2 models, 7 divers in an underwater shipwreck – Part 1

By on May 24, 2014

Teamwork – A word that truly begins to mean something when you’re shooting 25 meters underwater and your model tied to a 50 year old shipwreck in the middle of Bali where the slightest miscalculation could spell disaster.

My job as the photographer is to make sure that regardless of the conditions and challenges, I have to be able to capture and create an amazing series of images and the only way that is possible in a shoot like this one is to be surrounded by people that I can trust so that I can do my job. Assembling a competent team is critical to the success or failure of most shoots and this time was no exception.


Video by Siva Shanker

How the project came together

Ever since my first shoot underwater, I’ve been dreaming of taking shoots out of a swimming pool into a shipwreck so when my parents told me to take some time off and go on a vacation in Bali I leaped at the opportunity to put together this shoot.

Up to this point, I didn’t yet have my dive certification but since I was a strong swimmer with underwater photography experience, I felt confident that I could pull things together if I had the right team around me. And so the search began as always on facebook, reaching out to my fans and seeing if someone knew somebody that could help.

Turns out the head of the Asian Dive Expo, Cassandra Ann Dragon was tuned into my adventures and enthusiastically recommend underwater photographer and dive instructor Chris Simanjuntak to me.

I sat down with him on my first day in Bali while my parents went touring and we began to line up the elements that we would need to bring our shoot to life – Free Divers, Dresses, Makeup, Location, Time, Constraints, Gear…

VonWong Underwater Tulamben 6
Nikon D90 | 12-24mm f4 | Aquatica housing | ISO 400 – f/4.0 – 1/60th sec

Challenges

Everything is more complicated underwater. To name a few:

  • Normal models wouldn’t work unless they had extensive dive training and even then, they wouldn’t have the ability to hold their breaths for very long, especially at depth so Free Divers were going to be required.
  • Normal clothes couldn’t be rented since the sea water would wreck them, so we had to find a designer willing to part with the clothing they’d lend us.
  • Normal assistants wouldn’t work, specially trained safety divers were going to be necessary to ensure a smooth photoshoot.
  • Scouting would be complicated – local divers would be necessary for us to navigate around the wreck and deal with unpredictable changes in the weather and tide.
  • Lighting and gear would be limited – shooting underwater meant that we had to work with what we had available: on camera strobes or natural light.

VonWong Underwater Tulamben 4Nikon D90 | 12-24mm f4 | Aquatica housing | ISO 400 – f/4.5 – 1/200th sec

The Team

Chris Simanjuntak was instrumental in helping us build over half the team that made this shoot possible. With his local connections and dive school, he had access to divers and equipment to provide the foundation for bringing this shoot to life. Three safety divers from his school were hired to ensure that a close eye would be kept on the models. His friend, BBC wildlife photographer of the year Mike Veitch graciously loaned me a Nikon D90 with a 12-24mm f4 in an Aquatica housing after my own camera took a dive the day before.

Local free-diving clubs were contacted to source models and Nora Li, Jakarta free-diving record holder capable of holding her breath for 3 minutes and descending to 36 meters in depth jumped to the opportunity to be a part of the project. On my end, I reached out to a couple free-diving friends of my own and Camilla Argent, an English free-diver based out of Dubai capable of holding her breath for 4min 40sec and descending to a depth of 20 meters decided to fly herself over to be a part of the adventure.

Yenny Gunawan, a Bali based hair and makeup artist and childhood friend of Nora’s also decided to hop on board for the adventure and suddenly the only thing that we were truly missing was a designer.

For the last piece of the puzzle, Chris’s wife Listy, an underwater model herself, reached out to Ali Charisma, a high end international fashion designer based out of Bali known for his whimsical designs graciously provided us with some of his older runway designs for us to use.

The final icing on the cake was having both assistant Sam Tsang and Singapore based cinematographer Siva Shanker rent an underwater housing and fly themselves over to make a couple amazing Behind the Scene videos so that I could share the adventure with all of you.

VonWong Underwater Tulamben 11Nikon D90 | 12-24mm f4 | Aquatica housing | ISO 400 – f/4.0 – 1/100th sec – Available for SALE. All proceeds go to the Cure Sanfillipo Foundation to Save Eliza.

To be continued….

In Part 2, I’ll elaborate on how the shoot came together: Scouting, planning and shooting.
A second BTS video and details on how the shoot came together will be available. Sign up to the Newsletter to make sure you don’t miss it.

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