Underwater Photography?

Underwater Photography.  Like, IN the water?  I get this question a lot.  And I can usually tell by someone’s face if they fall in one of three categories.  One, they’ve never thought of it, but are intrigued.  Two, they think it sounds absurd, or at least, not something they can imagine.  Or, three, they look like they just met the person who can make all their dreams come true!

It all began…

I was introduced to Underwater Photography over sixteen years ago on a trip to the Grand Caymans.  An artist adventurer friend and I headed down to the crystal clear waters for a snorkeling/diving trip.  That was the trip I learned to free dive – because, well, why were the divers going to get to have all the fun while I was stuck on the surface!  My friend Liz and I discovered the most amazing Underwater Ocean Photographer, Cathy Church.  Liz purchased one of Cathy’s gorgeous prints, but I made up my mind right then that one day I would hang one of my *own* Underwater Fine Art Prints on my walls.

Over the years I have used various disposable, point and shoot, and go pro cameras to shoot underwater while on vacation and on summer visits to the pool and waterparks with my boys.  But I have had a desire to shift to professional underwater portraiture for nearly a decade.

So, how does it work?

My favorite part about underwater photography?  It works however you want it to!  From super casual documentary style family sessions where everyone is just in their bathing suit, to styled sessions with outfit changes and props galore!  And I love it all!

Kids who love the water tend to *really* love the water.  I know my own three boys do!  So when you get them in such a happy place and tell them to jump in and have fun, well, they do!  And I get to capture that fun.  To capture those free spirited, care-free, summer loving expressions that make children’s underwater photos so dang FUN!

And when it comes to styled sessions? Oh, the creativity!  Maternity, Senior, High Fashion, Sports, Branding, Commercial Products ~ the sky is the limit on what we can come up.  Do we put people in the water fully dressed?  You better believe it! With sports equipment? Yep!  In formal wear or bridal gowns ~ oh yes please!!!

Is it hard?

The photography part? Well, yes.  But I love it.  The *being photographed* part? No!  In fact, most of my clients are surprised by how much easier an underwater session is than a family sessions they have had in the past.  I love working with children in a park, a studio, on the beach or in the water.  And I always strive to make my sessions a ton of fun!  But I think especially for families with young children, its the *getting ready* for the photography session that can often cause the most stress and anxiety.  Trying to gather the coordinating outfits, wrangle the children into the nicer than usual clothes, get everyone out the door on time and all while trying to get ready yourselves as parents!

The advantage of an underwater session is that parents just get to show up!  Mom might want to put on some waterproof mascara or pick out new swimsuits in fun colors.  But that is about it!  Hair doesn’t need to be combed or curled.  No one even needs shoes!!  And once you arrive, I take over.  And instead of sit here and look this way – its count to three and cannonball off that rock!  So.  You can see why kids rarely want to leave even when our session is over.

What about your camera?

Last summer I used an Ewa Marine housing for my Nikon D700.  This winter I upgraded to an Ikelite with a Nikon D750.  The Ewa was like a really awesome ziplock bag that sealed around my camera.  Very safe for pool use, but not as reliable in open water.

I am a huge fan of free diving and open water swimming, so the Ikelite made sense for me.  It is big and heavy, but it gives me more control over my settings when I am in the water – and offers significantly more protection for my camera in open water.  My friend Christi took some amazing photos of me using it during my adventures in Ginnie Springs a few weeks ago!  It is a hard shell housing with handles on each side and the camera fits inside.  The buttons on the back allow me to access the controls for the camera while I am underwater, giving me more flexibility in how and what I shoot.  I also use an Axis Go for my iPhone to take some fun behind the scenes video.

Any questions?

I hope that whichever of the three categories you fall in, that this answers some of your questions about what Underwater Portrait Photography is and how it works.  And that if you couldn’t imagine it before, I have your wheels turning.  That if the idea intrigues you, you now know a bit more about it and can start to imagine where Underwater Photography would fit into your plans.  And if you fall in the third group.  Well, we need to chat!!


RENEE STENGEL Photography | Charlotte Underwater and Portrait Photographer |


Redhead Boy Flying Underwater with Goggles by RENEE STENGEL Photography | Charlotte Portrait and Underwater Photographer |

I’ve always loved how this 8 year old red head just looks like he is flying or hovering mid air in this underwater photo! Future Skydiver?

Mom with Baby Sister and Big Brother Underwater by RENEE STENGEL Photography | Charlotte Portrait and Underwater Photographer |

This photo brings me so much JOY! This was the first time Baby Sister went under the water – in all her 11 months of life. And I got to capture the look of wonder on her face ~ and the joy on Big Brother and Mama’s faces as they looked on!!

Boy Jumping in and making bubbles Underwater by RENEE STENGEL Photography | Charlotte Portrait and Underwater Photographer |

One of the first photos from this session. I said jump in – and oh boy did he!!

Boy speeding through the water after diving in in and making bubbles Underwater by RENEE STENGEL Photography | Charlotte Portrait and Underwater Photographer |

I loved watching this little guy warm up to the idea of working with me. From sitting on the steps photos at the beginning, to a four year old who was begging not to have to leave at the end of the hour!

Underwater Maternity on Black Backdrop in Hot Pink Swimsuit with long red hair by RENEE STENGEL Photography | Charlotte Underwater Photographer |

Using a black backdrop in the pool can create an entirely different look within a session like this Underwater Maternity Session. Backdrops can be used to create drama or simplicity.

Pregnant Mama and toddler girl in white ballerina swimsuit swimming at Ginnie Springs by RENEE STENGEL Photography | Charlotte Underwater Photographer |

I love working with expecting Mamas. And her little angel was just perfection – even in the cold waters of Ginnie Springs!

Charlotte Underwater Senior Ballerina at Night in Silhouette by RENEE STENGEL Photography | Charlotte Underwater Photographer |

And how about a session at night? Isn’t this ballerina silhouette amazing? Her pose is perfection even underwater! I love working with dancers in the water ~ their grace and ease of movement make them amazing models!

Charlotte Underwater Senior in Lavender Tulle Dress from RCB Fashion

This dress from RCB Fashion was absolutely amazing underwater!! I love using formal clothes in the pool. It is just ‘out of the box’ enough to create truly striking and unique photographs…

The sunlight was absolutely magical during this session. Even while underwater I was in awe of the sparkle it was creating while we were shooting…

Charlotte Senior Guy in Tux Underwater by RENEE STENGEL Photography | Charlotte Underwater Photographer |

Who says the girls get to have all the fun? This Senior rocked his session jumping in with his Tux!

Charlotte Underwater Roller Derby Girl with Dreads and Rainbow Striped Socks

One of my favorite sessions to date ~ Oh what fun we had when Charlotte Roller Derby’s own Ka$h Honey rolled through my pool last July.

Family Jumping in Pool for Family Holiday Photo | Family of Five by RENEE STENGEL Photography | Charlotte Underwater Photographer |

Are you ready to Jump In with me and create some truly unique memories and photos for your family!?




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