Exploring Underwater Photography with Brett Stanley
Internally, underwater housing is something that we said we’d never do here at Lensrentals.com. One of the main pillars of our business model is quality control – everything that you receive from us has been inspected multiple times, by multiple people before it gets put into the box and sent out to you for your rental. With underwater housing, that process can be complicated, but an important step to assure that everyone’s gear is kept safe.
So as you can imagine, that is a little more elaborate than testing a lens or camera before shipping. But after years of requests, we finally decided to rent out the housing, and through the rentals, we found several exciting photographers doing cool things submerged underwater. One of those photographers is the topic of this piece, and his name is Brett Stanley.
For those unacquainted, Brett Stanley is a photographer based out of Long Beach, California, but most of his work is based underwater, in his custom build pool studio. After sitting down and speaking with Brett, it’s quick to assess his vast experience and knowledge when it comes to underwater photography.
“It started as a hobby for me a long time ago, just taking photos when I was traveling, and then photographing gigs and my family gatherings. I was never able to draw or paint, even my handwriting is terrible, but the camera felt good to me – like a way to create that didn’t require too steady a hand.” Brett tells us when speaking about his humble starts as a photographer. But soon, his fascination with being in the water blended with his photography work, leading us to where he is now. “I enjoyed the controlled studio environment, but I missed the ease of shooting outside – the studio was lacking something and that something was a landscape. … I had always loved the water, drawn to it my whole life, and so I started to look at that as a market for my skills, and although it was a very steep learning curve, I found that Underwater Portraiture was something I was very good at.”
Shooting underwater comes with its caveats of challenges, and aren’t just limited to having the appropriate gear to submerge into the water. “There are many challenges with underwater photography, but the main one is not being able to talk to your model while under the water – so pre-planning each shot to some degree is a must. You also have issues with photographer and model both moving and floating, which can make framing a shot difficult.” Brett tells us. “Lighting works different underwater as well, since the physics of light changes once it hits the water – intensity and colors do funny things. I like to keep an open mind when I shoot underwater, in as much as you can only plan so far – and then you just have to roll with whatever happens to create something great.”
Despite the challenges, underwater photography has become easier than ever thanks to the housings that I alluded to at the top of the article. While there are underwater camera systems like the Canon PowerShot D30 and the GoPro Hero7, there are also a lot of housing systems available for your camera, and they’re filled with a number of safety features. For us, we rent out the Ikelite systems, which are custom built for the particular camera you’re using, and offer access to all the cameras buttons and features, while waterproofing the camera down to 200ft. Each of these systems come with a vacuum pump, allowing you to check the seal of your housing before submerging it underwater. If you’re hoping to add to the camera system, we also offer the Ikelite DS161 Strobe system, allowing you to light your scene, both as a strobe and a video light.
However, there are also a number of budget options available for those who aren’t interested in renting and are looking at options. Brett tells us “I initially started with an Ewa Marine Bag for my camera, and although I was kind of skeptical about it the bag worked really well for over a year until it failed and flooded my camera. For a budget option, they are great but you just have to keep on top of the pressure testing before you use it in case there are leaks.” Eventually, though, Brett upgraded to a more robust case for his Canon 5d Mark III and Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 – his current set up.
With underwater housing and lighting out of the way, Brett ups the ante, and will often build elaborate sets within his private studio pool. “It’s true, I have started building sets underwater. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and after I built my own underwater studio in LA last year I finally got the chance.” Brett tells us. “In a commercial job, the client will come to me with a theme in mind, such as the 80’s bedroom that I built for the Weyes Blood album cover. They had some sketches of what they wanted in the room, a list of props etc, and from there we discuss the final build – whether it needs a window or door, etc. Most sets I build are 3 walls and a floor, and they need to be able to withstand being submerged for at least a day at a time – maybe more if we have lots to shoot.” And while the hardest part might seem to be making sure things don’t fall apart in the water, it’s actually making sure they stay put. “The hardest part is actually making sure all the props do what they are told, which is usually to sink! I’ve had to get creative with hiding weights in furniture and lamps to get them to stay put, although on my last job the bottom fell out of a dresser and the weights fell out, causing the whole thing to rocket to the surface.” Brett laments.
But when done correctly, the results can be unique and incredibly interesting, as you can see in the images shown throughout this article. A special thanks to Brett Stanley for sitting down and sharing his experience with us. For more of his work, be sure to check out his website and Instagram, and if you have any questions for him, be sure to chime in in the comments. And for a full look at what we have available for underwater housing available for rental, be sure to check out our Ikelite inventory.
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