This photoshoot, from earlier this summer, was an unintentionally stressful day. Spending time photographing Helen Mills is usually one of the best joys in life and this shoot was supposed to be the same. Unfortunately, my eagerness to experiment was to be its undoing. At least that’s how I felt in the days and weeks after taking the photos.
How’d I get myself into this predicament? After seeing some underwater work from local photographers, I decided that this would be a challenge I was up to. After making the decision to attempt this shoot, research soon commenced. First, was trying to find a good underwater housing solution for my cameras. Next, was figuring out how to work in a setting that causes extreme light drop-off and lens distortion. As this was late into the summer, everything had to be learned quickly.
Local photographer, BJ Tyre, one of the inspirations for trying this project, offered his Outex waterproof housing for me use. Next, longtime friend and photographer, Morgan Joy Woodard, offered the use of one of her lenses that would work within the housing. Finally, another friend, Dr. Sarah Waxman, said her pool was available for use any time I needed. Everything was coming together easily. Too easily perhaps.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understood that there would be complications with shooting underwater, but the YouTube tutorials made it seem like it wouldn’t be overly difficult. First, I secured a weighted vest, one that could be easily removed as drowning doesn’t sound that fun. Next, I vacuumed sealed my flashes for underwater use (a waste of time as the signals I use to control the flash do not work underwater). Finally, I also procured a few fishbowls to be able to lower the camera underwater without the need for the housing. This last decision turned out to be a shoot saver.
I started with some out of pool shots first and those went off without a hitch. Eager to utilize the light we had, as we were starting later in the day, I got all the equipment together, sealed my pride and joy Sony A9 camera into its housing along with Morgan’s lovely lens and jumped into the pool.
Working in water is exceptionally tough. Movement is compromised dramatically. I couldn’t stay in the place I wanted. I couldn’t move where I wanted to go. I couldn’t communicate well. The housing was nearly impossible to use. I couldn’t even see the results of what I was shooting! Compared to where I was, my comfort zone wasn’t in even in the same universe. I don’t mind wasting my time but I always feel particularly sensitive to other’s experiences that rely on me. Having Helen with me as I fumbled through each obstacle certainly amped up my anxiety.
As the shoot progressed slowly, without my preconceived vision coming to life, my camera shut off while I was underwater. I hadn’t properly sealed the camera housing and my very expensive and recently acquired camera had been exposed to pool water. Luckily, ohh so luckily, Morgan’s lens wasn’t touched by the leak, but my camera wouldn’t come back to life and the batteries and SD card slots were moist to say the least.
I put on a brave face, switched to my backup camera and decided to do the rest of the shoot without using the housing. I used the fishbowls for the remainder of the in pool shoot and switched back out of the pool for the rest of the day as late afternoon slipped into dusk. The day done, I tried to put the frustration out of mind and enjoyed a lovely dinner, hoping nachos would solve all my problems.
Normally, I can’t wait edit my photos after a shoot, but this time was different. Incredibly, the camera did come back to life after spending 24 hours in front of a fan drying, but the stress of that day was still in my system. I sat on the photos for a while, did some quick edits and moved onto the next project.
It was while searching through photos for another client’s gallery that I stumbled back upon these photos. I realized I never shared them with anyone, other than sending a few to Helen, and glanced through them. With 3 months of time passing, I realized that the results from the shoot were much better than I remembered. The pain from the day had influenced what I saw when I first looked, and time was required for me to appreciate what we accomplished.
Going back through the images again, I spent some time re-editing, rethinking what concerns I had and just being a little more patient with myself. I think the time away resulted in rewards that speak for themselves.
When I edit, I permanently delete images I don’t like. When shooting, I take a lot of photos. 1,000 photos in a few hours is not uncommon and the hard drive space used, along with library management, can quickly get out of hand. As I was not happy with the shoot, I was not happy with many of the underwater photos I took, and I deleted most of them. Maybe that was appropriate, but I have a feeling I got rid of images I should have looked at with a more neutral eye.
With that being said, it was an experiment and with experiments, I shouldn’t expect to get everything right the first time. There are lessons learned that can be utilized again for both underwater and regular photography. Will I get in the pool again? Time will tell. I know what’s for damned sure, I’ll get a housing that I can spend weeks with, learning all the little details, before I jump in the deep end.