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Taking Shots, Underwater

by Art U News

 By Academy Art U News Staff Reporter 

You see it all the time in documentaries and action films – stunning underwater camera shots.  It may make you wonder how those moments can be captured, however brief and unpredictable. 

Instructor Phil Bowen has the answer. He has been teaching an underwater photography workshop for the past six years at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.  

Cameron Olsen, a student who recently participated in the workshop, described the experience as “awesome.”  The only drawback Olsen experienced was being in the water for up to eight hours for practice.

“You definitely get a greater appreciation for what the pros do after having to handle some of the heavier cameras during a long shoot,” Olsen said.

Elan Santiago is another crucial piece of this story.  Santiago, no stranger to cinematography, has been teaching various segments of it for the past 28 years, after starting as a student at AAU. Santiago began teaching studio photography and lighting and now instructs cinematography classes for graduate students.

“I try to give the students a flavor of what it is like to attempt to control an environment that is uncontrollable.  I want them to experience how to move underwater while maintaining a steady hold on the camera and how to communicate with each other by means other than speech,” Santiago explained. 

Photo by Bob Toy.

“Everything affects the composition you are trying to build in a water environment.  The lighting is different; the temperature has to be dealt with, and without the proper equipment, you are unable to control the photo you want to get,” said Santiago.

Santiago is also planning a fall workshop in aerial cinematography, which will include filming San Francisco from a helicopter.  When student Cameron Olsen was asked if he’d be interested in this new opportunity, his response was quick and to the point, “I’m there!”

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