Summer swimming in the cottage lake is as Canadian as it gets. The Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton, Bobcaygeon area of Ontario, Canada is one of Canada’s most popular summer cottage destinations – just a little south-east of the more well known Muskoka cottage country.
We recently photographed three potential Olympic swimming athletes from McMaster University following the 2012 Olympic Swim Team trials. Thank you to Natasha Strass-Hundal, Konrad Bald, Cameron Bailey and coach Andrew Cole for your hard work and assistance. All three swimmers recently competed in the 2012 Canadian Olympic Swim Team Trials and are busy training for the upcoming varsity season, so we were very lucky to work with such amazing athletes / models. They posed, helped position light stands and even retrieved my eighteen-pound dive weight belt from the bottom of the sixteen-foot-deep pool after every shot in the deep end (’cause I could barely pull it up on a rope…). My photographic collaborator / wife Dawn and our intern Isaac assisted with the shoot. Isaac captured the behind the scenes video – and Dawn did a great job sitting pretty on an inner-tube holding a boomed softbox for several hours. This was a very exciting shoot for Dawn and me. In this case, Dawn and I were both active swimmers at one time – so we have always had an interest in being in the water – and creating underwater photographs of swimmers is a natural fusion of our talents. The Concept Our overall goal for this assignment was to produce a series of images for McMaster University to showcase some of its top athletes in a very dynamic and exciting way. There was no question for us that we had to shoot potential Olympic swimming athletes doing what they do best – swimming in the pool. We chose to approach the shoot from (mostly) underwater – athletes, camera, lighting, everything. We essentially took what would be a fairly typical studio lighting setup and submerged the whole thing underwater. That of course let to some pretty significant technical challenges…(to say the least)… Lighting and Shooting Prior to the assignment, we carefully planned three image concepts along with the associated lighting details. We chose a dramatic, but fairly simple three or four light setup – at least two underwater rim lights and a key light in a small softbox at the surface. Occasionally, we added an additional rim light for definition. Some of the time I was shooting from the bottom of the pool with a really heavy dive weight belt to keep me there. The rest of the time I was a few feet under. The Rig The biggest technical challenge to overcome for this assignment was to find a reliable way to trigger our strobes positioned above and below the water’s surface from an underwater camera position (radio triggers do not work underwater, optical slave triggers would be too unreliable and create too much backscatter as the on camera flash would light the particles and bubbles in the water column in front of the lens). Because of the number of variables already present when shooting in water – we wanted a trigger system that was bombproof. There is nothing worse than having the perfect shot composed and one of your strobes misfires…unless you’re at the bottom of a pool holding your breath at the time – that’s worse. To trigger our strobes, we built a custom fiber optic optical trigger system. (The system we built is similar to the approach used by underwater strobe manufactures such as Ikelite, Sea & Sea and Fantasea – but instead of working at arms length, our strobes are firing 20 to 40 feet away from the camera). For the strobes, we built custom housings using Pelican boxes (which are apparently only water resistant…) and added 5/8″ studs so that the underwater strobe housings could be mounted onto lightstands. The lightstands were set up on the bottom of the pool and weighted down with dive weight belts. Conclusion Overall, I really enjoyed the challenge of pulling this photography assignment together – it took a lot of detailed planning and problem solving before we even got to the pool. The McMaster University swimmers were fantastic to work with – its truly amazing to see how they move through the water. Dawn and I have made a commitment to get back in the pool – and after spending time with guys like Cameron and Konrad (ie. Greek statues of physical perfection), Dawn has been making noise about sending me in for some laser back hair removal. I wouldn’t object if she works on getting her legs to look like Natasha’s. Any questions about the setup, lighting or post-production editing – hit me in the comments. Cheers! If you want to find out more about us – follow us on Twitter @blurMEDIAStudio, or add us on Facebook / Google Plus or check out our portfolio on 500px. Cheers, John-Paul Danko blurMEDIA Photography Underwater Portrait Photographer blurMEDIAPhotography.com firstname.lastname@example.org 905 818 5711
I really enjoy underwater photography – but its something that is incredibly difficult to consistently do well. With that in mind, I thought I’d try some “training” at the rocky beach in front of our cottage on Georgian Bay. These photographs were taken from the bottom of the lake, about 25 to 30 feet down. I had Dawn wait a few seconds, then swim overhead. The exercise here was to simply swim down to the bottom, find my subject in the viewfinder and shoot a few well composed frames before returning to the surface (without running out of air and drowning of course). I’m shooting with my old Nikon D200 in program auto in a EWA Marine underwater camera housing. I find that with the EWA Marine lead weight and by sucking all the air out of the housing, the camera sinks pretty well. The technique that I find works best is to swim hard about three quarters of the way down, then get into a vertical position, look up, compose the shot while gently sinking the rest of the way to the bottom, focus and capture a few frames. At this point, I’m pretty much out of air, so I need to be on bottom to push off and swim back to the surface. Its pretty rare for me to need to swim that far down, but its good practice for the more usual 8 to 10 feet. The next couple underwater photographs are of our big ol’ Bernese Mountain Dog Daisy (she never liked the water – but seems to have decided to take up swimming in her old age). With Daisy, I was practicing tracking her while looking through the viewfinder underwater, controlling the focus and creating a decent composition. Its really hard to see through the viewfinder underwater, but I find that its important not to bail and shoot from the hip (which usually just results in a bunch of out of focus images of with no subject). Kids on Raft – Shark’s Eye View I would like to have created some underwater photography of the kids swimming too. However, the water was a bit cold for them, so they spent most of their time sitting up on their little raft. Cheers, John-Paul Danko blurMEDIA Photography Underwater Portrait Photographer blurMEDIAPhotography.com email@example.com 905 818 5711