ARCommunity #FF: Harry Martin, Underwater Fashion Photographer

In April of 2013 Harry Martin, a two-time Emmy award winning TV journalist, began an underwater fashion photography project where he photographs fully dressed models, shoes and all… underwater. I was able to speak to him about his amazing project in the following interview.


ARC: Why Underwater Photography?

Harry Martin: I’ve always been interested in underwater photography. It’s one of the great challenges, I used to shoot a lot of things in scuba and just general underwater stuff; fish, wrecks, that kind of thing. I just thought that the way the light behaves underwater is so unpredictable and such a challenge to control that I thought this was just a perfect thing to do and nobody else is really doing it. The initial results I got were just so captivating that I just kept doing it and refining it.

What are some of the challenges you face doing this type of photography?

The biggest challenge is controlling the light. Because the light comes through the top of the water in the pool, you get some really interesting light patterns and you have to control those patterns with fill flash. I use a different color temperature on the fill flash than sunlight, but I use that to my advantage because I like to warm up the skin tones. So that’s basically how I try to control the light. You don’t want it too severe, with shadows too deep, underwater.

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How do you communicate with the models underwater?

For many of the models we rehearse it in a studio first and kinda go through the motions. I find that either models know how to do it… or they don’t. It’s pretty much a hit or miss thing. Some models [in the studio] are spectacular and as soon as they get in the water, they might not be quite as spectacular. And vice versa, the models that may be mediocre [in the studio] are sensational under water. They just take to it. I find that dancers are really good at it. One of the people that I shot who was the most spectacular was coincidentally a marine biologist, so she loved the water. Always wanted to be a mermaid. She just took to it.

As far as communication, it’s a very slow process. I have to do, I would say, about five times as many shots under water to get a great one as you would on land in a studio. So it’s shot by shot. You go under, they do a pose, you come back up and you try to refine the pose. It’s really painstaking.

How do you determine the themes in your photographs?

The thing we try to do is come up with the thing that you’d least expect under water.  One of the most popular ones right now is the one I like to call “Guitar Girl”, and that’s Zoe West with a pink guitar. The back story on that shot is pretty amazing.

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What about makeup?

My daughter, Sara, does the makeup. She’s a model, a singer and she also does makeup for me for this project. That’s really been trial and error. I know there is waterproof makeup out there and a lot of makeup artists know about it, but what we’ve done is we’ve come up with our own system. You wanna do makeup that’s safe and comfortable for the models that you can actually get off after the shoot.

Ashley Malone does the hair. She does such a great job. The trick is to come up with a hairstyle that stays underwater and as it degrades – because eventually it’s gonna come out if you’re under water a long time – it has to degrade gracefully so you still have a beautiful shot.

Shelly Wapniak, she’s a body paint artist and she came up with the design [for that shoot]. I found her through the model [on that shoot], Amy Hope. It’s become this collaborative effort where everybody gets together and shares ideas. It’s one of the most fun aspects of this whole project that I’ve been doing for the last year or so.


How about your equipment set up?

I use a Nikon D4 and I shoot RAW which is vital under water. I don’t use any camera filters, but I do use two strobes for fill flash. I don’t Photoshop other than to color correct and sometimes to improve skin tones. In case the makeup is wearing off at the end of the shoot, I’ll use Photoshop to correct that.

I also have the Nikon 1 AW1 which shoots RAW, it shoots video, and it’s an underwater camera. And it has a flash that works under water. I can’t say enough good things about this camera because I use it as my production camera. I’ll shoot all the great studio shots with my D4 and then I’ll take this little guy and I’ll take random shots, or my daughter will take them, of me underwater. So if people are interested in doing this kind of thing they don’t have to spend an arm and a leg [on equipment].

What do you hope to achieve with this project?

My ultimate goal is to do a full blown fashion show for a fashion company underwater – not bathing suits. I’d love to do ball gowns, Oscar de la Renta ball gowns, or some other high-end ball gowns with full jewelry and heels and the whole deal. I’m headed for the New York Times fashion section, hopefully.

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Harry Martin has a show coming up on Jan 15-Feb 1 at the Piermont Flywheel Gallery in, Piermont NY.

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