The Underwater World of Nick Pugay

The Underwater World of Nick Pugay

Living in the desert, I don’t see a lot of water. And while I lived on coastline, I never really played with water for shoots other than the occasional beach photo. This is why I became fascinated by Nick Pugay’s work when I first saw it. That’s because Nick Pugay takes your wedding photos and engagement photos, underwater.

I had the opportunity recently to speak with Nick Pugay on the phone and through a few exchanges of emails, and got a general sense of his style, humility, and character. Nick has been gaining quite the name for himself, as he often takes those special moments involved in weddings, and puts them in the gorgeous blue coastal waters of Oahu, an island of Hawaii.

Hey Nick, pleasure to meet you. How did you get started in doing the work you're doing?

Hi Zach. Well, it all started in 1996 and actually, I was a surf photographer at the beginning of my photography career. I worked for Surfing Magazine for a few years and did a lot of my surf photography in the water. On one particular day, the waves were small but it was super sunny and the water was crystal clear. I thought to myself, "Maybe I should try photographing the surfers underwater as they would dive under and through the wave?" Mind you, this was back in the days of film photography so I really had to take my notes, remember what time of day it was, the exposure settings on my camera and also how I would develop the film in the lab. After getting that roll of film back from the lab, I had this one shot that I really liked (1 out of 36 frames). I was hooked and went on a mission to perfect this craft. I photographed my first wedding in 2005 and my couple was aware of my underwater photography and requested to do an underwater "trash the dress" session after the wedding day because of its unique look. We did the session and the photos turned out better than I expected. From that day on, I started including this session with my wedding packages.

What made you go from surfing photography to weddings?

One day I had a pretty bad experience paddling out to the lineup. It was enough of a scare to make me think twice as a surf photographer.

Bad experience? Anything you care to elaborate on?

I got caught on a set of some pretty big waves (7 waves altogether) and had it not been for a bodyboarder being nearby, I wouldn't have been able to rest and catch my breath in time for the next set of waves that came in.

So do you find any particular challenges when shooting underwater that don't exist when shooting normally?

For sure. For one thing, I don't expect my clients to swim like a fish for this kind of photo shoot, especially for the bride because she is swimming with so much material and it gets really heavy once it wet. But you know, as their photographer, it's my job to educate each couple who wants to do an underwater session. I'll let them know what to expect and what I'm looking for when they're swimming. I will never have a couple do a sequence which I feel will take them out of their comfort zone, especially for the bride. Once they enter the water, it's a very different feel compared to taking pictures on the land.

How does one schedule something like that, with the added issues of water clarity levels and waves?

Most of my clients are out-of-state. I'd ask for their arrival/departure dates so that I can do my research as far as tides and the weather. I basically have about 4 places on island (Oahu) where I take my clients and generally, the water is clear unless we have bad weather for days. It's just a matter of what the waves and tides are doing on the day that we have scheduled. I never take my clients to an area where I know there will be surging water. That won't be comfortable for them.

What equipment are you using to capture these photos underwater?

I'm using the Canon 5D MKIII with an SPL water housing.

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Nick lives off of the Hawaiian Island of Oahu and shoots weddings, engagements and other general portraiture. You can see more of Nick's work on his website.
Zach Sutton's picture

Zach Sutton is an award-winning and internationally published commercial and headshot photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. His work highlights environmental portraiture, blending landscapes and scenes with portrait photography. Zach writes for various publications on the topic of photography and retouching.

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There are so many more poses you can do when you aren't really restricted by gravity. This is incredible.

Love these shots! And the water is so clear! 

Fantabulous snapshots!!!! Underwater photography is a challenging task but I couldn't see any such challenges on the couple's face....They are so cool...Hats off Nick

Beautiful unique photos, what a great inspiration this is!!

...Pure talent xx

Pretty cool.