With great risk comes great reward — and I consider getting a camera anywhere near the water at least a little risky. I pitched this synchronized swimming assignment to the paper because the sport has always been on my mental photo bucket list. It seemed like it would provide a plethora of great visual opportunities — repetition, sports action, and the always-interesting underwater shoot. As an intern and a recent college graduate, it is no surprise that I don’t have the money to throw around to get underwater camera housing. Scrimping and saving is no novel concept to me when applied to photojournalism — I routinely carry around black plastic trash bags, a poncho and rubber bands for camera protection for the inevitable sports game in the rain. Living on a budget means getting creative, after all.
Now, this isn’t my first underwater rodeo — it’s my second. I have done one underwater shoot previous to this one to get a portrait of an Israeli Olympic swimmerfor a magazine. I used a fish tank for that shoot, and after seeing one in the equipment locker here at The Oregonian, I figured I was set.
I showed up during a synchronized swimming practice at the Tualatin Hills Athletic Club. The girls were using a space that took up two lanes of the pool, so I situated myself on the ledge of the pool so that they were facing me. I placed the beach towel down to sit on — it was very wet and I had an assignment to go to after this one — and put my feet in the water so that I was square with the athletes.
Once I was situated, I got the fish tank — which holds about 15 gallons — and placed it in the water between my legs. For most of the shoot, I pushed the tank into the water and held it between my knees. The power of buoyancy pushed against any force that I applied downward so that water didn’t pour in unless I pushed too far (I didn't push it too far). For some of the shoot, the very dedciated writer, Findley Merritt, pushed down the tank while I had my arms free to move around the camera inside.
Whether the tank was being pushed down by myself or Findley, though, I could not see through my viewfinder to make pictures. I set my exposure by checking a few test shots and had the camera on an autofocus point where I knew at least one of the swimmers would be at all times (for my shoot previous to this, I used manual focus — I think both have their advantages).
Also, feel free to check out the story on The Oregonian's website.
UPDATE: I drew a terrible stick drawing diagram showing my set-up for this shoot, for those interested!