UPAA Blog 2021-22 #23 - 7/14/22 (photos and text by Steven Bridges)
Steven Bridges is Senior Photographer in The University of Tennessee, Knoxville's Office of Communications and Marketing, and a three-time Mark A. Philbrick UPAA Photographer of the Year. His General Features and Illustrations category image "Excuse Me" was voted Best in Show in the June 2022 Monthly Image Competition. This was Steven's third Best in Show image this year. (Read about the first and the second...and spend a day on the job with Steven, too!)
The MIC Q&A is a monthly feature on the UPAA blog to learn more about the thought and craft behind the UPAA's contest-winning images. -Ed.
1. Quick tech stuff—camera model, focal length, exposure data, lighting used (if any):
•Canon 5D Mark IV in an AquaTech water housing
• EF 16-35mm f/2.8l III @ 22mm
•1/200 @f3.2 ISO3200
I also had a second camera - Canon 5D Mark IV with an EF 24-70mm f/2.8l II USM inside a DiCAPac WP-S10 waterproof bag
2. How did this shoot land on your calendar? Did you have a plan/vision prior to the shoot?
Our social media manager received a photo of a scuba class (The University of Tennessee-Knoxville offers several general elective SCUBA classes.) being held at the bottom of our indoor pool. She passed it on to me and I replied, “I gotta shoot that!” We knew the photo sent to us would do great on social media, but selfishly, I wanted to shoot it myself. One, I knew I could do it better. Two, I knew it would be something off the wall to enter in the MIC.
Our video team had just worked on a project with this scuba class, so through those contacts I reached out to make a connection. They agreed to hold another class underwater and let me come out and photograph it.
Any unique logistics in making the photo? What sort of post processing (or not)?
...The UPAA blog wishes to re-phrase: WHAT?!?!? SCUBA diving????
I've always loved the water and diving. My first SCUBA certification was through YMCA in 1997. (Coincidentally it was an elective course during college.) In 2005 my wife and I got PADI certified before a trip to Mexico. My first son was born in 2006, and our diving came to a halt. Before this assignment, we were talking about trying to get back into it with the kids. This assignment made me remember how much I love it. Diving is the one thing that allows me to relax.
For a 2020 APC image, I floated on top of the water and dipped the lens just below the water line. For this photo I borrowed SCUBA gear from the dive class. This allowed me to stay underwater long enough to take whatever angles I wanted. Holding my breath while swimming to the bottom of the pool, composing a shot and taking the photo would have been too much for me to do.
There were a few photographically-unique logistics also:
The first was an underwater housing for my camera. I used two different underwater setups. The first was a DiCAPac WP-S10 Waterproof bag (a super-duper Ziplock bag). I bought this a few years ago on the recommendation of UPAA member Joe Howell. It is also the same housing I used for my 2020 APC Best in Show.
The second water housing was an AquaTech that I borrowed from our athletics department.
Turns out breathing underwater was the easy part. Changing the camera settings and previewing images was very difficult.
To review the photos I had to come up out of the water and take the camera out of its housing. It was also very tough taking photos through my mask and then the viewfinder. It was like looking through a straw and only seeing part of the frame. A lot of the time it was a Hail Mary while pointing in a general direction, attempting to frame things up, then praying and spraying. This is where having a mirrorless camera would have really helped because I could have shot off the LCD.
The only post process was trying to correct the colors, along with some dodging and burning.
"SCUBA Steve" in action.
4. Did your vision before you made the photo come through in the final product? What (if anything) would you do differently if you could re-shoot this today?
My vision was to replicate the previous image sent to us. I did that. Then I went into Semper Gumby mode, (Always Flexible). I began to swim around and see what other interesting angles I could find.
Once I was looking through my edit, this image stuck out to me because of several different nuances. I liked the leg position of the girl with her hand up. Bubbles going up were a must, but I really liked the guy clearing his mask. The one detail I didn't notice until editing, is that the two students on the right were buddy breathing off the same tank. I don’t know how I missed that.
While I found this photo funny, I did not think it had a chance at Best in Show. I was just hoping to grab fifth place.
What would I do differently? Without a doubt, I would have used a different lens on one of my cameras. I took down a 16-35mm and a 24-70mm. All but one of my images were shot at either 22mm or 24mm.
The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8l III USM could not be shot at 16mm because it would catch the edges of the housing and have hard black vignettes to it.
The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8l II USM did not have room to zoom out in my water bag.
So if I did this shoot again, I would change out my 24-70mm for a 85mm f1.8.
5. What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
Previously my motivation came from the MIC. I was just trying to keep up with the other members while pushing my photography to another level. Now my primary motivation comes from collaborating with my department to create engaging content, both through images and ideas.
The engagement for the SCUBA class photos worked on our end, especially on Instagram:
•12th most engaged Instagram post of all time (starting in 2015)
•10th most engaged Instagram post in the last 12 months
It's all about finding niches! Each one connects with different students, gives us a variety of content, and keeps things interesting for me.
"Why don't SCUBA divers make good grades? 'Cuz they're always below 'C' level!" This is the last blog article of 2021-22. Look for new blog articles every other Thursday beginning on Sept. 1, 2022. Want different articles? Want better jokes? Submissions welcome 365 days a year, email editor Matt Cashore, email@example.com. And, as always, follow UPAA on Instagram!