Everybody’s got a bucket list, or something akin to it, I imagine. Photographer’s bucket lists are most likely pretty extensive. It’s not average, almost certainly. (That’s a presumption that any “average” bucket list exists, which is most likely not the case.)
But, I guess what I’m saying is that a photog’s list is not just, “I wanna climb Everest!” It’s, “I wanna climb Everest and carry a drone up there and make aerials of the top!”
“I wanna meet JLo!” Not enough, perhaps. “I wanna meet JLo and photograph her for the cover of Vogue!”
Obviously, there are most likely a lot of unrealized items on photographer’s bucket lists. I’m certainly in that boat, or bucket, myself.
But I did get one lately, with all thanks to Scott Kelby and his intrepid group, and their legendary patience for my meandering imagination. Their home office in Tampa sits just about right at the doorstop of the Weeki Wachee Springs, home of the America’s favorite underwater creatures, the Weeki Wachee mermaids.
I went diving years ago with these legendary ladies of the deep, sinking an American Olympic snow boarder into the springs to be attended to by merfolk as he did his swirls and turns in a somewhat weightless environment. It was a fun, and obviously bubbly shot. It was also only marginally successful, falling short of my hopes, for reasons, as I look at the picture now, I really can’t remember. I just have always wanted another go at trying to make a picture down there.
It’s not easy. Or, maybe it is when you have sun. Which is never guaranteed. For instance, on the morning of our Kelby shoot, it was hard to distinguish where the fog stopped and the water line started. Pea soup, in other words. So, I was glad I had toted in about 10,000 watt seconds of Profoto flashes into the viewing theater and had them lined up at the windows, ready to pick up at least a bit of the slack.
This is all for a coming video class that is less instructional than it is a fun account of an attempt at a very uncertain photographic adventure. Not too many folks are going to wake up some day and think they might want to light the Weeki Wachee Mermaid Springs, to be sure.
The class has a working title of “Photographing Your Sense of Humor,” though that may change. Making an odd, quirky, or outright funny picture is hard to do. At one point, when I was a staffer at LIFE, I was allowed to do a series of tongue in cheek looks at America’s winter Olympians by putting them in offbeat environments. It was a reasonably well received effort, and actually, a couple pictures have stuck to me a bit over the years, which means, at least, they weren’t instantly forgettable, as so many pictures I’ve shot are.
Some years ago, I had sold a notion to Sports Illustrated to photograph the elite of the PGA tour in a way that visually represented their playing style or spirit, or the persona they have created for themselves out there on the links. Someone would be “The Battler,” styled as Rocky with a golf club; another would be “The Professor,” the player who studies the courses most thoroughly. The setting for him would be obvious. Another might be “The Machine,” renowned for his clinical precision.
And another might be “The Risk Taker,” the guy who’s always going for it, trying for the killer blow, going for the long ball, over all manner of hazards that would make a more prudent player pull up short. He ends up in the water, frequently. To represent this, I had the notion of dropping a golfer in a reef, addressing his ball, nonchalant as could be, trying to improbably save par. But here in Weeki Wachee, he would be assisted, yea, even directed, by the locals, in this case, mermaids.
So, my imagination goes out for a silly ramble now and then. In the case of the pro golf crowd, it was not appreciated or understood. Even with the muscle of SI behind me, the golfer’s agents, who only see the color green, would not play. They wouldn’t even ask the golfer. They thought I was a nut job. They might be onto something, there. Witness below…..hmmmm.
The underwater mermaid picture we just did is obviously highly illustrative, but it is one where I wanted all the subjects in situ, real time, not just disconnected pieces to be composited later. Here’s where the current state of camera tech really is helpful. The film image I made of the snowboarder, seen up above in the post, was shot on Ektachrome, has that traditional, seriously blue cast caused by underwater conditions, even with all the flash I applied. With the D810 I dove with for the current golfer with the mermiads pic, not only is the post production of digital able to bring this back to something approaching dry land color, but the resolution of the D810, combined with its remarkable high ISO capacity, makes it a wonderful tool for making this shot. Specs on the final pic are, 1/200th @ f8, ISO 800. Underwater crispness is not an issue, given the res of the 810. We are living in an era of amazing photographic tools.
And it was a bit of a production, getting all the pieces to work together, for sure. Below are some watery production pictures from the day. The water was cold, so I thankfully I didn’t notice how much I was sweating this out.
What was wild to me was the way the fins of the mermaids, which above the water were a neon, shiny pink, reacted to the flashes. I’ve provided here a step by step, from the original to a somewhat halfway post treatment, to a full-blown finished file, which is otherworldly. The golfer is concentrating, and the mermaids offer their input as to how to rectify his dilemma. Their finny appendages are fairly glowing, with even more vibrance than they even have in regular daylight. Unpredicted, but fun.
Jpeg out of the camera….
Full blown re-touch, fins aglow!
Almost all the light is coming from the theater, which is camera left. I’m triggering all the flashes from an on camera underwater flash, which in turn is triggering another trigger flash, which in turn is triggering the dry land power packs which is in turn triggering the hand held Sea & Sea Pro flash that Cali is literally floating around with. It’s not the first time I’ve deployed an underwater VAL and I suspect it won’t be the last. He did a great job, consulting my LCD periodically to determine how close he could get without over filling the mermaids. And Jon Cospito in our studio did a great job on the post. The shot at the beginning of the blog is a final, with the our finny, colorful friends of the deep toned down a bit.
Numerous things went wrong, and we only had thirty minutes with the ladies of the deep to get it done, given safety regs. Being underwater magnifies more than just the image you see. It hampers communication, slows things down, and makes a fix a laborious, time-consuming effort. We came close to not getting it, but we recovered some problems, and ended up with a shot that comes close to a picture that has lived in my imagination for many years. It was risky, to be honest, trying not just to do this, but do it while being recorded, fer chrissakes. It’s a good thing there was no audio track running in my regulator as it would have been a non stop string of language that would have made a pirate blush and the mermaids swim away.
Many thanks to John Athanason, who made it all happen for us at the park, and to the artist in residence, photog Andrew Brusso, a long time New York pro who has relocated to Weeki Wachee, for his assistance and guidance on the underwater microphone. And of course to the underwater stars, Chelsea Stewart and Danielle DeMonaco, and our intrepid golfer, Dane Karcher, a noted free diver and all around wild man.
And to the Kelby crew—Adam, Mark, Jennifer, Meredith, and Lisa—thanks for attempting to film one nutty idea. And special thanks to Curt Leimbach and Kathy Porupski, who worked unbelievably hard and shot a lot of fun and important BTS stuff.
More tk……and….HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!
Thierry Dehove says
Bonne Année Joe
you are amazing and an awesome source of Inspiration
Merci, be safe, Thierry
Lorri Eastin says
Look forward to watching this ‘class’. I am constantly amazed at the ideas that you come up with. You may be known as ‘the lighting guru’ but I think ‘creative guru’ should be included in your resume as well.
Joe – I am speechless…
Afsel Kamal says
An amazing photography fireworks to us….
thanks for sharing these great efforts….
Wishing a great new year too…
Losam Photography says
Joe! The photogramar, you speak volumes with your photographs and that is why I love to follow you. I met with you @ Niphec seminar in Nigeria 2yrs ago. You teach about light and it was wholesome. Love you for who you are JOE.
Great article Joe! It’s something I still want to experiment with myself. Ever since Ben Von Wong came out with that epic shoot in Bali, I been very interested in learning what effort goes into the preparation and execution of a shoot like this.
I’m a diver myself (PADI rescue diver since recently), so I understand the risks involved. It’s great to see an alternative in a slightly more controlled environment than the ocean… 🙂
Happy new year!
I think I caught you mentioning this on “The Grid” with Scott Kelby. I was wondering how you put that much light underwater. Now I see it was just projecting underwater.
Underwater work, on tall building spires, on high voltage transmission towers, and hanging out of helicopters; I’m beginning to think you’re a stuntman that turned out to be better with a camera than at stunts.
Jen T says
Phenomenal!!! Definitely can’t wait for the video. 🙂
Simon Fleming says
Happy New Year Joe!
I love your ideas & how you bring them to life – the crazier the better in my opinion. Thanks for the post & for the smiles.
WOW , great results…I definitely want to get a underwater case for my Nikon D810 … They are not cheap but so worth it… Great work Joe. I hope to get out to do some underwater commercial images! It would be an adrenaline rush for sure!
ric woods says
Greetings from Australia (again).You have certainly helped my commercial work,Thanks for sharing
Joe McNally says
Thank you Ric….appreciate the kind words from down under!
John A. says
This is incredible!! Even if my heart could have imagined something like this, my brain would have told me ‘no way buddy’. Its also incredibly cool that you got the opportunity!
I do have one question though, and am totally not questioning your skill at all, but is there no white balance setting you could have used that would have rendered that blue almost completely neutral in your straight out of the camera shot? I have never shot underwater before which is why I’m asking.
I seriously love this shot though!
Happy New Year joe !
I love your ideas. They have certainly help me. Looking start up my Commercial photography this year.
Daniel from India.
I love your adventurous spirit and willingness to push the envelope, thanks for sharing.
Regards from the Blue Mountains (Australia).