Behind-the-scenes: Sun Magazine underwater photo shoot
The underwater fashion photos featured in the May 2014 Sun Magazine (available May 18) were taken by Sun photographer Lloyd Fox in a pool at the home of Mary Kay and Chuck Nabit. Styling was provided by Sun reporter John-John Williams IV, and the art director for the shoot was Sun design editor Leeann Adams. Lloyd, John-John and Leeann answered some questions about the unique underwater photo shoot.
Shooting underwater photos: Q&A with Sun photographer Lloyd Fox
Do you need a special camera to shoot under water? Or a case for your camera?
Lloyd: I used my Nikon D3, which is the camera I use on all of my assignments, but I did use a special bag that made my camera safe to use under water.
Did you use weights or other equipment to keep your camera under water?
Lloyd: I used zip ties to secure a weight to the bottom of the bag. It would help keep the bag below the water, as the bag wanted to float to the surface each time I would swim down with the camera. I also had an assistant [Leeann Adams] holding me below the water so I could shoot for longer periods of time.
What about light? Can you use a flash under the water?
Lloyd: I was able to use an on-camera flash that also fit in the underwater bag. I spent a while trying to figure out how to light the models under the water. Normal radio remotes that I use for other fashion shoots do not work under the water, so I figured out a way to set off my lights that were located above the water, which were triggered by my flash below the water. Although my lighting configuration seemed to work, they did not fire all of the time. I decided to skip the lights and shoot with available light. I increased my ISO/ASA and shot at slow shutter speeds to get the exposure I needed to use the available light.
What did you wear in the pool? A wetsuit, goggles?
Lloyd: I used only swimming goggles. I did not use any underwater breathing device.
How did you give directions to the models?
Lloyd: I would talk with the models about what I was looking to achieve with the images, before we got in the water. I would shoot under the water for about 30 seconds, and talk with the models each time we would come up for air.
Do you have any tips on how to get those cool reflection shots?
Lloyd: The reflection pictures worked well when I was deeper in the water and the models were just below the surface. I also used dry ice in a few pictures to create the bubbles in the pool.
What was the biggest challenge about this photo shoot?
Lloyd: There were several challenges to shooting under the water. First, the models had to keep their eyes open for extended periods of time while under water. Also, because the dresses were constantly in motion under water, it was impossible to predict what would happen each time. The underwater camera housing also created some challenges. It was very hard to feel the controls of the camera through the bag. I also had some water start to get into the housing, and I had to exit the pool a couple of times to dry it out.
What is the biggest benefit of shooting under water vs. on land?
Lloyd: The main benefit of shooting under water was the ability to capture the beauty and elegance of the flowing dresses, as the models floated as well. This is something that you can not do when shooting on land.
Styling for underwater photos: Q&A with Sun reporter John-John Williams IV and design editor Leeann Adams
How did the models’ makeup stay on under the water?
John-John: The makeup artist, Lexi Martinez of LM Artistry, purchased special cosmetics for this shoot that held up fabulously in the water. The makeup really helps complete the shoot.
Even under the water, the models’ hair looked styled and pretty. How did you manage that?
John-John: Our hair stylists — Brian Oliver, T.H.E. Artist Agency; Eric J. Matthews and Mary Frances Bloome, both of Phillip Michael Studio — used techniques to push the hair away from the face under water. They really rocked it!
Leeann: The models also had to work to keep the hair out of their face. For a few of the shots, I would hold a model’s hair to the side and then quickly swim out of the way, so Lloyd could get the shot. As the models got more comfortable with being fully dressed in the water, they paid more attention to the details like where their hair was — and making sure they weren’t blowing too many bubbles out of their nose; that doesn’t make for a very pretty photo.
On average, how long did the models have to stay under water?
Leeann: I’d say they stayed under water for 30 to 45 seconds. It’s tough to hold your breath, not blow bubbles, work the garment and look pretty all at the same time. I think the hardest thing for them was keeping their eyes open under water.
Did the stylists get in the water with the models for touchups?
John-John: They did not. They did touch ups while the models were getting changed into their next look.
In some of the photos, it looked like the models are on the bottom of the pool. How were they able to stay down there?
John-John: They pulled themselves to the bottom and tried to stay as long as possible. Leeann had to push Lloyd down, in order to keep him under with all his equipment. It was wild.
Leeann: They had to actively get themselves to the bottom. It helped if they released a little air out of their lungs. Once they were in position, Lloyd had to work quickly to get the shot. This is why it took two days to get the images. You could only be under for a bit before you have to come back up, and then you’d go under and have to get set again. Everyone really got into the rhythm of it, and we were very efficient.
Did the models get prune-y?
John-John: I’m sure they did. But they didn’t complain about it. And it didn’t show.
Leeann: I know I got very prune-y. I was in the water about six hours each day. Luckily, the pool was on the warm side.
Did the fact that you were shooting under water impact which clothes you picked out?
John-John: Yes and no. I picked clothes that were going to show up because of vibrant color or clothes made of fabric that would move under water. I honestly used any clothes I could get my hands on. That meant being able to use expensive gowns, heels, handbags and a patent leather coat.
What was the biggest challenge about this photo shoot?
John-John: The biggest challenge was finding the right location. It had to be the perfect spot that would allow Lloyd [Lloyd Fox, Sun photographer] to have the control he wanted, while being large enough to accommodate the full reach of the garments.
Leeann: I think the biggest challenge was getting the exact shots we wanted in such a challenging environment. In other photo shoots, you are able to tweak the set and the background and the models. Every time we went under the water, things were just slightly different. It’s almost like starting fresh every time. But Lloyd did a lot of research and testing in the weeks leading up to the shoot, so the bugs had been worked out. Everyone was really committed to making this shoot work, and I think it turned out beautifully.