Secrets of a commercial UW Photographer: Making Wet Look “Normal”
(DiverWire) – Chris Crumley is a well-known underwater photographer who is in demand regularly. His images have graced the covers of a variety of books and magazines, in addition to being featured throughout the world in advertisements and online promotional campaigns.
Crumley, who was profiled last year in a DiverWire exclusive – He’s Got the Job Almost Every Diver Wants, made news earlier this week when it was announced he was part of the launch campaign for the Hasselblad camera’s new 60-megapixel digital back for their H4D medium format camera.
It’s not surprising that this highly-respected and well-known company would ask Crumley to test and shoot their new product. More impressive is the mermaid image shot with the new equipment that’s featured on the Hasselblad web site.
It is not the first time a commercial company has contacted Crumley, whose unique style, vision and skill have resulted in some unforgettable images – including products, models, dancers and even a few mermaids. According to the photographer, “It’s different being underwater. It’s surreal. It’s weightless. It’s unique,” he points out. “Sometimes, the only ‘clue’ that the model is underwater is a few small bubbles. That’s appealing to me as a photographer and to the clients I work with.”
Currently being represented by numerous stock photography agencies, Crumley is serious about his craft, traveling several months of the year and spending summers shooting in the custom pool that he built near his home in Virginia. Designed specifically for underwater photography, the pool measures 16 x 32 and is eight feet deep and cost Crumley $70,000. But the control of the aquatic environment is priceless he says.
“Pool Chemistry is critical to getting a good shot,” Crumley explains. That “chemistry” literally involves chemicals, but also some intangibles. “It’s a salt water pool which is comforting to model’s eyes and we keep the pH very close to the natural pH of saline in the eye. We also keep the pool at a warm temperature for comfort.”
Dancers and underwater modeling work so well together that Crumley has been shooting the annual New York Dance Company’s promotional posters for the last four years. The dancers regularly produce some of Crumley’s most memorable images. “Dancers in an underwater environment are quite appealing. They have spectacular grace and body control which helps grab people’s interest.”
Crumley works hard to attract the interest of advertising agencies and his efforts are paying off. In recent years he has worked with firms involved with weddings, automobiles, cameras, scuba equipment, performing arts and even lingerie.
Earlier this year, he helped produce a striking image of a dancer underwater with balloons for the dance company. He shared some of the secrets of the shoot, which took several hours to prepare before anyone even got wet. “You can’t tell, but the balloons are filled with water and just a touch of air to keep them upright. We added a black backdrop and shot near the surface so there would be a strong reflection. It’s one of my favorite shots.”
Crumley’s success comes not only from his creative eye, but his ability to select quality models and bring out their “best” underwater. One of his most photographed and well-known models is Malena Sharkey. Sharkey, who owns a scuba diving facility in Virginia near Crumley has developed a strong rapport with the photo pro. “Within a couple of hours of working with Chris for the first time, our personalities definitely bonded. You have to have patience and control when you’re shooting underwater. Chris takes his time and allows the model to do what she needs to do for him get the shot.”
Crumley is particular about one thing with his models – they need to develop the ability to control their hair. “The hair is the most important part of many shots,” he explains. “Hair helps portray motion and comfort and that comes through when a model controls the movement.” It’s not an easy skill to manage but Crumley knows precisely what he wants. “It has to ‘billow’ or ‘flow’ depending on the picture.” Exactly what that means? It’s in his creative eye. But seasoned models quickly understand what he’s looking for. To help get the understanding, Crumley surfaces with the model and they go under his black cloth and review images on the camera’s LCD. They talk about what looks good and what can be improved upon.
“It’s not easy. There are certain tricks that models learn,” Sharkey explains. “There are conditioners you put in your hair before the shoot which helps keep the hair from clumping up. Using your hands to position the hair can also help.” But she warns, “The longer your hair is, the more practice you need to make sure you can handle it. If you don’t position it properly, it can become a mess.”
She adds, “The more you shoot with Chris, the better and more natural the image becomes and that is good for the client and creates some awesome shots.”