Valia Efstathiou, The Underwater Maiden

 
Being photographed underwater can be quite tiring. But you also feel a lot more flexible and almost weightless. I think what people tend to forget is that handstands, backbends and other gravity-defying poses are a million times easier underwater. Photograph/Valia Efstathiou

Being photographed underwater can be quite tiring. But you also feel a lot more flexible and almost weightless. I think what people tend to forget is that handstands, backbends and other gravity-defying poses are a million times easier underwater. Photograph/Valia Efstathiou

Valia Efstathiou talks about her never-ending love for the deep blue sea and why she sometimes wishes she was a mermaid.

My Assignment

  • Description: To create illusionary underwater photographs
  • Duration: I have been photographing the series on and off, since 2010. However, in the last few years, I have been shooting much more regularly.
  • Notes: The series has been a very liberating experience. It has allowed me to become one with the sea.

Ever since I was a little girl, the sea has always been my safe place. This had a lot to do with the fact that I lived my entire life in Greece, amidst its crystal clear waters. Its tranquility continues to draw me towards it, and every time that I dive into the sea, I find myself revisiting my childhood days.

Surprisingly, I have always felt awkward in front of the camera. This is why I like to photograph these ‘half portraits’. Moreover, I like the mystery it creates. Photograph/Valia Efstathiou

Surprisingly, I have always felt awkward in front of the camera. This is why I like to photograph these ‘half portraits’. Moreover, I like the mystery it creates. Photograph/Valia Efstathiou

My Perspective
I think this was the biggest reason behind the development of my underwater portrait series—to preserve the happiest memories from my growing up years. Also, at the time that I started the series, Greece was hit with a financial meltdown. I think shooting underwater was my way of seeking creative ways to escape reality. Nevertheless, I will always consider myself fortunate to be part of such a captivating country like Greece.

Luckily, I have a great partner who has been more than enthusiastic in making this series possible. The first time that we shot underwater, we used an old point-and-shoot camera in a cheap plastic bag. Even though the quality wasn’t great, I still loved the pictures. In a way, it rekindled my love for the sea, and since then, we spent most of our summers on the various islands of Greece.

The thing that I love the most about shooting underwater is the warped effect created as a result of light and refraction. I love to incorporate this in my photographs. Photograph/Valia Efstathiou

The thing that I love the most about shooting underwater is the warped effect created as a result of light and refraction. I love to incorporate this in my photographs. Photograph/Valia Efstathiou

Sometimes it’s best to just let the water work its magic.

The Process
As fun as this sounds, it’s quite hard to find a good place to shoot. We try to avoid crowded beaches or islands brimming with tourists. Secluded areas with little to no activity are the best. Then, we either swim to the spot or use our little inflatable boat.

Once I am under water, I focus on postures that are elegant and graceful. I don’t really pre-visualise my movements, and prefer being spontaneous. My partner then sets out to capture my performance, which can easily last for several hours.

All the underwater closeups in the series are images that have been shot by me. The rest are photographed by my partner. Photograph/Valia Efstathiou

All the underwater closeups in the series are images that have been shot by me. The rest are photographed by my partner. Photograph/Valia Efstathiou

Shooting underwater has made me realise that it is not the easiest thing to do. Initially, I found it quite difficult to hold my breath and pose for the camera, without letting my clothes drag me down. It has taken a lot of practice to get comfortable underwater.

I keep the postprocessing very minimal, and use Photoshop only to adjust aspects like brightness and contrast. Photograph/Valia Efstathiou

I keep the postprocessing very minimal, and use Photoshop only to adjust aspects like brightness and contrast. Photograph/Valia Efstathiou

I don’t think the sea and I are going to part ways any time soon. It’s not just the release or the freedom that I love, but also the fluidity that I feel when we come together. It is my sanctuary.

My Equipment
I don’t use any expensive camera or equipment to make my underwater images. I shoot using the waterproof Olympus Tough TG-820 iHS camera.

Tips to Keep in Mind When Photographing Underwater

  • Using an Underwater Housing: Don’t get carried away with the different underwater cameras and gadgets available in the market. All you need is an underwater housing for your phone or camera, and you’re good to go.
  • When You’re Starting Out: It is always advisable to practice making underwater photographs in a controlled environment, like in your local swimming pool. But if you do end up in the sea or the ocean, make sure that you pick a clear sunny day with calm waters.
  • Underwater Visibility is Crucial: No matter how expensive your equipment is, you won’t be able to shoot crisp photographs if the water is murky.

As told to Conchita Fernandes
To view more images by Valia, you can visit www.instagram.com/laliou

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: Underwater Photography, Conchita Fernandes, Underwater, Greece), Valia Efstathiou, Olympus Tough TG-820 iHS, half-portraits