In this blog, I will tell the story behind a specific shot, that is part of a larger project, that I have. I hope the story will be worth a read for those, who are curious about my process, but also for you to see how much work goes into a single image and the passion that drives this work.
Some will say that my passion for the ocean is more of an obsession, and I believe I share my ocean love with many scuba divers, but I often feel that my tales and photos only reach those of that segment. After making my first split shot, I realized, that non-divers relate to that kind of photo much more, than the ones of marine animals they have no relationship with.
So, I decided I wanted to make a series of images that unites recognisable landmarks of Denmark with the underwater world. This specific idea was ignited after making the photo of my German based Canadian friend and fellow scuba diving instructor Sarah diving ‘under’ the Kronborg Castle. I realised, that there are many places just like that in Denmark, where I can connect the modern human world with the ancient ocean World and tell a tale of the connection, we all share with the ocean – weather we dive it or not.
I shared the idea with a few of my collaborators and believed I would execute it within the winter months of 2020. My goal was a complete series of 10 photos, and I had a few ideas for possible scenes. Almost a year later, I have completed the 3rd image in the serios and here is the story.
Waterplay at Copenhagen Opera House
The title refers to the music from the opera and the fun and games playing with water on a SUP and swimming with fins and goggles. Settings: 35 mm, ISO 500, f/10, 1/200s
So much goes into the planning and logistics of one of these photos. So, let’s go through the many factors, that need to align.
Research on Scene
Once I had decided for the opera house to be featured in the series, I had to figure out from what angle and what time during the day would be the best for the shoot. Since I don’t own a boat, this included taking a canal tour and a lot of walking around the premises of the operahouse at different times of the day. At night, the light in the foyer is turned on and it looks absolutely stunning, so my first dream was to make this as an evening shoot.
1. Not the best angle of the opera house.
2. A long exposure evning shot made from the opposite quay.
The Story (and the Connection to Water)
Just showing the building with a waterline does not say enough, since that is basically just a green foreground. There needs to be something in it. Best case scenario, it is something of the marine environment, but this was not an option in front of the opera house, since it is too deep. It is not really a dive site either, so I didn’t want to connect the image with diving. But the Copenhagen harbour area has become one large cultural and recreational water playground, so I wanted to illustrate this. I decided to include play above water as well as below the surface.
3. Where we actually ended up getting the right distance and perspective, entering from the 2nd point.
There is a lot of boat traffic in the harbour. From large yachts over to city water busses on to kayaks and SUPs. This creates constant wave movements. For this split shot I need a somewhat straight waterline, which is difficult when I as the photographer am affected by waves and the waves are also constantly splashing onto the dome of my camera. I also had to consider the safety and visibility of myself as well as my model(s). Swimming is permitted in the harbour, but usually swimmers stay close to the quay. I also realized I had to pick a calm day in terms of winds so this wouldn’t add to the water movement but also a day without rain, so I wouldn’t have waterdrops from above hitting the top part of the dome. (This will add droplets to the image, plus give the camera a harder time to focus).
The uncertainty of the safety in the middle of the harbour being in the water myself and having a freediver as well, made me decide to create this image as a composition of two individual split shots. One focusing on the model on the SUP and one focusing on the model below the SUP. This would simplify the complexity of the task at hand and also make the work faster. The coordination of having something posing perfectly in the middle of the operahouse on top of the SUP as well and having someone perfectly below just didn’t seem accomplishable. This is my first time making this compromise since a split shot usually have to be direct from camera and not a result of post-production. This is also the reason, I decided to use the same model above as well as underwater, so that the observer will know it is a composition.
I thought, it would be much easier to compose a photo in simple snorkel gear and with a SUP as suppose to the full sets of scuba gear, I usually drag around. This was not entirely the case though… Have you tried telling a SUP to stay in one place? No can do. And don’t even talk to me about pumping the thing in the middle of Copenhagen city centre. If you are a regular SUP surfer, you probably know, but it was pretty new to me.
Since I don’t own SUPs myself, I am happy to have a good friend working for a dive shop that rent out boards and that they let me borrow two boards for free. Since my timeline was a bit unclear and weather dependant, I had the boards in my car for more than a week waiting for the right moment.
I want to shortly mention my underwater camera set-up since that is also part of the puzzle. I photograph with the Canon 5D mark IV in a Nauticam housing, that is close to 5 years old and has been with me on some wild adventures around the World. There is constant maintenance affiliated with a set-up like this and at least twice a year, I visit my camera-pusher Lars in Århus to give my camera some much needed love so that it has many years still in it.
A lot of people are quite surprised and amazed by my set-up. And it is impressive and so is it’s value. A lot of pocket money has gone into it. From the time, I decided to purchase a set-up of that calibre to the day I had a complete set for both wideangle and macro, it took 4 years of saving. So, it doesn’t happen overnight, and a lot of practice goes into using this thing.
I often meet and dive with people that would love to have photos of themselves underwater. But just like the fashion world has models, so does the underwaterworld. Posing for an underwater image is just as challenging as wearing and presenting haute couture. Taking photos of my dive buddies is also a lot of fun, but does not necessarily comply with a project like this. Luckily, my friend Sarah was keen on visiting me once again and come to the project. That now meant I had the story, the logistics, equipment and probs and the model but a limited time and the weather had to fall into place as well.
The photo, that ignited this whole proces of Sarah ‘diving’ under Kronborg Castle in Helsingør.
Before bringing all equipment to the traffic loaded scene of Copenhagen city centre, Sarah and I went to a local and smaller harbour to do some practice shots of her paddling and freediving. This gave both of us some confidence for the job later and gave me an idea of what settings and lens I would use plus where I had to aim to get the waterline in the splits. We repeated this session to finalize our preparations.
Execution: First Attempt on Scene
Summer nights are very light here in Denmark, so we expected the light in the opera house to turn on late. We went to the scene and the light just never came on!?! So frustrating with so many other factors being in place and then the house was just dark. Eventually we decided to jump in the water anyways and give it a try, but I could not get enough light into the camera to freeze the action and avoid blurriness. Flashing above or underwater, nothing really helped, and I had such a difficult time giving instructions to Sarah as my image in the viewfinder was very dark. After months of planning and only being in the water for about 30 mins, I called the whole project as there was no way, this would turn into a crisp photo.
Execution: Second Attempt
I gave it a lot of thought and decided that I had to make the image work in daylight. And that that would also make it for a gentler scene for her freediving under the SUP. But then it started raining. So, after 3 weeks without rain, weather decided to turn. Time was running out, Sarah was soon to return home, but on her last day in Denmark, the radar showed, that we would have a few hours with nice weather to continue the shoot. We prepared the camera again, made it to the scene and pumped the boards (this is now the fourth time we pumped the boards) and though winds were a bit hard and surface current made conditions a bit rough, we managed to get the shots in the camera. Hallelujah!!!
To simplify the process, we moved to a safer zone for the freediving part of the shot and also those turned out good after Sarah improvised a little.
To finalize the image, there was a bit of editing to do, but luckily not a lot. I did very little colour- and backscatter correction and tried to stay true to the weather conditions and colours of the day.
So, here we are almost a year from the idea to the end result. Though it took a lot of thinking and headaches, I am happy to be able to tick off this project.
Only 6½ more to go to complete the series.
To round up this blog, I have added this list of point to consider when planning a photoshoot. The list is not necessarily complete but will get you set for a lot of considerations.
I also want to thank Kingfish for lending me the SUP ZERO boards, for Lars from Fotografit to always be there for me and especially my underwater housing and special thanks to the extremely skilled and creative underwater model Scuba.Sarah.
As always, I am happy to answer any questions that comes to mind. Please feel free to contact me.