your eyes are likely to sting more in a public pool. You may find that opening your eyes underwater in the ocean is less painful – but if there are a lot of waves, be aware that this can stir up the sand and leave you with painful sand particles in your eyes.

Make sure you have eye drops on hand for when you get out of the water – there are lots of great drops on the market, and I recommend looking for the kind that are marketed as being more viscous or gels, such as Viscotears liquid gel.

Check out those pink eyes in this backstage shot by Johannes Hjorth

3. Check The Temperature

It’s also worth being aware that the temperature of the water will make a difference. The most unpleasant underwater photoshoot I ever did was in an indoor tank, and me and the other models noticed that our eyes were burning much worse than normal. We spoke to the tank operators and they did several checks on the chlorine levels, which were completely within the normal range – but by the end of the shoot, we were all barely able to open our eyes (and seriously glad we had brought our eye drops along!).

Afterwards we realised that the problem had almost certainly been the temperature of the water – it was a cold winter’s day and the tank was located in a chilly warehouse, so the operators had very kindly turned the temperature up to ensure we didn’t freeze. However, the warmer water meant that the chlorine was reacting more easily with our eyes and thus a lot more painful than usual. So if you’re shooting in a heated pool or tank, try not to have the temperature turned up too high. You’re better off being briefly cold than having red vampire eyes for days afterwards!

4. Build Up Slowly

Start by opening your eyes for one or two seconds and build up from there. Practice makes perfect, but don’t spend too long practicing at once – spread it out over a number of different sessions to make sure you’re not putting your eyes through too much punishment.

Try opening your eyes while looking upwards initially, as some people find this easier.

Photograph by Hugh Spence

5. And Finally…

If you find that you’re still not comfortable opening your eyes underwater and want to shoot pictures with your eyes shut, make sure that you’re not scrunching your face up to keep your eyes closed – you want to look relaxed!

Other tips on how to open your eyes underwater…

Can you open your eyes underwater with contacts in?

If you wear contact lenses, you might be wondering whether you can swim and open your eyes underwater with contacts in. The short answer is yes, you can – but don’t! Contact lenses provide an ideal surface for bacteria and germs to stick to, pressed up against your eye, so they increase the risk of eye infections and irritation, especially if you’re modelling or performing in chlorinated water. Additionally, if you open your eyes underwater while wearing contact lenses, there’s a pretty high risk that they may come away from your eyes and get lost, or that they will absorb the water and change shape, which can be damaging to your eyes and increases the risk of them floating away as well…

If you do open your eyes underwater with contacts in, make sure you take them out and ideally dispose of them as soon afterwards as possible, and rinse your eyes with eye drops.

How can you treat eye irritation and/or burning eyes?

If you experience eye irritation or burning eyes after opening your eyes in a chlorinated pool or salt water, flush your eyes out with an eye rinse or eye drops. Both chlorine and salt water can be very drying on the eyes, so keep your eye drops on hand and use them as needed to soothe your eyes.

If your eyes become very red and sore, this can be something that is actually visible in your underwater photographs. The best way to avoid this is not to spend too long in the water at one stretch, and to use eye drops. It’s pretty hard to quickly reverse the redness, unfortunately, so this may be something your photographer has to just fix when editing your photographs.

Is it safe to open your eyes underwater?

Unfortunately if you do open your eyes underwater, there is an increased risk of eye infections, so that is something you need to watch out for. Swimming pools, freshwater and saltwater pools all have a risk of containing bacteria and other nasties that could damage your eyes – and the same goes for natural bodies of water like the ocean, as well!

If your eyes are red, sore, blurry or burning the next day after your swim, or if they are really painful, you may have an eye infection – get your doctor to check you out.

Can you open your eyes underwater?

Do you have any tips for how to open your eyes underwater that you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Look Amazing Underwater (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

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.

Photograph by Gregory Brown

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).
Photograph by Chiara Salomoni

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!

This photograph by David Ballard shows typical dappled underwater lighting

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.

A nose bubble ruining this great shot by Shamira Crivellaro of MiraMarc Studios

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.