Underwater studio photography of Zena Holloway at work holding a camera

A Beginners Guide to Working with Babies Underwater

Amazing pictures happen when kids are happy and comfortable in their environment, so the first step is to check that you’re photographing babies that swim regularly.  Baby swimming classes are a great activity and teach them to be happy and confident in water.  Using their natural reflexes, frequent swimming lessons prepare babies and children to go under the water through word association. Babies are never too young to be introduced to water.

Here’s a picture I took of my daughter in the pool at 4 days old. Newborns generally look a bit scrunched up underwater but …

… here’s another shot of her age 3 when she’d had a bit more practice. 

Young girl dressed in fairy clothes underwater
You’ll Need:

• Lots of clean, warm water (30c +)
• a waterproof camera
• mask or goggles and a towel
• babies and their mum or dad 🙂
• an adult helper

There’s no denying that underwater photography takes some time to master but by following the tips below you’ll get off to a flying start.

1. Swim Regularly

It’s a good idea to keep to the swimming routines that the babies are used to.  Can you photograph them during their swimming lessons? or use the same pools that they usually swim at? Perhaps the swim teacher would volunteer to be your ‘adult helper’?
Pools with plenty of natural light will work best. Water gobbles up light, so a well-lit and bright environment will make it a lot easier to achieve great results.Try to shoot first thing when the water is at its clearest.

2. What Camera Equipment?

Get your hands on the best waterproof camera you can find.  If this is only a smart phone then that’s fine.  Here are some examples of smart phones in action underwater to inspire you. Many camera phones are so good that with the right conditions, you can get some very cool results. 
Using a wide angle lens allows you to cut through the water column and be closer to your subject. If there are any particles floating about then a wide angle will keep them to a minimum and your image will be crisper. Make use of the auto exposure and set the focus to manual at around 1-1.5m.  This will stop the lens from hunting around if things get bubbly in the water.  Get used to the feel of the camera underwater. Take some practise pictures of a doll or the pool ladder before wadding in with the real thing.  If you’re having trouble staying underwater either breathe out to make yourself negatively buoyant or use a divers weight-belt.   

Underwater portrait photography of child in swimming pool

Before getting wet check the camera case is sealed completely.  Wear your mask and watch through the lens port as you submerge it. If bubbles are coming from the case it’s a sure sign that water is getting in – so take care!

If you get any fogging inside the case its usually becuase the change in temperature has made the water condense on the port.  Either wait for the camera temp to adjust or jump out and gently heat it with a hair dryer.

3. Scope out the environment

Look for a clean wall or a simple background to shoot against. Watch out for the ugly filter, pool light, drains, ladders and large, white legs wading behind!
If you want to use a material background then PVC tarpaulins work well because they’re heavy and sink nicely. Marine canvas is good too because it won’t bleach with the chlorine.  Whatever you do make sure anything you put in the water is totally clean otherwise all that dirt will be chasing you around in the water and the pool manager will be chasing you around when you get out.

Brother and sister swim underwater together in the pool
4. Strike a pose

The easiest pose to catch is a sitting down ‘dunk’ with baby and parent.  Have the parent hold the baby’s hand at the front and position the baby on their hip with their body turned to camera.
If this goes OK try a short swim to camera with baby on their own.  Ask the swim teacher to place the baby in from above and on their tummy.  They’ll need to stand off to the side to be out of shot. It takes a little bit of practice and you might want to do some test shots with a doll before swimming any of the babies – just to make sure you and the swim teacher are happy with the pose.

Mum & Dad swim with their baby underwater | photography by Zena Holloway
5. Be ready

Be ready for anything with kids! Expect the unexpected and be ready to shoot it. Learn to anticipate what might happen, and where you need to be to capture it. Be ready technically, and in all other aspects. Be ready to move fast if something happens and whatever you do make it fun!  If everyone enjoys the experience of being photographed underwater they’ll want to come again.  So don’t worry if it takes a little time to perfect your art. Parents will love pictures of their babies underwater and no doubt you’ll be invited back to take more. There’s a very complex theory about underwater photography – the more you shoot the luckier you get – so just keep practicing.

Girl swims underwater in a blue swimming pool surrounded by bubbles

Content originally created for Life Cake.