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5 Tips for Getting Started with UNDERWATER Portraits


If you’re anything like me, the first time you saw an underwater portrait, you gasped out loud. There’s something about the ethereal beauty and movement captured in a well-done underwater image is something pretty magical. As an underwater photographer myself, I remember vividly the first time I nervously entertained the idea of taking my professional camera equipment under the surface. There was this lovely couple I’d worked with a few times before (both engagement and wedding by that point) and they were going to Kauai for their 1st anniversary for a sort of combination “real” honeymoon and anniversary celebration. And they wanted some epic photos.  Lucky for me, they not only called me to create these images with them (which meant flying me and my assistant-hubby out to Kauai…. #hardworkbutsomeonehastodoit….#amiright?), they wanted to cliff-dive and get IN the water. Which meant me and my camera were going to be IN the water. Which meant I better do some work.

I reached out to a few underwater photographers and paid for lessons. I bought a water bag to house my camera and I set to work scouring the internet for input on exactly how to do what I needed to do. I had no idea the can of worms I’d be opening or just how much I’d fall in love with this particular medium of photography! The images in Kauai were so much fun that I spend the next year paying for more lessons, tracking down more articles, and practicing whenever I could. I also spent a lot of time with scuba instructors and other personnel who could give me advice and training on water safety and tips that I could pass on to clients. Over a year after that first experience, I finally opened up my underwater “studio” to clients. This past weekend marked the opening of my 3rd underwater season available to clients and I can’t tell you how good it felt to be back in the water!

All of that backstory to say there are a few details you should know to get YOU started before you *ahem* dive in.

Step 1: Take a water safety course. I know that sounds sorta lame, but I’m totally serious. Before you or a a friend/client/excited-mermaid-tail-owner get in the water with electronic equipment, please do your due diligence to keep all of you safe. Things like can you all swim and don’t get in the water with a heavy dress ever because you’ll drown are all key things to know before you risk your life or anyone else’s. This is ESPECIALLY true of pregnant women! Mini-rant: do NOT risk a pregnant woman’s life or the life of her baby because you didn’t research if or how long they can safely hold their breath. Remember, this type of shooting requires one or all of you to be without oxygen (you know, a basic element required for being alive…) while shooting. Don’t take any of that lightly. Be safe. Make good choices.

Step 2: Try your first few sessions in a nice warm pool (preferably one with saline instead of chlorine). This is partly due to Step 1 above (safety first, kids!) but also because it will give you a chance to focus (literally) on all the other elements that come in to play while shooting before adding things like “I’m so cold I can’t feel my fingers” or “Where is the current taking us” to the mix. Keep everyone, especially yourself, as comfortable as possible to get used to how this crazy thing works so you can troubleshoot without the pressure of, oh you know, hypothermia because you’re in a freshwater glacier-fed lake.

Step 3: Try out water bag housing on your camera. If you’re serious about giving underwater photography a go, you’re going to want to use your “real” camera and that means putting it in a housing. Hard case housings have some advantages (and disadvantages) but they biggest issue there is that you’re likely to spend anywhere between $1500-5000 for a housing that fits exactly one very specific camera and one very specific lens. That’s a LOT to invest in if you’re not sure you’re going to really pursue this and you’re just wanting to get your feet wet (hahaha).  My personal recommendation is to go with EWA Marine bags. A single water bag can fit multiple setups and they’re pretty fool-proof to put on your camera correctly (as opposed to some other water bag companies). They’re fantastic quality and they’re not going to break the bank. Extra bonus? If for some reason the bag did leak, water bags are a very slooow leak which gives you time to catch it and fix it. With a hard case housing, if there’s a leak, your housing floods and your equipment is toast.

Step 4: Use a wide angle lens. This lets you stay as close to your subject as possible and that’s pretty key for clarity under the water. You’ll find that the water itself behaves like another lens and the further you are from your client, the harder it is to get a sharp image and the more scatter in the water will show up for you. It can create an almost painted look (which can be great if that’s what you are going for!) but for clear shots, stay close and shoot wide.

Step 5: Find a community of other photographers who you can troubleshoot with. There’s a lot of troubleshooting to do with underwater photography, trust me. The water itself has it’s own personality every time you get in and there is so much to take into account when getting under the surface (lighting, what aperture to use, getting clients to look relaxed under the water, how long to stay under, etc). Also, spoiler alert, there’s a ton of back-end post production work that is absolutely necessary with underwater imagery. It simply is a part of the equation because of what happens with light and color when it hits water. Plus, again, safety concerns mean that sometime compositing images is the only way to keep everyone safe while creating a specific type of image. The post-production is over half of the work with underwater images so get comfy with photoshop and lightroom. And join a group where you can ask questions. To have a moment of self-promotion, I run a group just like this on Facebook called Mermaid Sessions — Photographer Group. We’re friendly, we’re happy to share tips, and we like supporting this community.


Ready to take the plunge? (hahaha, I’m full of them today!) Sebastian had it right; it IS better down where it’s wetter. Join the community, post questions, contact me directly, and dive in! You can also find me on Periscope broadcasting my underwater sessions LIVE (including the underwater part!) by going to http://periscope.tv/briennemichelle or follow along on Instagram with the hashtag #MermaidSessions.

3 Last Minute Things to Do Before Wedding Season Starts (aka: Holy shi@—is it spring already?)

wedding photographer tips

3 Last Minute Things to Do Before Wedding Season Starts (AKA:  Holy shi@—is it spring already?) 

As wedding season wrapped,  and the winter months settled in—the list of ‘to do’s’ I had in mind to conquer was a-plenty.
All of the ‘workflow, ‘marketing’ and ‘business development’ ideas I had stuffed into my perpetual to-dolist  (but did not have the time to complete while fully engaged in ‘season’ ) were ready to hit the scene over the winter months I had off.  (I mean man, a whole three months “off!”)
And yet, though I did accomplish some of these things:  somehow, its nearly April. I blinked. And,  here we are again.  Its wedding season 2016 and many of those tasks remain untouched.
So what’s a girl to do when, in two weeks:  it is prime wedding season?  Here are a few ‘hail Mary’s’ for my fellow photogs friends who are also in my last-minute shoes:
Wine and cocktails anyone?  (no, seriously.)  Vendors Relationships are everything!   Get out there and set some appointments with your favorite venues/wedding pros.  Invite a few of your planners, hair and makeup artists or caterers to a meet-up over coffee or cocktails.  (I always prefer cocktails;-) About 80% of my business comes to me via relationships with others in our industry who refer me to their clients.  Keep in mind—this is the same for many other (successful) photographers in your market!  So when you sit down to chat—discuss both of your ‘ideal clients’ (uh-hum: referrals are a two-way street my dear!) so you can each keep a lookout for each other in a more specific way than ‘refer-me-all-the-things.’
Its a lot more difficult in the sea of photographers for folks to refer you if you don’t immediatley pop into their brain as the ‘right’ fit for their specific clients. (I.e, I adore intimate weddings of wild-child,  adventurers having elegant/outdoor weddings .  I want my wedding industry peers to think of me when they come across these folks.)  So in a few weeks, Im hosting a little cocktail party at the studio to gather some of my favorites all in one place as we hop into season.  (Its impossible to be referred if you are not on the forefront of people’s minds and you cant be if you are not in contact..)
 best charlotte wedding pros
(My ‘theme’ for our our vendor cocktail meet up. Who doesn’t freaking like tacos? If you say ‘you’–you are not my people.)
Get your Gear in Gear:  If you are like me—since I do not photograph much outside of weddings—my gear does not get as much use in the off-season (other than an ocaasional workshop or personal project)  Other than my core body and a few lens/flashes.. some of it is gathering dust.  So, pull open those drawers, closets, bags and boxes and compile all of your gear.  Inventory it.  Make sure everything is functional and organized in the manner you prefer. (I recently purchased the Think Tank (ginormous) rolling bag,  so for once—ALL of my gear can fit int one professional looking bag that can rolled into the venue doors.)
Get any replacement gear orders rolling—for example, I found one of my flash triggers was no longer functioning and placed an order  along with a few extra camera batteries.  (Thank you Lord, for Amazon Prime.)   Also—think about sending off anything that may need annual ‘clean and check.’ (If you are Canon and are not a CPS member—get on it!)
think tank logistics manager
(Totally expensive..but totally worth it.)
Blog it!  If you are a better woman than me-you kept up with your blog all winter.  Kudos! If not—time to step up. Make this week a crash-course in giving your blog some lovin.’  (The last thing you want is for a prospective client stop by your blog and see content that is from last fall. You look both not busy and a little lazy.
‘But Cass—how can I cram 3 months of blogging in in a few weeks?’   Drum roll please:  Year-end wraps-ups are a great way to recap your favorite images of the year. (As are behind-the-scenes posts which always get a laugh.)  Both of these types of posts are some of the highest rated for me in terms of both ‘google juice’ and my most mentioned by clients/peers.  They are also a great place to link to when replying to client inquires. Clients get to see a bit of your ‘high lights reel’ all in once place with a bit more ‘personality’ than dropping by a website gallery as you have the ability to tell stories with your copy.
best charlotte wedding photographer
(you can check out mine here)
Bonus Tip:  Take a an overnight get-away.  My hubby and I are getting the hell outta dodge this weekend for a little mountain air before season starts and ‘life’ gets away from me.  (As you may recall from this post...I am a BIG believer in how much you enjoy your business and stay creatively motivated is directly proportionate to how much you are enjoying your life.)  Taking a day or two to just ‘be’ before the chaos of season allows you step into it refreshed and ready.
Now, go forth young soldier—we’ve got a wedding season to slay!

Volunteering your Photography

If there’s one thing I love, it’s dogs.  Funny thing is, it’s mainly bullie breeds (pitbulls, rotties, etc) but that’s a personal thing and it’s really because they get so overlooked and have a seriously bad stigma attached to them.  But that’s not what this is about.  It’s about using your skills.  It’s about getting out into the community (people or animals) and helping out.


4+ years ago a friend of mine asked me if I would come to an adoption event to take some photos of adoptables.  Of course I said yes, so we headed down, got some great pictures, I brought home a dog and that’s all she wrote.

I’m a firm believer that photos of sad dogs behind cage bars, is no sure fire way to get a dog adopted.  They’re sad, confused, scared among other things and in all honesty, not a flattering photo.  Getting these animals out of the shelter and into a neutral environment helps their personalities shine a little more.  This is where you can sit back and capture they’re goofy personality that’s going to get them adopted!

So where do you start?

With me it was a little easy since I was asked to do it but there are tons of rescues and shelters that need help.  Start sending messages on Facebook offering your services.  DO NOT CHARGE them for these!!  Seriously.  All rescues are non-profit and make no money so charging them is just plain stupid.  Same goes for the shelters.  Most shelters have a volunteer program that you will have to go through in order to start shooting for them but each one is different so you’ll need to contact them to see what their rules and regulations are.

Now remember something, just because you go to a rescue’s Facebook or website and see that another photographer has taken photos, don’t just assume that they won’t want your services.  Most of the time, their fosters are all over the place so having more than one photographer can be a benefit for them.  Scheduling, etc, things like that can make it difficult for one photographer to take photos of 20+ dogs so don’t assume.

I love working with the rescues more because they are usually foster based rescues, so they will take any help they can get.  The more great pictures they get, the more they can get adopted and the more they can save.  Just remember that volunteering isn’t going to bring business busting down your door, or it could but don’t bet on it.  You should do this because you want to, not because you think it’s going to zoom you to the top of the photography food chain.


Why I Converted to Sigma Art Lenses

Sigma Art LensesI’ve heard nothing but good things about the Sigma Art series of lenses, but as a Canon user I’ve found it incredibly difficult to let go of all the money I’ve invested in my lenses with the red line around the end. It’s like a status symbol for how hard I’ve worked to pay for those L series lenses. They’re hard to let go of. I decided to rent a Sigma Art lens just for the sake of seeing what all the hype was about. I totally intended on writing this blog post where I figured I’d tell you all how much they sucked and how to stick to your own brand.
Sadly that’s not this post. I was seriously impressed with the Sigma Art series. After renting I did some research on them, watched a lot of review videos and finally came to the conclusion that I needed to sell my Canon lenses and switch to Sigma Arts (for a few of the lenses at least). I’m not sorry. At all. Sure, I miss my fancy little red line around the end of my Canon lenses. I also miss how much more lightweight the Canon L series is (in most cases) because the Sigma Art series are metal and heavier. However, here are a few reasons why the switch was incredibly worth it.
  • Focus Speed – OMG. OMG. OMG!!! The speed at which Sigma Art locks in and nails focus is incredible. Freakin’ incredible. I don’t have all the stats like some videos and fancy reviewers do, but I can feel and tell there’s a huge difference. These lenses lock in on focus so fast that I feel like I’m actually on a learning curve figuring out how to deal with the ability to take photos faster than I’m used to. It’s kind of amazing. I owned the 50L for a long time and comparatively Sigma feels like a race car and I feel like I’ve been driving a beat up old mini van.
  • Chromatic Aberration – Okay this is a big word. You might be reading this blog post and think that you have no idea what this is, but don’t feel embarrassed. I didn’t know what it was until well into my photography career – so you are not alone. Chromatic aberration is a lens distortion that can be corrected in an editing program like Lightroom or Photoshop. It causes there to be a halo of color (typically bright magenta for me) at points of deep contrast in photos. I’ve learned over the years that every photographer is sensitive to different things in photos. Some can’t stand vignetting, some can’t stand black and white photos, and me? I can’t stand chromatic aberration. That pink halo in my photos DRIVES ME NUTS. One thing people have found with the Sigma Art lenses is that there’s less chromatic aberration. That means one less major fix in post processing. I’m super happy about that.
  • Sharpness – I found in a lot of videos and reviews that people were saying the Sigma Art lenses were sharper not only in the center, but sharper on the edges compared to their Canon counter parts. I can’t say I’ve pixel peeped enough to notice a huge difference, but they feel sharper in general.


If you’re like me and you’ve been hearing all the amazing hype about the the Sigma Art series of lenses, it might be time to rent one and see if you can sell off that fancy L lens for a Sigma Art. Hey, you might even profit off the sales since Sigma Art lenses are definitely cheaper in price (and in my opinion better in value overall).  I hope this blog post gives you some insight into Sigma’s Art line! If you have other questions hit up our Facebook group, or shoot me an email! Don’t be afraid to ask for help or look for support in a community of like minded people!

Getting Published, or Not.

Getting PublishedI have, for the past year or so, been struggling. I’ve made it pretty known. I’ve written a few posts on this very blog about my struggles. I’m not struggling with booking, pricing or workflow. I’ve been struggling with being inspired, but mostly with STAYING inspired. I only write these types of posts so that anyone reading, whether you’re a brand new photographer, or season veteran, know that you are not alone.


Because of all of that, I have been pushing myself. I was bound and determined to GET PUBLISHED.

For some reason, I had it in my mind that I needed to be published to be worth something.

Even writing that it sounds nuts, but I know a lot of photographers put a ton of pressure on themselves to be published, whether print or blog. I’m not saying getting published is bad, so hear me out.


I have tried getting published a few (more than a few…) times. And every. single. time. I’m told that they need to see more detail shots. You know; cake, shoes, dress, venue, centerpieces….yawn.

Don’t kill me or anything, but I just don’t see the merit in photographing those things for an hour. I know some photographers do, and I’m so glad that works for you. It’s not for me, because

I’m a photographer of people. 


I’m a photographer of moments. 


I am NOT a photographer of things. 

I know there are more of you out there like me, which is why I’m sharing this with you. I always get what I need of the details. I know how hard my brides work on their wedding day details, so they are important for that reason. But, if I have 30 minutes to photograph the bride and groom AND the details? I’m going to spend 25 minutes with the bride and groom and 5 minutes on the details. The photos of the two of them, on one of the most important days of their lives, completely outweigh photos of the napkins and chairs.

I know some people (ahem, other photographers) say that being published gets you free advertising. Especially if you make it on a really well known blog. Somehow, unless you are VERY specific in your niche, I doubt you’re getting much out of that one blog post. I would rather provide my couples with really kick ass customer service so they tell their friends about me. Personal referrals are everything to me.

I’m not saying getting published is stupid, or that I’m bitter because I was rejected so many times. I know my clients are happy, and I’m happy…so that’s what matters.  Just know, if you are struggling with the desire to be published, but are getting denied; don’t get discouraged! Take a step back and figure out WHY you want to be published, and if it’s actually worth it.