Shooting underwater provides a number of logistical challenges. In “the old days”, we were only able to photograph at night- with the dark sky as the backdrop- and only during the Spring and Summer months- when the weather was warm enough for models in an outdoor, black lined pool.
Since that time, I’ve worked with a couple of different methods to enable both day-shooting as well as shooting during the colder winter months. Photographing in the water anytime between October – February typically means the installation of a large, air tight inflatable “bubble” over the pool. The bubble is filled with air from a fan, and the pool is heated, making it a nicely enclosed and surprisingly warm environment for shooting. The first bubble I had installed was 3/4’s black and 1/4 white. The black section worked perfectly as a backdrop, keeping the background of the images dark, clean and clear from visual clutter. Completely unexpectedly, the white section ended up serving as a giant softbox for the sun- allowing in this beautiful, warm diffused light that would lead to my discovery of a significant difference in the color temperature of light above and below water.
The bubble worked extraordinarily well- for a time. For one thing, it’s not the most attractive set up when viewed from the outside and with the perspective of a home owner. For another, we would eventually have a big snowfall and the whole thing would collapse, rendering it not only more of an eyesore but completely useless until A) the snow would melt and B) we could bail out the water weighing it down- no small task, I assure you. When spring would roll around, the bubble would need to be uninstalled, which would make the backyard easier on the eyes but remove the potential for shooting during the day, not to mention at a time of year when the days are longer.
With a renewed desire to return to working underwater, we were faced with the usual dilemma- how to get the most of photographing in the pool during the day without the sky/trees/background being so…um…present? I also LOVED the diffused warm light that came through the white section of the bubble, but I still wanted the dark, simple, isolating black background as well. I basically wanted the best of the bubble, without the usual hassle and eyesore.
There is a farm that comes around every year and sets up a tent to sell their produce right by the side of the road not far from my house. One day, as I’m stocking up on peaches, squash, and other veggies, I realize I’m drawn to the subdued light under the farm’s tent, and BAM! That’s it! I’ll put a tent in the pool!!
Of course, it wasn’t quite as simple as that- I needed to figure out what the underside would look like, and how to accommodate for the uneven transition from deep to shallow ends of the pool. I also needed to figure out how to get that simple, black background, you know- to avoid that whole Tent-In-The-Pool look.
The CONtraption features a simple, easy-to-set-up folding tent with minimal skeletal structure on the underside. The legs are adjustable in height, meaning the uneven ground of the pool can be compensated for- or even used as an asset. It also includes 3 long, black, light absorbing cloths which are attachable through the use of the tents crossbars and a few strategically placed clips. The crossbars of the frame make excellent lightstands by simply clipping a strobe or external flash to them, and they can further be hidden when wrapped hockey-stick style with black duct tape, as seen below:
We can add or subtract the cloth, depending on how much visual space we need, and we can also choose which side of the tent it is attached too, convenient when the sun is on one side or the other and when we need more or less light! And the best part? It can be set up and broken down rather easily in the same day, making an underwater shooting studio out of a lovely black lined (though now quite faded) outdoor pool- and vice-versa- a reality. The CONtraption also takes into consideration model comfort- being close to the surface of the water, it provides a great deal of privacy from potentially nosey neighbors, unexpected house guests, Fed Ex delivery folks and yard workers.
All joking aside – the CONtraption wound up being the PERFECT solution for a recent series of very intense photo shoots which never would have happened without it. I’m looking forward to posting some recent images here on the blog that are a direct result of being able to shoot with the CONtraption, stay tuned….