synchronized swimming

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. synchronized swimmingAs 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.

underwater synchronized swimming picturesSo for this underwater shoot, I used nothing more than a $13 Plexiglas fish tank, a flamingo-patterned beach towel and some black T-shirts I grabbed from my closet.

synchronized swimmingNow, 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.

synchronized swimmingI 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.

synchronized swimmingOnce 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.

underwater synchronized swimmingWhether 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).

synchronized swimmingIt was definitely a fun experience working with these girls and seeing them work on their routine. Olympic synchronized swimming is going on right now, so if you dig this, check it out there.

synchronized swimmingAlso, 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!