Modeling underwater is a great adventure and really fun to do. I am writing this post because of a few comments from an image set posted on our image blog page and also because I was asked to shoot several mermaids. Shooting underwater is a very unique environment and provides some interesting options based on lighting, the surface of the water, and equipment the photographer uses.
I can’t forget to mention basic skills such as being able to swim, float, sink, and controlling your own buoyancy. Let me start by saying that you need to be comfortable in water, be able to tread in water at least two minutes, and float on the surface at least one minute without using your hands or feet. This is just general safety and a precaution. For the models who I have worked in the water, I have made them do this for me before the shutter was ever clicked. If you can’t do this, then you need to learn to do them and spend some extra time in the water until you are able. This is just a bare minimum skill requirement and it is more for safety than anything else. If you need more training in the water, get it. I also ask models to be checked out and cleared by their medical doctor for this type of activity (just like someone who is starting a new exercise routine or diet). This is all for safety.
There are some things that are very important to learn specifically for the shoot such as proper breathing, being able to keep your eyes open correctly underwater, understanding what your hair will do, and avoiding bubbles. This is learned over time and with digital, it is less important knowing this prior to a shoot because we can check this out even before we get out of the water. With film, we didn’t have it this easy.
Let’s start with breathing. When I am underwater as a photographer, I will hold my breath or be on SCUBA gear to get my air. As a model, you won’t have the option to use SCUBA gear. So, learning to hold your breath is very important. In most shoots, I hold my breath, too, as it makes the models more comfortable knowing I am suffering like they are. If you are in a location where SCUBA is a backup, it is important for you as a model to also be certified and familiar with SCUBA gear with a basic Open Water certification. When you do breathing exercises, it is very important to have another adult with you to monitor you. There is always a possibility that you will pass out while doing them. One of the exercises I recommend that models do is to take several quick inhalations and exhalations – maybe a set of five or six, then take as big of a breath as possible. Then hum lightly until you have to let the rest of the breath out. Repeat this several times for the exercise. You can do this on the surface or in water. If you are at a pool, you can always stand at the wall and put your head parallel to the surface of the water. Turn your head to the right and take a very deep breath, then twist so your head is back under water, and slowly exhale the air keeping the bubbles as small as you can. When you need to breath in again, turn your head to the right and inhale, then move your face back under water and exhale. Repeating this will help to increase your ability to hold your breath. There are other exercises that you can do. Just talk to you local area water safety instructor for different ways to slow down your breathing.
Controlling your face and eyes is next. You never want to have so much air that you end up looking like a chip monk or squirrel with lots of nuts. The air you take in should only be in your lungs, not your mouth. To keep from looking like this, practice taking breaths in front of a mirror and making sure you don’t look like a rodent.
Next is the eyes. Get this through your head from the start: you will never be able to see underwater clearly. This is more a physics issue and how light refracts. There is nothing you can do as a model. Making this worse is that will often work in pools or oceans where the chlorine, chemicals, or salts aggravate your eyes. As a photographer, I teach my model’s sound signals to give direction while underwater. This allows the model to know what I am wanting them to do as a model. Other photographers may use other methods. Listen to them and follow their direction.
The last thing you can do is practice with your hair underwater. There is nothing worse than trying to model underwater and having no control of what your hair is doing. I highly recommend that you have someone with a mask watch you as your you work at controlling your hair underwater. They will tell you if you looked good or not. Realize that it isn’t just keeping your hair together and tied up. In some situations, the photographer may want it lose and flowing. Be sure to practice some positions with your hair doing this.
The rest of the skills can easily be learned by doing and with the direction of your photographer. If you do underwater modeling, I hope you have a great time and enjoy the wonderful images that you and your photographer create. There is nothing like it in the world.