Underwater Portraiture - FAQ / by Kelly Kirlin

How do I keep my eyes open? 

It’s really simple: You open them! Sounds crazy, but it's actually really easy to do. Everything will be very fuzzy, but you just look in the direction of the big black object that looks like an alien. That’s the camera! 

Babies, on the other hand, have an innate response to open their eyes when submerged in order to look for light because that tells them where the surface is and the direction they need to kick. 

How does my make-up stay on? 

There are a couple of ways to approach underwater make-up. As a general rule of thumb, any cream based makeup like foundations, concealers, creamy eye shadows, blushes and lipsticks will stay on a face on for multiple submersions. They will however, loose vibrancy rather quickly. If you are used to doing your make-up and are comfortable with it, I recommend applying it twice as heavy before shooting, wear waterproof mascara and bring extra lip stick or gloss.

If we are going for a dramatic or very artistic make-up application or if you are not comfortable applying your own make-up, we can hire a professional make-up artist. 

If you don’t usually wear make-up, I still advise in applying a foundation, blush, lip gloss and mascara to enhance your features. Warm colors (red, orange, yellow) are lost in about 3-5 feet of water, so skin can look very blue. To counteract this effect, it’s nice to have a little color in the cheeks and lips with light make-up. 

What about my hair?

The cool thing about hair is that it's naturally buoyant and quite full in the water. However, the moment you swim towards the camera, your hair tends to look plastered to your head. For this reason I will take the photo when you are floating perfectly still, or we will add temporary hair extensions to your existing hair to make it even more buoyant and full. I use a synthetic hair for extensions because the plastic nature of the extension allows it to float making your existing hair look more luxurious. 

If you want crazy cool colors, strands of glitter or sequins, we can custom design hairpiece extensions to coordinate with what you are wearing! It’s super fun and makes the photo even more unique and specialized!

What do I wear?

We can approach wardrobe a couple of ways:

1) I can do a consultation with you using your existing wardrobe. Then I can supplement the styling with my personal collection of fabrics and backdrops. 

2) I can purchase clothing specific to your shoot. I LOVE doing this for my clients so that we can really get the look we want for your photo!

3) I can custom design you an outfit. I have done this with many clients by working with a seamstress. This is the absolute best way to achieve a totally customized photo that is different from anything else you’ve seen! 

When selecting your own wardrobe for the shoot, remember that natural fibers like silk work best. Keep fabrics lightweight because of the added heaviness that happens in the water. Also, colors get darker when wet, so remember to stay with light or vibrant colors if you really want them to “pop” in the water. 

What if I’m not a great swimmer?

Not to worry! We can work in water as shallow as 3 feet deep. If you are not comfortable getting your head or face wet, we can take photos with you only partially submerged and really show off your wardrobe.

If you are fine with getting your whole body in the water, but still a little nervous about swimming, we will simply work shallow. You need to be able to sink to the bottom of the 3 foot end of the pool and stay there for a few seconds, then just put your feet down! No swimming or treading water needed! 

How do I stay underwater? 

This is pretty easy! Air in your lungs makes you more buoyant, so they need to be emptied. You want to very gently exhale all the air out of your lungs as you swim or sink to the bottom of the pool. Then, just hold your breath as long as you can while posing. This will also ensure that there are no bubbles in front of your lips, nose and eyes for the photo!

How warm is the water? 

I like to use heated pools that are around 90 degrees. Your body looses heat 20 times faster in the water than on land so it is really important to work in a warm environment. Otherwise, we could only shoot one or two submersions. I need you as relaxed as possible, and this just cannot happen in cold water. 

What pools do you use? Do you shoot in the ocean?

I like to use pools at private residences. If you have a pool that can be heated, great! If not, I have a handful of pools around town that we can rent in the Santa Barbara area. I am also able to travel outside of California with all my gear if you need me to come to you! 

I can absolutely shoot in the ocean. It’s a question of location and water temperature. Please inquire for more details!

How long does a shoot take?

For babies, I have a cap of 5 submersions, and I like the babies to rest in between dunks. Plan on about 30 minutes of shoot time. 

For the older kiddos and adults, everything in the water takes longer than on land. For a standard photo shoot (with no set building) I like to have an hour to set up. If we are working with a make-up artist, I like to give them 60 minutes. Once in the water, it usually takes about 10 – 15 minutes to get used to what you are wearing because clothes feel so differently on water than on land. Then shoot time is about 30-45 minutes per outfit.

Do you use SCUBA gear? 

If I am shooting a photo in the deep end of a pool, I will wear a SCUBA set up. If we are working in the shallow end, I just hold my breath with you!

Is there a safety diver?

For babies, I absolutely have a safety person or swim instructor in the water. Additionally, your baby needs to be familiar with submerging in the water, through lessons or frequent exposure to a pool. 

For older children and adults, if we construct a set with lots of props or we need to shoot in the deep end of the pool, I will absolutely have a safety diver / person in the water with us. If we are shooting shallow, this is usually unnecessary.