THIS IS A GUEST POST COURTESY OF KIMBER GREENWOOD OF WATER BEAR PHOTOGRAPHY
“Undiscovered Florida” – a magical place where water and life emerge from the ground in clear bubbling springs. It is home to hundreds of fish, alligators, manatees and some say even mermaids! Because of this, the North Florida springs are breathtaking and inspiring. Exploration, technological advancement, and artistic expression have all been inspired by the intrigue and magic of these underwater worlds. It inspires in us a deep desire to venture far from the water’s surface to be the first to go where no one has explored before… Welcome to North Florida!
The springs of North Florida have been revered for centuries. The famous It is called explorer Ponce De Leon called them the “fountain of youth” upon his first discovery in Florida in the 16th century. Today, tourists travel from across the world to swim and dive in these natural wonders. For me, however, the springs mean something different. I was captivated by my first spring dive 10 years ago, and I feel the same excitement and joy each time I visit.
As my studio approaches its third birthday, I find myself reflecting on how it began. Like many, my career as a photographer started with a few friends asking me to take some photos of their families. At the time, I was dealing with intense postpartum anxiety and depression and was looking for any kind of distraction. Thankfully, my husband had gifted me an entry level DSLR to capture our newborn son. Photography helped me heal and uncover a passion I never knew I had. Now my studio has blossomed into a fine art portraiture studio specializing in underwater imagery!
From idea to execution, capturing expectant mothers in one of Earth’s most beautiful places was far from an overnight development. It has taken years of practice, training, and education to get here. Even now, there is still so much more to learn and apply. I love working at the springs because I know I will never truly tire of them. The unique challenges the springs present make photography difficult and potentially dangerous; however, with the proper skills, planning, equipment, and safety preparations, the perpetually renewing spring waters can form a beautiful connection with an expectant mother that creates a backdrop more appropriate than any other place to celebrate new life.
I believe a unique perspective and deep reverence are compulsory to understanding the nature of Florida’s springs. It has taken me hundreds of hours of diving these submerged worlds as a certified Technical Cave Diver to appreciate and respect these natural wonders. Situational awareness is key to managing an underwater camera rig while simultaneously directing an expectant mother about posing and monitoring her safety. It is a task that cannot be accomplished without forethought, training, and an equally qualified assistant. The success of an underwater maternity shoot begins long before I or my client touch the water’s edge.
Preparation for an underwater photography session begins in the studio. Education for the expectant mother is vital to her and her unborn child’s safety and the success of the shoot. Equally important is the continuation and maintenance of my own education and training. As a lifeguard and certified SCUBA diver for over fifteen years, maintaining a safe working environment can help us prepare for the expected and unexpected variables these unique locations present. Safety begins with an in-studio consultation. Determining the mother’s physical abilities, swimming skills, and goals for the session are important in planning the approach and specific spring in which to conduct the session. All springs are unique and different; some more visually stunning than others, but may require long walks or present difficulties entering and exiting the water, with varying depths. When the mother is very near term or may have certain pregnancy complications, a doctor’s release to participate is required. Following the in-studio consultation, a practice underwater session in a local swimming pool is necessary to observe the mother’s swimming abilities, educate on underwater posing, teach her how to manage wet fabric, and boost her confidence. This practice session also helps build an essential trust between photographer and client.
Crafting a stunning underwater image encompasses many aspects, including what the expectant mother wears. As a result, our studio offers a wide selection of custom maternity gowns for both above and below water sessions. The goal of on-location maternity session is to create masterful artwork in which the expectant mother is the centerpiece. Having an array of gowns that are bright and vibrant help to create a visually stunning work of art. Due to the unique nature of underwater photography, the success of a session not only depends on the photographer and the mother, but also the water conditions, weather, and location activity. Some totally natural events can cause clouding of the water and undesirable backscatter, which may affect the photos. For that reason, all our maternity session begin on land using Florida’s natural preserved settings as the backdrop. Completing a full maternity session out of water allow us to capture beautiful images in the event the water conditions prevent the underwater session from being successful. Our gown collection available for our clients for above-water sessions is different and unique from our underwater wardrobe. Our underwater gowns consist of skirts that are easily removed, designed not to tangle the mother’s legs while swimming, and are lightweight so to reduce fatigue and increase comfort. We work with a local seamstress to design and modify gowns and skirts specifically for underwater sessions.
Creating beautiful underwater imagery for expectant mothers means ensuring their comfort and safety while in the water. When on-site and in the water, safety is always our number one goal. Going home without any images is preferable to putting a mother and her child at risk. For that reason, all our underwater maternity sessions utilize an in-water assistant. His name is Will, and his sole role during the session is to watch the mother and ensure her safety at all times. Will’s training is equivalent to my own, as he is also a fully trained Technical Cave Diver and Rescue Diver. In his off hours, my handsome assistant is also known as my husband! We’ve been diving together for almost a decade and there is no one I trust more implicitly.
Will or I are always the first in the water to scout for potential hazards and to help our expectant mothers. We go to great lengths to ensure safe and secure footing on the potentially slippery rocks. We have found that once in the water, expectant mothers don’t want to get out! Having a few moments of relief from the weight of pregnancy is always a welcome feeling and that helps during the session. Being comfortable is important not only to the success of an underwater session, but also the mother’s safety. Florida spring water maintains a consistent 70-72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. On days with an especially chilly air temperature (which realistically only occurs two months out of the year) the water can make a swimmer get cold quickly. We limit our underwater sessions to 30 minutes typically, but listen to the needs of our expectant mothers and constantly re-evaluate. It is important that we continually check in to make sure our client is not pushing herself too hard, becoming fatigued, or struggling. At the end of every underwater session we stay in the water with our expectant mother until she is ready to exit.
Florida springs bring fresh, clear water to the surface, much like a mother brings new life into the world. To say the springs provide the most tranquil, yet dramatic, backdrop to capture the imagery of new life only begins to touch the emotions these sessions bring to our expectant mothers. Not only do they get to cherish these images for the rest of their lives, they have accomplished a great feat, not only in modeling underwater, but also in life, as a new mother. One of my greatest honors as a photographer was when a client brought her canvas of her underwater session to the hospital to use it as her focus piece during her labor. She said that it represented triumph, strength, and beauty to her. It is our dream to capture these moments for every expectant mother and present them as beautiful heirloom pieces that they will always cherish.
Have you ever tried underwater photography? Share in the comments below!