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Lady of the Deep

Published by Diana Tula · August 12th 2012

A picture is worth a thousand words, and we want to hear what they are. Today's guest post is by 500px photographer Jacques de Vos, who specializes in underwater photography and takes his shots without any breathing apparatus. Here is the story of how he captured the shot "Lady of the Deep"...

Lady Of The Deep
 by Jacques de Vos
Lady Of The Deep by Jacques de Vos

All my work is done while freediving, a form of underwater diving that does not involve the use of scuba gear or other external breathing devices. Working as a full time freediving instructor and judge I’ve become extremely comfortable photographing this way. On the day I shot "Lady of the Deep" we were in Ras Mohammed National Park with a group of clients. Linda (model in this shot) and I went into the water without a plan. As we neared the end of the first session in the water I saw the opportunity of diving into this particular cave and shooting a ‘framed’ shot of Linda ascending at the mouth of it.

An entire dive like this doesn’t take more than a minute to a minute and a half. When using scuba a photographer can be leisurely about setting exposure, composing the shot and taking a few test shots. I had no breathing aid, so I had to be efficient with the time I had. At first I needed to figure out my light, then find a spot to position myself with best composition and exposure in mind, and then take a few test shots. It is important to be able to do quick repetitive dives and to never to dive alone. The fact that you are holding your breath is usually the last thing on your mind when you are preoccupied with getting good shots.

The floor of the cave was at about 5 meters and the distance from myself to Linda was about 10 meters. Photographically speaking there was not much light on my end. The obvious thing to do was to meter for the column of water behind Linda and to use ‘fill light’ from my strobes to cover as much of the inside of the cave without making it look unnatural. Knowing that I needed a small aperture to achieve a pleasing depth of field I knew I would have to keep the aperture as small as possible. A tricky prospect given that I had a very limited amount of light on my end of the cave, and that I usually aim to shoot faster than 1/125s (about as ‘slow’ as I go for shots with moving freedivers). I started by setting the shutter speed to 1/125s, the aperture to f7.0 and I prefer ISO values below 400 when shooting underwater so I opted for an ISO of 250 to start with.

Having explained to Linda exactly what I needed her to do, I took a deep breath and dived into the cave to find the ideal spot to position myself. Then I shot two test shots. Setting the strobes to 3/4 power, checking my histogram the combination turned out to work perfectly as it lit up the inside of the cave just enough to prevent loss of detail in the shadows. I quickly tried f9.0 at ISO 320 but the former settings gave me a more pleasing result in terms of lighting so I switched back and waited for Linda to come down. For shots like this I usually ask the model to give me 30 seconds before diving, which gives me 30 seconds to setup the camera settings. After doing two dives into the cave I took six shots total; three of Linda descending and three of her ascending.

Interesting story, I nearly overlooked this image in its original RAW state. When I was viewing it quickly alongside other images it looked washed out when viewed on a monitor. A few days later while sitting with Linda to look for a poster image for Freedive Dahab, Linda was the one who insisted I give this shot a try and after some quick levels and contrast adjustments it turned out to be one of the best shots I had ever taken! This is a valuable lesson learned. Using fresh eyes to look at your shots might reveal a beautiful image you would have overlooked based on something trivial, so don’t hesitate to ask a friend to point out which shots they like best.

After Linda’s advice I decided to go with the final image I shot. I also chose it based on the fact that it had the model in the most flattering position in terms of depth, framing, body position (very important) and lighting. In addition, the shot is un-cropped so the sharpness and detail is impressive. The choice to present "Lady of the Deep" in black and white was because it gave the image greater attention to elements and also created the perfect atmosphere. An alternative version to this shot (shot on the first dive) in colour also became very popular after posting it online, personally I continue to prefer the winning image.

Thanks to Jacques for sharing and to you for reading. Feel free to leave feedback or questions to the photographer in the comments below.

Have you ever wanted to try underwater photography? Check out Freedive International where Jacques de Vos is an instructor and a co-owner.


Login or sign up to comment on this post.

Sukit Kanjanaboath  over 2 years ago
Jacques de Vos  over 2 years ago
Thanks guys:)
Emil Edilersky  over 2 years ago
Amphibian Man. Good post. Thank You!
Kelly Smith  over 2 years ago
Talk about performing under pressure. I'm sure all my shots would be me rushing to the surface for air. I appreciate the insight into this art. It is most fascinating. Excellent capture.
Dennis Stenger  over 2 years ago
Beeing a freediver myself, I can say, this shot simply shows everything freediving is about. Awesome picture. Love it.
Gwen Morse  over 2 years ago
This is simply amazing....
Mark Wisecarver (inactive)  over 2 years ago
Very much appreciate this post, thanks!

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