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A project 3 years in the making, I was asked by Karnes Coffey Design to shoot underwater portraits of company dancers for Richmond Ballet's 2019-2020 season brochure. While there is plenty of underwater photography of dancers out there, as far as we are aware this is the first time a professional ballet company has allowed it's principal dancers to be photographed underwater for promotional purposes.
The ultimate goal was to create a kind of magical realism. My approach was to light the dancers with dramatic and very directional down lighting much like you would see if they were performing on stage. I knew the water would create some interesting atmospheric haze and light shaft effects and we also wanted the dancers to look like they could be in a natural river environment, so we opted not to use any flash/strobe above or below the surface. We rigged a continuous 2 point lighting setup above a dark indoor pool to simulate the look of stage spotlights.
When you're shooting underwater it's hard to know exactly what you have until you get back to the studio and start pushing the files around. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the raw images looked with just some color and contrast manipulation. The realism part was there but they needed some next level help. The talented digital artists at Alice Blue Studios stepped up and really elevated the work. They created some gorgeous fabric, water, light streak and bubble art, giving the images the ethereal/magical quality we were looking for.