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Underwater photoshoots personal insights for capturing beauty.

I’ve always been fascinated by underwater photography. The idea of exploring another world beneath the water’s surface is incredibly appealing to me. When I lived in Cancun, Mexico, I had the chance to take underwater photos. The warm climate provided endless opportunities for capturing stunning underwater photos. Now that I’ve moved away from Mexico, I still carry the memories of those underwater adventures with me.

underwater photos whale sharks deep sea
At the end 2020, I had the incredible opportunity to join Christina Cindrich, a four-time Emmy award-winning TV producer, on an underwater photoshoot for her show, where she was swimming alongside majestic whale sharks.
underwater photos whale sharks holbox

Underwater photoshoots in cenotes

My underwater photography adventures began in 2013 when I moved to Mexico. Eager to capture the beauty beneath the water’s surface, I bought a $25 plastic case for my Nikon camera on eBay. (I know! :(( Putting a $3000 camera in a $25 case is crazy!!) Despite knowing it was a risky choice, I couldn’t resist the temptation. With my Nikon camera and a 24-70 lens, I ventured into the water, overcoming my doubts.

And as you can imagine…

Water managed to sneak into my camera, leading to a frantic search for a camera’s repair specialist in Cancun, where such services were hard to find. Eventually, I found someone who could fix my Nikon, but the experience left me hesitant to continue underwater photography.

underwater photography elena sullivan
underwater photography session cenote
underwater couple photoshoot cenote
underwater photography photoshoot backstage
Underwater "Trash the Dress "photoshoot in a cenote Cristalino (Riviera Maya )
underwater photography with ikelite

It was when GoPro cameras gained popularity, offering more affordable options, that my passion was reignited. I decided to invest in a GoPro Hero+ and found joy in capturing underwater moments for my personal collection.

After some time, I found that my small GoPro camera no longer met my standards for capturing underwater imagery, leading me to consider investing in professional underwater equipment. Five years had passed since my initial experiments, during which I had thoroughly reconsidered my options and had become financially prepared for such a purchase.

underwater photoshoot posing
posing for an underwater photoshoot

Following a month of thorough research, which involved reading reviews and watching various YouTube videos, I decided on the Ikelite 200DL housing for my Nikon D750 camera paired with a Nikkor 16-35 lens. Alongside the housing, I needed to acquire several additional accessories, including the Ikelite DL 8″ Dome Port, Ikelite Zoom/Focus Clamp and Gear Sleeve Set, Ikelite DL 20mm Port Extension, Ikelite DL 50mm Port Extension, and Ikelite Right Hand Quick Release Handle.

To avoid the inflated prices in Mexico, I ordered all the equipment from BH Photo Video. However, the delivery process proved lengthy, spanning seven weeks due to customs procedures. Nevertheless, the wait was worthwhile, as the arrival of my new gear brought me immense satisfaction. Assembling the underwater equipment, weighing over 23lb when fully set up, brought me joy each time I did an underwater photoshoot.

cenote underwater photography red dress
red flying dress underwater photoshoot

Underwater photography in the sea.

Diving underwater for the first time with my new equipment was quite intimidating. Past negative experiences weighed heavily on my mind despite knowing that the Ikelite housing would securely protect my beloved Nikon camera. However, I understood the importance of facing my fears head-on, so that’s exactly what I did. I pushed through my fears and took my first underwater photos with the Ikelite underwater housing and Nikon camera at the Island of Women (Isla Mujeres), Cancun.

The first challenges I faced were related to focusing. Keeping track of fast-moving fish swimming in front of me was tough. Additionally, I had to adjust to looking through the viewfinder while wearing a mask. However, as with any skill, practice and training helped me improve. After a few dives, I found it easier to observe the marine life and take underwater photos.

underwater photography isla mujeres elena sullivan
underwater photography sea sand pattern
underwater photos seastar stone
underwater photos fish stone
ikelite underwater housing photoshoot
underwater photos coral alive

During underwater photoshoots in the sea:

  • Saltwater makes it difficult to keep eyes open for extended periods, especially for models with sensitive eyes.
  • Diving in saltwater is more challenging than in freshwater.
  • Taking photos at depths where models must stay on the surface is tricky due to the effort required to swim against the waves, making photography more challenging.
after underwater photoshoot holding ikelite equipment
creative ocean photography fish couple
Undersea photoshoot in Isla Mujeres, Mexico
undersea photography session
underwater ocean photography
ocean photography session couple

Underwater photoshoots in cenotes is incredibly popular in Mexico due to the unique karst formations and natural sinkholes filled with underground water. Many couples choose to do “Trash-the-Dress” photoshoots in a cenote, during their honeymoon or anniversaries. 

Cenotes have fresh water, making it easier to keep eyes open and ensuring safety for those wearing contact lenses. Moreover, many cenotes feature convenient stone platforms that provide stable footing for divers.

underwater sessions

The water temperature in cenotes usually falls between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. To manage the cooler water, I took breaks during underwater photoshoots. Wearing a wetsuit has made a big difference, enabling me to stay in the water comfortably longer. However, some clients can’t tolerate the cold water for too long, so I adjusted the sessions accordingly.

Before entering the water, I used to have a thorough on-site consultation with clients, explaining how to pose and stay underwater confidently.

When we were in the water, I used to show clients how to position their bodies before taking a photo. Leading by example was used to make instructions clearer and boost their confidence.

Underwater posing options are somewhat limited; clients shouldn’t expect a wide range. It’s essential to remember that many clients are doing underwater photography sessions for the first time, so they may struggle with complex underwater poses. So, keep it simple!

underwater photography in cenote
creative underwater photoshoot
underwater photoshoot cenote

Here's what you need to know about underwater photoshoots:

  • Water is denser and less clear than air, which affects camera settings. Cloudy water in the sea after a storm can reduce visibility.
  • Air supply underwater is limited, so consider this when setting up shots.
  • Underwater housing doesn’t naturally sink, so you must apply some effort to hold it underwater.
  • There’s usually enough natural light at shallow depths of 2-5 meters, so you can take photos without a camera flash; just adjust ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to get the correct exposure.

In terms of subjects, I prefer underwater photography in the sea. However, for client’s photoshoots, cenotes are more convenient. Regardless of the location, underwater photography is always an enjoyable creative adventure for me.

ikelite underwater equipment
underwater photoshoot mexico cenote
underwater photoshoot cenote mexico
underwater photoshoot yellow dress

Stay inspired,

Elena Sullivan 

*All pictures posted in this article were taken by Elena Sullivan founder of ArsVie Photo Studio. You cannot copy or share these images without permission from ArsVie Photo Studio.


Get ready to be inspired as I discuss how staying curious, being creative, and saying “YES!” to adventures that involve exploring what’s behind the comfort zone helps develop courage, embrace one’s true self, and navigate life’s challenges.

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