By Jeffery Richt
Back in May, Sony made waves in the underwater photography and smartphone pools with the announcement of their Xperia ZR—the world’s first phone with dedicated underwater imaging capabilities.
Depth rated to a less-than-bone-crushing 5 feet, the smartphone is still a major step forward in waterproof technology. I've had Sony as a client for a while and after another big shoot for their Xperia Z tablet they asked if I wanted to help them on this project.
This was the first time I did a major commercial shoot underwater, but I had some basic knowledge about the way light behaves as a certified diver. It was clear from the start that I needed some kind of expertise and that´s when I got hold of underwater photographer Stefan Beskow.
Stefan and I had a long talk on the phone about my ideas and what I wanted to achieve. As the Sony Xperia ZR doesn't work in salt water it was important to shoot in a pool. We wanted to make it interesting so we decided on a night shoot, but heavily lit. At first we talked about using HMI lights but they´re bulky and need a lot of amps so we decides on the ProFoto strobes.
Previously we had photographed the Xperia Z tablet and following Sony´s guidelines we created similar lighting and feel for the phone, even if it was under water.
I felt that it was essential to do a rigorous prelight and test the conditions before our main day. So, I gathered the team and my client a week before the shoot at the location to set it all up. We had a tight schedule with lots of pictures on the list and we had only limited access to the pool: 6 hours for the shoot and 2 hours for the prelight.
With Stefan and the models in the water, my lighting assistant Karl-Johan aimed the lights. We used the ProFoto strobes to create a contour and ambient lighting. One of the camera strobes served as a fill-in and the other triggered the ProFoto strobes. We used an iPad linked to an Eye-fi card to live stream the pictures to the surface. Unfortunately, the water blocked the signal but when Stefan raised the camera over the surface, success!
The biggest challenge was to get the models to look natural underwater despite itchy eyes from the chlorine and the fact that they got very cold. I wanted to create a feeling of buoyancy as well as the power of the phone being dropped through the surface of the water.
In order to create the result, we strapped the phone to a stick and I slammed it through the water, clicking the shutter at just the right moment.
Looking back I´m glad we used strobes to freeze the action in a way that just wouldn't be possible with continuous light.
The images, especially the ones with models are built up from a number of plates: One of the model holding a phone, another of the model diving and sometimes one of the background and one of bubbles.
We needed bubbles, lots of bubbles. When pasting the elements together in post we soon realized that it all looked very fake and 2D. The bubbles in the foreground and streaks of light in the background gave the photo that third dimension we were looking for.
The result is exactly what I wanted to achieve under the circumstances. We were pressed for time during the shoot but made up for that in postproduction and it´s been a lot of fun following the spread of the images on the internet and amount of likes on Sony´s Facebook page.
CAMERA: We used a Nikon D7000 in a Sea & Sea underwater housing with a Sigma 10-20 lens, two Sea & Sea YS -110 strobes mounted on the housing and two ProFoto D1 1000 on tripods. On top of that a light trigger system to synchronize the ProFoto strobes with underwater strobes.
A Behind the Scenes of the Shoot:
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