The Underwater Archer: How to Get the Shot

The Underwater Archer: How to Get the Shot

Often, I get asked how a shot was done underwater due to the objects that are with the client. Recently, I started using GoPros to obtain behind the scenes footage to help better explain positioning and lighting on various sessions. "The Archer" was one image that caused most people to ask: "Did she really shoot the arrow at you?"

I have submerged everything from flowers to a violin and even a toy piano. So, when high school sessions come around, I am not shy to suggest shooting their sport of choice below the surface. Many objects are in need of being weighted down, such as the piano. Hand weights with zip ties are on hand at all shoots just in case an object is not positioning itself in the way I envisioned. Even with crowns that are placed on a client's head, small fishing weights can help keep them from floating to the surface.

The archer shot did not need to be weighted as the others, as the client, Lexi, was strong enough to keep the bow and arrow under while still posing for the shot. Her shoot was not like others I have done before. The level of safety was a concern for myself. Normally, I am worried about the client, but with an arrow pointed directly at me, I was not taking this lightly. In any other underwater bow and arrow image I have seen in the past, the archer is shot as a profile or with the tip to the side.

Not to Scale

Shooting her equipment underwater was a concern as it was her competition bow. My children are just starting in archery, so my son allowed us to use his bow (cheaper to replace his than hers). The decision was made to shoot her bow on land, as I needed to have the correct scale to composite later on compared to my son's smaller bow.

How to Not Lose an Eye

I always want to go the extra mile, so my intent was to capture the shot with the arrow in mid-stream. Lexi removed the tip so the water would fill quickly in order to slow it down prior to reaching me. She shot it several times with me and my team off to the side so we could see where it would land on various releases. The arrow barely got to the spot that I would be positioned because of the drag forces of the water, so all worries were put to rest. We needed to make sure to show and explain after the shot was released on social media, as we did not want new photographers attempting it without knowing the safety issues. Explaining how much care and consideration that is given during my underwater sessions is just as important as the final shot itself in my mind. 

In this setup, we used black sheets sewn together in order to lessen the post production of background cleanup. There were multiple flashlights pointed down against the sheet not only to bring her away from the drop, but also to add to the backscatter. In the underwater world, backscatter is sometimes considered a four-letter word as it is reflection of the particles back in the direction from which they came. They can easily ruin a shot such as the one below if your strobes are not pointing at the correct angle. For this particular shot, I really wanted to bring the specks of light to surround her, so I broke the rules and emphasized all that I could. In order to make sure the particles were not the focal point, the strobe should be angled in a direction not head on.

Having behind the scenes work is not only great to show in these situations, but also key to being able to review it as an artist to gain insight on how to improve.

The Logistics

I use a lifeguard on every underwater session that I create. First, it helps with the logistical issues of setting up for quick resurfacing and rest. It also serves as smart practice when you are working with water sessions in general. Besides the safety and logistics, they can also shoot the GoPro video for me. In the video, above and to my right is a rescue float (normally, this is used when we have long flowy skirts as in the piano image in case feet get tangled). We used the Ikelite housing over the Nikon D810, along with one Ikelite strobe and multiple constant lights pointed towards the backdrop to bring out the backscatter.

The issues that came into play were with the shot of the arrow being in mid-stream. Any closer and I ran the risk of the arrow shooting directly into the glass dome of my housing. When I moved just a foot away, it quickly lost momentum and angled down. In the end, after seeing all the images, I went with the arrow just about to be released. It allowed for her face to stay in focus along with the arrow.

Who Doesn't Love to Color

Post-production is one of the best parts of shooting underwater. With the reduction of red wavelengths almost immediately under the surface (especially in a pool), the color balance portion of editing can be exhilarating. During an edit on an image such as the archer, it feels like a big kids' coloring book to bring it back to life.

After adding Lexi's bow into the image, a minor puppet warp was added in order to fit it the same space as the smaller bow. Coloring for images such as this start out with a quick check using minor layers such as color balance and selective color to bring her hair and skin tone back. I use curves to dodge. They allow for more control in my opinion. Using levels on the bow composite blended it into the underwater bow placement. The bow on land had richer colors as well as different highlights, so bringing down the pinks on it was key to making the image.

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