Strange title, but I will explain!
During photo talks and workshops by very successful underwater photographers, there's almost always some attention given to the obligatory model shots. Generally, aspiring photographers ask how to take the images that are published in dive magazines.
We all know the pictures published by dive magazines around the world: a beautiful reef, a pristine coral formation, a wreck, a diver above (a bit farther away from the lens and strobes so he/she becomes a silhouette), a lit torch held by the diver, and for an extra wow factor (maybe I'm just visualizing those shots now for an upcoming trip), a shark or manta swimming up to the lens. Is this too much to ask? :-)
What is needed to take these images? Practice, a system of excellent communication via signals and last but not least, a good and patient model. Some photographers use their wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, buddies. I know some people specialize in underwater pictures and they are very dedicated and good at it. The images create a dream value, where it seems as if you are in that beautiful shot — you can feel the water around you, being immersed in the silence of the big blue. After looking at such shots, some of us start dreaming, planning, and even booking our next dive holiday.
I don't have that patient model since my buddy always carries around his own rig in search of subjects and behavior that will translate to excellent video footage. And when I do signal him to model, this is generally what I get — an image of him hanging at his safety stop:
I do have two teenagers though, making their tiny first steps as divers. They joined us for years snorkeling, and we always enjoyed their connection with the underwater world.
I would never ask them to model for pictures during their encounters with wildlife. The thing I love the most is the total freedom and joy I see on their faces during those moments (yes, I am a proud parent).
Last April, they came along on a dawn snorkel to the Sandbar, close to Stingray City. While Michael and I were totally absorbed in taking footage of the wonderful stingrays, we kept one eye on the children to watch their faces and delight in our trip as a family.
By the end of our time in the water, our daughter Margaux got rid of her wetsuit, and practiced her mermaid movements in front of her dad's lens. I watched her with a big smile on my face as they went on and on, doing my best to stay out of reach of the camera.
Suddenly, Michael needed some time to adjust settings and Margaux was very close by, giggling because her hair was such a mess, loose, in the salt water. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a stingray coming my direction. I raised my voice to be heard with the wind and splashing water around us: "Duck now!" Margaux duck-dived in the water, looked at the stingray, and like a real pro, became one with the movement of the animal, so natural. I had one chance to nail it, and I do think the image above is predestined since our daughter was born underwater.
And if you've read this to the end, you'll understand the title now: "The art of modeling without modeling" means also being able to keep all your senses on alert should the perfect model come along!
(Picture taken at the Sandbar, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, April 2012, EPL-2, 8mm FE, ISO 200, f6.3, 1/320)
Ellen Cuylaerts relocated four years ago from Belgium to the Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman. She studied history in Antwerp and got her master's degree in modern history and education. Cuylaerts homeschools her two gifted teenagers and decided to take up scuba diving in June 2011. Soon, she became a Master Scuba Diver and took up her childhood dream of being a photographer and combined it with the wonders of the underwater world. After diving a few months, Cuylaerts signed up for a workshop on the island with renowned underwater photographer and marine biologist Dr. Alex Mustard, and she decided to use the skills she learned to spread awareness of and contribute to the conservation and preservation of the fragile marine environment.
Within the year, she won three first prizes in The Cayman National Cultural Foundation (categories: Underwater, Arts & Culture and Nature Wildlife), and last November, she placed second in the International CITA Photo Competition (Scenic and Creative) and received honorable mentions in all other categories.
Cuylaerts's basic concern is the decay of the oceans by pollution, overfishing, the brutal act of shark finning, and dolphin and whale slaughtering. By showing the beauty of the underwater world, she hopes people will start protecting what they love like Jacques Cousteau once wished.