DPP Home Profiles Zena Holloway - Beneath The Surface

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Zena Holloway - Beneath The Surface

Zena Holloway has staked out underwater model work as her field, and she's definitely the big fish in a small pond

Along with the size, shape, depth and color of a pool, Holloway factors in everything from the quality and temperature of a location's water to the availability of electricity and the necessary facility costs involved. Since she's mixing water with electricity on every shoot, her number-one concern is safety.

“I always have an electrician on site when I'm drawing power,” she says of her pool work and the lights required. “All cables have RCD circuit breakers and we use ropes to tie off lights and stands. However, there always needs to be a safe distance that the lights can sit from the water surface. You can use reflectors and diffusers underwater, but you have to start with a lot of light from the beginning, otherwise it just has no effect.”

Holloway mixes underwater lights with standard studio lighting above the surface as much to increase the amount of light available as to help her mimic effects she sees in other images. She says that the principles of lighting on dry land and shooting underwater are the same, but the additional intensity is needed because, along with altering the color of the source, water behaves like a giant neutral-density filter between her lights, her lens and her subject.

“Actually, the essentials are very similar,” she says. “The biggest effect that water has on light is to gobble it up. Underwater lighting needs to be very powerful to get anything out of it. Everything tends to take on a cyan cast, and colors can alter a bit, but other than that, the boundaries are set by equipment limitations. I'm frequently trying to simulate interesting-looking lighting that I see on the surface and trying to adapt underwater strobes or lights to see if I can make a similar effect underwater. My shoots normally involve quite a bit of rigging to get lights exactly where I want them.”

Though she frequently adapts dry lighting to her underwater work, Holloway doesn't do much out-of-water shooting. When she considers the differences between wet and dry workflows, she says there's literally no comparison.

“I don't really shoot on dry land, so it's hard for me to compare,” says Holloway. “I had a small shoot the other day, however, working with a couple of dry models. I didn't enjoy it at all. I kept feeling that I needed to jolly everyone along to keep their interest. Of course, it doesn't really happen like that underwater, where you've got 110% of their attention.”

Though Holloway enjoys photographing the natural undersea world, most of her advertising jobs involve working with props and models. While a photographer in his or her own studio can simply speak instructions to the subject while he or she is shooting, that process is almost nonexistent underwater. Holloway prefers to clear that hurdle by minimizing the diving gear and simply taking her subjects for a swim—frequently, with as little gear as necessary.

“I actually prefer to leave the scuba out when possible and to breath-hold instead,” she says. “With this method, the models and I need to come to the surface to breathe between takes and I can give them instructions for the next dip down. Working on scuba can slow everything down, just because the kit is cumbersome. And here in the U.K., the law requires a minimum of three commercial divers per dive—one standby, one working and one supervisor. That can make shooting with scuba too expensive for some budgets. When we use scuba for the model, a spare regulator is attached to a broom handle and a diver feeds air to the model between takes.”

While preparation and planning are essential to the success of any shoot, especially for those underwater, Holloway says that rehearsals are usually impractical. The fluid movements of the body in water are impossible to replicate on land, so she takes a simpler approach.

“We don't tend to rehearse so much as just shoot tons,” she says. “The more you shoot, the luckier you get.”

Luckily for Holloway, her recent conversion to digital capture has made it possible for her to stay underwater longer and shoot more. Now when she surfaces, it's to catch her breath. Shooting with a $7,000 digital device underwater, however, means that the technical and electrical hurdles are that much more immense.


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