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Photoflex Lighting School

Monday, June 18, 2012

Underwater Bride and Groom

Lighting Equipment

In today's competitive wedding photography market, it's important to brand your work so you can set yourself apart from the crowd. Part of branding requires that you approach things a little differently. This lesson does just that and examines a unique method to photographing newlywed couples.

Shooting underwater in a pool, San Francisco based photographer Kitfox Valentin uses natural sunlight blended with natural reflected light to create stunning wedding couple portraits. The goal of this particular session was to create an ethereal mood for his clients, and what he achieved was nothing short of magical.

(Click on any thumbnail image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  •     Choosing the correct location
  •     Camera equipment
  •     Lighting equipment-reflectors in this lesson
  •     The assistants roles for lighting and safety
  •     Dry run training with the bride and groom
  •     Working as a team, photographer, assistants and the subjects

Equipment Used:

  •     Canon EOS 5D Mark II
  •     Canon 17-40mm f/4 EF L zoom lens
  •     Ikelite underwater camera housing for the Canon 5D MKII

The Crew

This is the team that worked together to create the underwater wedding couple portrait series - the wedding couple, Kitfox and two assistants. [figure 1]

Figure 1

Kitfox's assistants are strong swimmers and trained in CPR. In addition to positioning and holding the LitePanels during the shoot, they also assisted the bride and groom in the water and would have been immediately available in the event of an emergency. (Wedding dresses hold a lot of water and can become very cumbersome for the bride in the pool.)

Since the photos would be taken underwater with everyone holding their breath, it was important to do a dry run with the couple before entering the pool. Kitfox went over what his goal was and how he wanted the bride and groom to move together to create the connecting moments that would define the portrait. It was not just about getting the bride and groom in the pool, but creating connecting moments that reflected their relationship to each other.

Shooting Underwater

Kitfox uses an Ikelite underwater camera housing unit with an 8-inch domed port. The corrected port helps to minimize the magnification and optical distortion that can occur with a flat port when used underwater. [figure 2]

Figure 2

Figure 3

This pool was chosen for this session for a few reasons. The water was not completely clear, which was good, as it allowed for a diffused, natural look. Also, the wall of the pool had a mottled stain, which didn't look like that of a traditional swimming pool.

Most importantly, though, the pool had warm water and a shallow end with easy access. A warm pool is essential to work in, since cold water can restrict breathing and make a session very uncomfortable for the subjects.

The Practice Run

The session started in the shallow end of the pool. Kitfox first showed his assistants how to use the Photoflex 39x72" LitePanel and MultiDisc to add reflected natural light onto the subjects. In the image below, notice how the LitePanel is vertical and half sub-merged for the warm-up series. For the later series in the deep part of the pool, the reflectors would be completely submerged.

The light was mostly top-lit and the goal was to pop some clean natural light into the front of the bride and groom. This would keep the photos from looking dimensionless and dull. The beauty of using the LitePanels is that they don't absorb water and they are quick to dry out after a session has ended. [figure 4]

Figure 4

Here's a top view of a practice run with Kitfox and the subjects underwater. [figure 5]

Figure 5

Here's the same setup from an underwater vantage point. As you can see, the LitePanel is partially submerged to reflect light onto the bride and groom. [figure 6]

Figure 6

This practice session in the shallow end of the pool was done to help get the bride and groom comfortable in the water and test their abilities to hold their breath underwater. Here, the 42" MultDisc was used as the fill light. [figure 7]

Figure 7

Off the Deep End

Once everyone had adjusted to the water, the session was moved to the deeper end of the pool.

Here, you can see the setup with the 39x72 LitePanel with silver fabric attached and the 42" MultiDisc with the silver fabric reflecting. The LitePanel provided the majority of the fill light, while the MultiDisc added a little kicker. Note that both reflectors were completely submerged for the shots in the deep part of the pool. [figure 8]

Figure 8

In addition to bouncing sunlight into the shadows, these reflectors helped to essentially "clean up" the hazy blue cast of the pool water and add a little sparkle to the subjects. [figure 9]

Figure 9

In order to create a moment of contact for the bride and groom, it was important to first have them apart from each other and then have them approach each other slowly. This helped to create the flowing of the clothing as they moved through the water. [figure 10]

Figure 10

Here's another vantage point that shows the LitePanel in relation to the bride and groom. [figure 11]

Figure 11

Camera Settings

The entire series was photographed with the following settings:

• SHUTTER SPEED: 1/160th of a second
• ISO: 640 (necessary to achieve the aperture and shutter speed needed for the desired depth of field and to stop the action)
• WHITE BALANCE: 10,000K (to overcome the blue cast of the water)

All the images were shot at the 24mm setting on the Canon 17-40 L zoom lens.

Figure 12

Here's another view of the setup that shows the MultiDisc being used to reflect light. [figure 13]

Figure 13

The final images capture some unique moments between the bride and groom and gave them an extraordinary product. The goal for Kitfox was to produce a series of images that would be magical for the bride and groom. This goal defines his overall approach to photographing people and helps to set him apart from the competition.

Figure 14

In the end the crew members were tired and waterlogged, but happy as clams.

Figure 15

To see more of Kitfox's advertising work, visit photovalentin.com.
For weddings, visit photovalentin.smugmug.com.



Photographed by Kitfox Valentin.
Setup shots and copy by Steve Kurtz.

Lighting Equipment


On July 24, 2013 at 08:40 AM, Deevo said:

Great article, used for inspiration for my first series of UW shoots.  I have been renting equipment, do you recommend UW lights or body casings that work best.  I have been using aquatech case.  No lights yet.

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