Posing underwater produces some of the most visually stunning and surreal images. The many obstacles that photographer and models face in such a challenging setting is what make these images all the more unique and remarkable. Each model greatly differs in her abilities to open her eyes, hold her breath, achieve negative or neutral buoyancy and pose all the while looking relaxed in this demanding environment.
Eyes Wide Shut
The ability to open the eyes underwater is unfortunately not something that can be taught, and yet is one of the most important criteria for underwater modeling. Without goggles or a mask, the experience of opening the eyes while submerged underwater can be very irritating and painful. If the model’s eyes have an extreme sensitivity to the water, her ability to communicate with her divemasters and photographer, as well as her ability to relax and pose, become greatly compromised. Divemasters will periodically relieve the model’s eyes by providing her a mask so she can see and take direction from the photographer. Eye sensitivity varies greatly with each individual and, unfortunately, is not something for which one can train.
Breath holding is an important aspect of underwater modeling. Although divemasters make a breathing apparatus accessible to the model, the longer the model can hold her breath, the greater number of shots the photographer can take in a shooting window. Due to the number of other challenging factors that can make that perfect shot so elusive, a model who can hold her breath longer increases the chances for success. Part of the training we provide focuses on developing the diving reflex which slows the heart rate and oxygen consumption underwater. Diligent practice in just two days can triple or quadruple breath holding skills. One great exercise for improving breath holding is swimming the length of a pool and measuring how far you can go. Each time will likely allow you to go a little further. Our Angel Record for breath holding goes to Amber Mekush who remained submerged for a whopping 2:15, still 47 seconds short of our very own Mickmeister, who, of course, is no Angel, but a Master nonetheless…
Buoyancy is a critical skill that greatly affects the model’s ability to descend, move naturally with marine life without injury to self or to precious coral, and return safely to the surface. A model must be able to achieve three states of buoyancy during her shoot: positive, neutral and negative. She has to be negatively buoyant in order to descend, neutrally buoyant to swim in mid-water, and positively buoyant to be comfortable at the surface. All objects, including humans, are subject to Archimedes’ principle of buoyancy which states that an object floats if it weighs less than the amount of water it displaces. If you drop a coin in the water, its density, which is greater than the water, allows it to sink. However, a ship will float because its average density, which includes all the air inside it, is less than that of water. Bouyancy is an upward force on an object immersed in a fluid (i.e. a liquid or a gas), enabling it to float or at least to appear to become lighter. If the buoyancy exceeds the weight, then the object floats; if the weight exceeds the buoyancy, the object sinks. If the buoyancy equals the weight, the body has neutral buoyancy and may remain at its level. If its compressibility is less than that of the surrounding fluid, it is in stable equilibrium and will, indeed, remain at rest, but if its compressibility is greater, its equilibrium is unstable, and it will rise, expanding, on the slightest upward perturbation, but fall, compressing on the slightest downward perturbation.
A model’s buoyancy is greatly affected by salt or fresh water, her fat percentage, wetsuit, breathing, etc.
Fresh Water Salt Water
Slow breathing Shallow breathing
Steel tank Aluminum tank
To compensate a model’s positive buoyancy, we use many creative props and devices. Taping or tying lead to her back provides the added weight that allows her to descend more easily. Ropes and weight belts are more visible, but can also useful for certain shots. Custom-made sneakers, boots and high heels are made with an extra 2-4 kilograms of weight to facilitate the model’s ability to stay down. A wardrobe stylist’s greatest challenge is to add weights in such a way that is elegant, particularly for loose clothing like skirts which naturally float up. Adding small fishing weights to the hemline of an outfit weighs the skirt down to maintain the outfit as it is intended to be worn above water.
Buoyancy is also greatly manipulated by breath control. Beginning models often make the mistake of taking in as much air as possible before descending, believing that her ability to stay underwater will increase. However, increasing the volume of air in the lungs increases positive buoyancy, and every effort to descend consumes much more energy thereby depleting oxygen in the blood more quickly. When models become more acclimated to the underwater environment, they do not fill entirely their lungs with air, but rather breathe normally and inhale a moderate amount of air to descend.
Capturing bubbles in the right time and the right place greatly enhance the aesthetics and validity of an image. They provide subtle proof that the image has indeed been shot underwater. Beginning models often blow too many bubbles which can distort or block the face. Models train and practice in releasing a series of bubbles and then posing for her shot after the bubbles clear her face. Controlling bubbles so that the photographer can clearly capture the model’s face with the bubbles floating just above her ahead (and still in the shot) create an ideal balance of aesthetics, poise and realism.
Gleaming hair floating in various directions can beautifully enhance an image. With every movement the model makes, the hair will follow. There are different types of hair movement. Moving the head horizontally and tilting the head back and forth is relatively easy. The most spectacular images of hair flowing upward and out requires the model to jump up. A skilled model can gauge her environment and hold her head in such a way that allows her hair to flow out and away from her face.
Due to the environment, makeup artists apply very heavy coats of waterproof cosmetics using predominantly bright and metallic colors.