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  • Writer's pictureHannah Ghafary

Say Hello to Your New Obsession: Underwater Fashion Photography

Hey you! Welcome back to my little corner of the Internet. So… A few weeks ago, I shared one of my secret obsessions with my Twitter followers: underwater fashion photography. I was surprised at the great feedback I received (thank you, angels!), so I wanted to use this week to spotlight this amazing art form that doesn't get all the attention and respect it deserves. Today, I want to tell you about a few of my favorite underwater fashion photographers:

The first (and perhaps my favorite) underwater fashion photographer is renowned Canadian artist, Benjamin Von Wong. Von Wong first discovered his interest in underwater photography by shooting in swimming pools. But ever since his first underwater shoot, Von Wong had been dreaming of shooting in open-water. When Von Wong decided to travel to Bali for a family vacation, the opportunity he had dreamed of for so long finally began to fall into place. Prior to the trip, Von Wong got in touch with a Bali-based underwater photographer and dive instructor, Chris Simanjuntak. Van Wong shared his visions of shooting in an underwater shipwreck with Chris, and, together, the two began to assemble a team.

As you might imagine, shooting underwater is an extremely difficult task. Important factors such as lighting and depth perception will be affected underwater and must be accounted for. "[Another] big problem you will encounter is communication," said Von Wong in an interview "or rather, the absolute lack [thereof]". He stressed that clear communication on land beforehand is key to a successful underwater shoot. Shooting underwater is difficult in and of itself, but shooting in the ocean only becomes more complicated. Haute couture fashion would be ruined by the seawater, so Von Wong had to find a designer who would be willing to part with their works. The gowns in this shoot were designed by Ali Charisma, a high-end international fashion designer based out of Bali. Charisma, who is known for his whimsical designs, kindly offered up some of his older runway designs for the shoot.

Moreover, high fashion models didn't have the extensive dive training or ability to hold their breath long enough to work in the shoot, so, Von Wong hired free divers to pose as models instead. These divers were able to hold their breath for up to four minutes at a time! Specially trained safety divers and first responders were also on site to ensure a safe shoot. And, in conditions where the slightest mishap can spell disaster, local divers were hired to scout out the site beforehand and be prepared for possible changes in weather and tide that could affect the safety or success of the shoot.

All of these unique team members were able to come together in this incredibly challenging setting to create these haunting, one-of-a-kind shots.

Isle Moore is another talented underwater photographer based in Johannesburg, South Africa. While Isle has done some open-water photography, she does most of her shooting at her studio. These breathtaking shots were taken at her state-of-the-art underwater studio facilities, Isle Moore Underwater Photography.

Isle's underwater studio caters to a much more safe and controlled environment for her shoots than working in the ocean. The water is free from chemicals, UV-treated and PH balanced. This makes it possible to shoot in clothes without them getting ruined like they would in the ocean. The facilities also have shallow and deep pools, to cater to both strong and weak swimmers. This allows Isle to work with a variety of customers, even those with no experience in underwater photography or modeling. Isle photographs everything from maternity shoots to wedding shoots.

Unlike Benjamin Van Wong and Isle Moore, photographer Alexandre Socci doesn't shoot exclusively underwater. A self-dubbed "extreme photographer", Alexandre is not afraid to do what it takes to get the perfect shot---he's shot everything from shark-infested shipwrecks of the Carribean to molten lava actively erupting from the volcanoes of Hawaii. His work has been published by National Geographic, Red Bull, and DailyMail.

Believe it or not, these photos are not the result of Photoshop. They were taken at a shoot Socci did at a shark sanctuary in Nassau, Bahamas. Socci worked with Brazilian actress and animal activist, Karina Oliani, to create a project that would spark a dialogue on the importance of conservation and the threat of extinction to sharks. Assisted by professional divers on site who helped her to pose without breathing equipment for the shots, Oliani posed fearlessly in the beautiful gowns as apex predators surrounded her.

But you don't have to travel to the shipwrecks of Bali or have world-class underwater studio facilities to be a renowned in this industry. In fact, one award-winning underwater photographer is creating amazing underwater worlds right in his own backyard.

L.A. based photographer Brett Stanley has been shooting underwater for over ten years, but it was his series "Underwater Pole Dance" that catapulted him into the spotlight in 2015. The Australian-born photographer travelled often and shot in locations across the world, but he was lacking a place to truly experiment with his ideas. All of this changed when a client approached him wanting to be photographed underwater in an 80's style bedroom.

This was the project that sparked Brett Stanley's obsession with creating underwater sets. It took him five days to build the room, and he has built many more since. After he builds a "room", he submerges it in his pool in his backyard and begins shooting. Stanley uses creative lighting techniques, props, and outfits to bring the set to life.

Stanley says that one of the most difficult parts of creating his sets is finding materials, furniture, and props that will 1) last in the water for extended amounts of time and 2) be able to be weighed down in a subtle way. Imagine how many props might just float to the surface if they weren't weighed down! Brett explains: “It’s all about finding props that have places to hide weights inside." In addition to all of this, Brett also has to make structures that are strong enough to withstand the pressure of currents from the models swimming .

But it's a challenging process that Brett has fallen in love with, creating new sets every few months. They each have amazing and unique themes, ranging from White Baroque to Underwater Garden. Brett said, "Being underwater is so dreamlike, so foreign to many people, that having a portrait taken there is truly magical". If you've made it this far, I can only hope that this means you've found your new obsession. There aren't many professionals out there creating these (literally) breath-taking shots in this small, underappreciated industry. But, in a modern, technological world where most people have a camera at their fingertips 24/7, I think that's what makes underwater fashion photography so special. It can't be done just anywhere or by just anyone… it's a special skill, a challenge, an art. It was incredibly difficult narrowing down which photos to include in this blog. There were so many jaw-dropping shots. Alas, in the spirit of page loading times, I had to make some tough choices. But if I've successfully converted you, feel free to check out the sources below to see more beautiful shots from these photographers. Until next time!

Sources: Djudjic, D. (2019, July 22). "This Photographer Creates Epic Underwater Rooms in His Backyard". Retrieved September 20, 2020 from Hodge, M. (2016, April 15). "Snappy Dresser: Model Swims with Sharks on Fashion Shoot". Retrieved September 20, 2020 from Stanley, B. (2013, January 4). "About". Retrieved September 20, 2020 from Socci, A (2013, April 11). "About". Retrieved September 20, 2020 from Moore, I. (2018, September 11). "Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved September 20, 2020 from Von Wong, B. (2014, May 26). "2 Models, 7 Divers in an Underwater Shipwreck (Part 1)". Retrieved September 21, 2020, from Von Wong, B. (2014, June 30). "Underwater Shipwreck in Bali: Concept, Lighting and Post-Production Secrets (Part 2)". Retrieved September 21, 2020, from Wong, A. (2013, May 27). "Underwater Fashion Photography". Retrieved September 20, 2020, from

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