Going deep with the underwater photographer – Craig Colvin

How long have you been a photographer?

I had my own darkroom when I was in 7th grade and was fascinated with the process of developing film and making prints, but my photography consisted of snapshots. In 2008 was when I got serious about photography and really learned about what it takes to make a great photo.

How did you get into underwater photography? I guess it’s not a type of photography you can just dip your toe into?

LOL, I see what you did there.

In 2016 a model friend, Kitty Meow, who owns Little Boxes Theater in San Francisco needed some promotional photos for an upcoming play involving mermaids. She had a friend that had a mermaid tail and asked if I would be willing to take photos of her underwater. It sounded like fun, so I rented a camera housing from BorrowedLenses.com and we spent the day in the pool taking underwater photos. By the end of the day I was hooked, and that night started browsing eBay for used UW housings. I’ve been shooting underwater photos ever since.

Photo Copyright – Craig ColvinModel: Britta Harline

I guess you need lots of specialist equipment to get started?

I use an Ikelite Underwater Housing for my Canon 5DmkIV camera but there are a lot of avenues to get into underwater photography. They make vinyl bags that house many popular camera brands, and they are an inexpensive way to give underwater photography a try.

The only other required equipment is a mask or googles. There are a lot of other things you can add but are not required. I typically shoot with my camera in the Ikelite housing, mask, snorkel, weight belt, black fabric to use as a backdrop, and a 20’x20’ white scrim that I place over my pool to soften the light.

I’ve recently purchased underwater strobes but have only used them on a couple of shoots. They aren’t necessary for most of the shoots I do.

You have created some incredible photos; what was the most challenging part to master?

Using fabric or flowing dresses underwater is always a challenge as they tend to have a mind of their own. I’ve learned a few tricks over the years, but even with those the number of fabric shots that work is a very low percentage. To compensate we just take a lot of shots, but it can get exhausting.

Photo Copyright – Craig ColvinModel: Victoria

How do you communicate with the model whilst you are underwater? I guess there is a lot of planning involved?

I tell the models that before they go underwater to think of a single pose they want to achieve and then just do that one pose. They then drop underwater and do the pose.

I don’t use scuba equipment when I do underwater photography and instead just hold my breath just like the model does. So, we both tend to surface at the same time and can then discuss how the pose looked and what adjustments to make.

Underwater modeling is challenging and just because a model is good on land doesn’t mean they will be able to pull off poses underwater. So we do a lot of repetition, repeating most poses multiple times to insure we got the shot.

If I asked you how would I get into underwater photography, what advice would you give me?

  • ‐  Rent or borrow a housing to start.
  • ‐  Use a short focal length lens, shoot wide and get close; you want as little water between youand the subject as possible. (I use a 17‐24mm lens)
  • ‐  In a pool heat the water to 85* or warmer. You will be spending a lot of time in the water anddon’t want the model getting cold. If not in a controlled environment, plan on a lot of breaks towarm up.
  • ‐  There are models who are very experienced at underwater photography. Try to find one ratherthan just any model
  • ‐  If shooting in the deep end of the pool, put a ladder across the pool so you and the model havesomething to hang on to. Alternatively hang a rope from the diving board or use pool noodles.
  • ‐  Use Photoshop to adjust skin tones. The water decreases colors in an image with red being firstto go, you need to add some back or the model will look like they have bluish/green skin.
  • ‐  Have fun!
Photo Copyright – Craig ColvinModel: Astrid Kallsen

When you go to a shoot, what is in your kit bag?

  • ‐  Canon 5DmkIV
  • ‐  Canon 17‐24mm f/4L lens
  • ‐  Ikelite Underwater Housing
  • ‐  Snorkel and mask
  • ‐  Weight beltIf I’m also going to be shooting out of the water, I add
  • ‐  Canon 24‐70mm f/2.8L lens
  • ‐  Canon 70‐200mm f/2.8L lens
  • ‐  SpiderPro Camera Holster

Is there a piece of kit you can’t live without?

For underwater photography I of course need an underwater housing or an underwater bag, but in general I adapt to what I have with me.

That being said I love the SpiderPro Camera Holster and always have it with me.

Photo Copyright – Craig ColvinModel: Astrid Kallsen

Do you ever get the comment, “My Phone is as good as your camera?” 

I haven’t personally but to be fair I’m typically carrying a big DSLR with a big lens.

The phone cameras have gotten very good and I will often use my phone to take photos and have made some amazing images with it. There are still advantages to using a full‐frame DSLR but the differences are diminishing with every new smart phone release.

What are your plans for the future? Is there a special shoot you looking to arrange?

In November I’m planning on shooting in various springs in Florida. I also really want to do some shoots in the ocean with coral reefs, probably somewhere in Caribbean. I hope to have that arranged in the next 12 months.

Want to check out more of Craig’s amazing work check out his socials – Twitter / Instagram / Website

Please note all the photos on this page are copyrighted to Craig Colvin

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