With the end of antipodean summer and the start of the autumnal seasons, I knew it would be another long wait before I would have the opportunity to do another underwater shoot. Frankly, it felt like a summer squandered! Having resolved to do an underwater shoot, Brenda and Itakoaya expressed interest, and so we lined up a date for it. Ita volunteered her pool for the shoot.
On the Monday before the shoot, we woke up to cold weather and rain, which would go on to dominate the week. As some of you science people might know, it takes a significant amount of energy to warm up a body of water, so even though it was fine weather on the day of the shoot, the cooling effect of the rain on the pool had done its job, and the water, while not as bad as it could have been, was still pretty cold.
In any case, we ended up having as helpers Sakanamochi, Minami and peppanda, who, it must be said, probably didn’t know what they w
ere in for. Actually, most people I rope in to do underwater shoots with (because I have done three with three different sets of people) don’t tend to know how bad it can be, until they do it. But then it’s fun and the after-shoot meals are always heavenly.
The science behind underwater shooting is something I have already considered. While retaining my principle of lighting underwater (due to colour information loss from the absorption properties of water), the key points of improvement I was looking for this year were:
I got myself a nice second-hand enclosure for the D700, along with an attachment module for a single flash. This second-hand enclosure came with the Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 fisheye lens, and the appropriate lens port for it (won’t fit any other lenses). It had originally been used for surf photography.
Since this effectively allows me to use my standard equipment underwater, I had managed to achieve the goal of having a wider field of view (if anything, it was too wide), and very reliable AF. This makes a huge difference when underwater: the enhanced autofocus performance (I set it to continuous AF with 3D subject tracking) allows perfectly focused shots and a much better chance of capturing a good moment. Which is important, because underwater shooting is still a spray-and-pray process for me.
I decided to replace the radio system I was using previously with fibre optics. The radio, while capable of propagating over maybe 80cm of water, was of limited utility due to its range and the fact that the other flashes down the line would have to be triggered optically anyway – and with the water between the flashes, this meant the system was much less reliable.
The new setup is directly inspired by JP Danko from blurMEDIA Photography.
The idea is that while still using optical triggering, we would have the triggering light pass in a relatively lossless manner from the master flash to the slaves (which are still being housed in Lock ‘n’ Lock airtight lunch boxes). Cheap fibre optic cables? I bought three 4m length TOSLINK cables from eBay for 7 dollars each.
I also bought a number of TOSLINK cable couplers, which basically provided a place for the cables to securely plug into. These I used Sugru to stick onto the outside of the Lock ‘n’ Lock boxes right where the optical receiver window for the flash would be positioned.
To completely shield the light from the master flash (which is positioned right above the camera due to the enclosure design), and provide the triggering source, I bought a cheap aluminium paint palette and bent it, then drilled appropriate-sized holes into it to hold three of the cable couplers, which I secured in place, again with Sugru silicon.
This would then be secured in front of the flash with cable ties. On the day, it was simply a matter of plugging in the cables to the ports. For a visual overview of the setup on the day, see this Instagram.
Of course, as with any other home-brewed solution, reliability wasn’t the best. It was better than previous shoots, but we still had the occasional flash not firing for various reasons, and as the day wore on, equipment started failing (the ports came off the flash lunch boxes) and we lost light sources one after the other.
All in all though, we got more results, and better results than previous underwater shoots I’ve done.
Sinking is a skill all on its own. Posture, muscular tenseness (which affects posing and expression, so is largely out of the question for shooting) and breathing control are some of the things which affect the buoyancy of the human body. We had some in-depth discussions during the shoot (while freezing, mind you) on different techniques for sinking (or at least maintaining the position of the body in the water). Which of course led to interesting scenes like this:
And of course, managing a long wig underwater isn’t the easiest of tasks (mercifully, Brenda’s wig was short for the second shoot) – the results can be stunning, but utterly random.
^ I thought that shot actually looked pretty cool, could be used for one of those American superhero types, but unfortunately, not for Miku.
And occasionally, you’d get a Walpurgis Night too.
Many thanks must definitely go to the cosplayers and the helpers who made this happen – without your help, we would not have been able to get the results we got.