Andy Riley – Underwater Photographer

How did you get into photography? Is it something you have always wanted to do?

No, photography wasn’t something I always wanted to do. It all started many years ago when my children were born, and I wanted a way to document them as they began to grow. I was also fortunate at the time to have a work colleague, now sadly passed away, who was an ARPS; he taught me how to print in a darkroom and develop my own B&W film. 

I see you do a lot of underwater photography. Is there much more equipment needed than shooting in a studio?

In a word, hugely YES! Although I use a conventional camera, it sits inside a specifically designed housing (metal, in my case). Lenses either sit inside a glass or acrylic dome port for the conventional types or on a special adaptor if they are water contacting. Flash (or strobes as the underwater community refer to them) are specifically designed to be submerged. They are either triggered by fibre optic or electrical cables. Although I can manage with only two strobes (on articulated arms attached to either side of the housing), it’s not unusual for me to use 6 or even 7, which are remote. I now have a way of triggering topside (surface) conventional flash as well. 

I will typically put both black and white vinyl backdrops in the pool as I absolutely loathe those little blue pool tiles.

As I use a SCUBA kit to shoot underwater (even in the pool), there is also a mountain of dive kit as well.

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How do you even get started in underwater photography? 

I’m a scuba diver, and it all started taking pictures of fish whilst diving, which I’ve done for many years and still do. It took a long time to get to underwater model photography, as my two photographic worlds were quite detached. It was really inspired and encouraged by a fellow diver, who was also a fashion photographer. He showed me his pictures of models underwater and invited me along to share the pool on one of his shoots nearly 10 years ago. With that experience, I was totally hooked. 

There is, however, an almost complete lack of training for this genre. There are plenty of books, even some courses for photographing fish underwater, and a multitude of materials for studio and model photography, but pretty much nothing for photographing models underwater. Brett Stanley, an Australian photographer living in LA, I believe, now runs workshops 

Do you have any embarrassing stories from shooting underwater?

Not many, but I once used some artificial flowers in the pool without checking them first. Within seconds there was a massive red cloud underwater, which eventually turned the water in the whole of the pool pink for a while. Fortunately, the filtration system removed it over the next few hours.

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Is it easy to find models that can carry out underwater work?

Yes and No! There are many models who like the idea and want to try it, but the number who are capable is very few. Surprisingly (to me anyway), I get many dropouts, short notice cancellations, and even a couple of no-shows. I can work with almost anybody who can swim to get acceptable results. Surprisingly very capable distance swimmers seem to struggle, perhaps because they are not used to being below the surface. Professional mermaids are almost always excellent as they usually have some freediving training. Dancers have the best body poise, I suspect because of their core body strength. On the last underwater shoot, I was fortunate enough to work with an ex GB triathlete who also turned out to be an artistic (synchronised) swimmer as well. 

It’s almost impossible to tell in advance who will be good straight away and who not quite so much, but everyone improves dramatically over the course of the shoot, once they get their heads around how it all works.

Nothing works the way models expect underwater. They are never still, there is nothing to brace against, and gravity largely doesn’t work. Hair follows the flow of the water (usually across the models face!). Models are “Task Loaded” to borrow a diving instructor phrase, as they have to descend, pose, find the light, maintain buoyancy, open their eyes and compose their face (no puffer fish face !) as well as handle dresses or other props.

Where do you find your inspiration for your photos from?

Almost anywhere, but Brett Stanley (mentioned above, famous for building sets in his pool and the first guy I was aware of putting a pole dance pole underwater), Lucie Drlikova, Ken Keifer and Howard Schatz (in my view the king of underwater model photography)

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Are all your photographic skills self-taught, or did you go to school to learn them?

Most of my skills are self-taught, apart from the developing and printing which I was taught over 30 years ago

Can you please tell us what your current camera setup, including lenses is? 

My current camera is a Sony a7R, used in a Nauticam underwater housing, most often with a Nikonos 15mm F2.8 wet lens on a Nauticam adapter but sometimes a 28mm F2 with the WWL-1 wet wide adaptor and either Retra or Sea and Sea YS-250 strobes mounted on the housing, triggered by a Nauticam optical trigger. 

As a backup, I also have an a6500, again in a Nauticam housing with the 16-50mm kit lens and a Nauticam WWL-C supplementary wet wide angle converter. Otherwise, I use the Sony 10-18mm F4 behind an 8-inch dome port, or the 16mm F2.8 with a Sony Ultra-Wide Converter VCL-ECU2 behind a 4-inch dome port or the Zeiss Touit 12mm F2.8 behind a 9-inch glass dome port. Typically used with the Retra or Sea and Sea YS-D2 strobes. For BTS and warm water diving I use a Sony RX100M5A in a Sony acrylic housing as it’s much smaller than the big rigs. 

All of the Nauticam housings have a vacuum system which ensures the seal integrity before getting into the water as a flood is usually fatal for whatever is inside the housing and hence very expensive.

Which piece of photographic equipment (apart from your camera) could you not live without? 

The Nikonos 15mm F2.8 is probably the sharpest underwater lens ever made. It outperforms just about anything behind a dome port. Also, I guess quite literally, my SCUBA kit, as I’ve not yet learned how to breathe water – LOL.

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What do you hope to achieve in the next 2 years?

I’d really like to find an accessible location to do this safely in open water, either the sea or a lake. Still, it will likely have to be abroad as the UK waters are generally too cold and murky.

If you would like to see more of UWVision2’s work please check Instagram or if you want to work with UWVision2 please drop him an email –

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