Feature Stories

Three Things No One Thought to Tell You About Modeling Underwater

Astrid Kallsen is a professional model specializing in underwater imagery and presentations. Since 2015, she has been involved in dozens of different shoots ranging from high fashion and costumes to custom shoots with creative backdrops and lighting.  With tremendous breath control and an eye for the camera, Astrid is quickly making a name for herself in the fast-growing underwater modeling community.

There is the technically correct way and the right way to do almost anything.  Modeling, for example, has inspired a lot of “how to’s” on proper posing and career building.  Although, a recent trend, there are videos and articles with a range of instructions on how to model underwater.  As most models know, the art of posing can only be taught to a point.  The most important qualities models are hired for are harder to impart on others because they take a unique patience, practice, and understanding generally associated with people who easily do math in their heads.  But all skills require an “eye” or “common sense” that for some people can’t be taught and that other people just can’t teach.  For modeling underwater here are three things to consider and practice that no one thinks about until they’ve done it for a while.

  1. Your body is floating.

If you’ve had your first shoot, you’ve probably figured this out by now.  Unless you are one of the few people who are so muscular you sink when you touch water, you have a hard time keeping your body below the surface long enough to pose.  More than facial expressions, this is the trickiest technique skill to master for most people.  That’s why you can find a series of answers to solve this problem and maintain control of the water column.  Then, you’ll realize the new a whole new dimension to your posing.  Jumping, ballet kicks, and standing on your head aren’t so difficult without gravity (although sitting, leaning, and standing on the water’s surface upside-down becomes extremely difficult without gravity). It’s like flying.  It isn’t only your whole body floating though.  All the individual pieces float too.  My butt and breasts look a lot perkier underwater.  Above water I have defined cheek bones, but underwater my cheeks round out as the water lifts my face.  This creates a new look for me. Not a drastic one, but it gives me a different set of features with which to express with.

  1. Water is like a giant lens over the camera’s already distorting lens.

Most models will have experienced the silly house mirror effects of various lenses at every angle on their bodies.  I can do the same pose in the same lighting with the same camera, and one lens curves out my hips more than the other.  Now add water.  When posing, most photographers will warn models to remain within the same plane underwater (although this is generally true for modeling in general).  Any limbs or body parts closer to the camera will look shortened above water, and twice its size underwater.  Models must take care not to cover each other underwater, or one of them will look like a giant compared to the other.  The water makes the body look longer and leaner than the body looks on land.  A lot of models already distort their bodies at various angles to emphasize body curves.  Underwater can further exaggerate poses.  If I stick my legs an inch towards the camera, at an angle, they’ll look even longer and leaner, but if I try to angle my butt a few inches closer, it’ll look larger than life and very round.  In one photo I saw, my butt consumes the entire photo while the rest of me is tiny and pokes out from the sides.

  1. It hurts.

Modeling isn’t reclining on clouds.  I’m climbing cold waterfalls, resting gracefully on broken concrete, tip-toeing on hard floors etc.  Physical stamina is the job.  If I didn’t believe in the shot I wouldn’t do it.  Underwater comes with its own pains.  While I love that the anti-gravity environment lifts the weight off my back and shoulders and there are no harsh surfaces to poke into me, there is a trade off for working in water.  For one, it can affect your eyes.  No matter how chemically neutral the body of water, eyes adapted for air.  Vision clouds after an hour if you don’t repeatedly clean them out with an eye wash.  It isn’t uncomfortable, but overly chlorinated pools are.  The two most common complaints I hear are water up the nose and the feeling of drowning.  As long as water isn’t causing any choking, the nose desensitizes to the sensation of water, unless it is very chlorinated.  Overcoming the feeling of drowning is like the gag reflex.  The body creates anxiety to protect itself from death, but often that alarm is unnecessarily sensitive.  Relaxing underwater requires listening to your body’s needs rather than its worries.  I found that the initial panic is a natural fear to being unable to breath.  With time, I could recognize the difference between feeling my desire to breath and my need to breath.  Relaxing underwater followed my sense of self awareness.

I admit that I was a natural underwater.  Some people also will be, and some models might find underwater isn’t a good genre for them.  I think it isn’t a rare skill.  Humans evolved near the water for millennia.  Turning the water into an art form is a new way to use talents most of us hardly exercise any more.  New muscles hurt the most to work out, but it is rewarding.  As people discover their hidden talents, underwater photography will expand ideas of emotion, lifestyle and being human.

I am a traveling, freelance model, and have been shooting underwater since 2015.  Currently, I’m excited to be instructing a class on underwater posing in Austin, July 8-9, 2018, and look forward to helping more models find themselves underwater.  Meanwhile, photographers can hire me to model underwater for them across the USA and Germany for a variety of concepts, including scenes with my mermaid tail.

PHOTO CREDITS: www.photographyjulien.com, alyssacampbellphotography.com, jessicabaileyphotographer.com with model @itsNikki.G  www.vlcphotoportfolio.com/

costumes/clothing courtesy of  www.untitledthoughts.com