Top Ten Tips for Underwater Modeling by Lily La Mer
written by underwater model and professional mermaid Lily La Merfor Sheeba Magazine, September 2015
Hello, I’m Lily la Mer, full time Professional Mermaid and Underwater Model (www.lilyshowgirl.com). As one of the top underwater models in the UK, people often ask for my advice about underwater modelling and how to improve as a model underwater. These are my top ten tips to help you out as you start your journey as an underwater model, written especially for Sheeba magazine. Let’s begin…
Know the Law!
Maybe surprising as a first tip, but honestly it’s the most important! It’s different in every country so I won’t go into details as I’m UK based, but if you’re interested in underwater modelling then you really need to educate yourself about the laws around working underwater. One in particular to watch out is SCUBA diving. If your photographer is using SCUBA equipment then a whole host of new rules can come into play – without special qualifications and risk assessments, a photographer can unknowingly invalidate all their professional insurance, leaving you high and dry if there ever is an accident.
Safety comes first!
Be very wary of modelling in open water, even if it’s in the shallows of a beach. The tides can be surprising and even if you’re a strong swimmer, the ocean or even a river is a lot stronger than you. Make sure you have trained lifeguards around to keep an eye on you, even if you’re just in a swimming pool or a water tank. Before you enter the water, make sure everyone on the shoot knows what to watch out for, what to do if there is a situation, and that there is a clear, thorough plan for how you will be removed safely from the water in the event of an emergency. Being prepared could save your life.
Get professional training!
One of the best ways to make sure that you’re safer in the water is by getting professional training in water-based disciplines such as SCUBA and Apnea. Either way, you should definitely practice your swimming, especially treading water and swimming in clothes. Make sure you practice somewhere safe with lifeguard supervision. Training in water disciplines will also improve your skill in underwater modelling by teaching you how to control your buoyancy, breathing and movement in the water. Remember to also practice opening your eyes and relaxing your face underwater!
Learn how your body floats and sinks!
Both SCUBA and Apnea training will give you a great idea about how buoyancy works with the human body, but if you can’t access training then you can still practice this skill. How does your body float with full lungs? What about half full? What about when you breathe out completely? It’s also really useful to experiment with swimming into poses and then stopping to see how your body naturally turns and moves – you’ll often find that your chest will turn and rise towards to the surface because your lungs form a natural balloon that floats. This knowledge of your body will help you to control your posing underwater.
Test your outfits!
One of the biggest mistakes new underwater models make is assuming that they can choose outfits for underwater modelling in the same way as they would choose an outfit for land modelling. Over time you’ll get the hang of what fabrics and garments work well underwater but a few starting tips: check if the fabric or decorations (glue, silk) will be damaged or fall apart in water/chlorine. Check if the dye will bleed underwater. Make sure you can actually swim in it safely and won’t get tangled up. Anything too floaty will rise up and flash your knickers, so test it all first!
Test your makeup!
Just like with testing outfits, you’ll also need to test your makeup. Different products work for different people, just like on land. Remember that just because a product says ‘waterproof’ doesn’t mean it can handle hours of submersion, it might just be tear-proof! Try not to rub your face, and avoid hairspray as it leaves a film on the surface of the water. You’ll probably need to apply your makeup more strongly and use more contouring than on land because of the way that light moves underwater. It’s trial and error, so experiment with selfies or test shoots before offering ‘professional’ underwater modelling.
Plan your communication!
Work out in advance how you’ll communicate with your photographer and safety divers while you’re in the water. Underwater is no time for improvising! Exactly how you choose to communicate will depend on preferences with your team and also the set-up of your location. For buddy breathing with SCUBA equipment (only do it with proper training), you’ll probably need to use hand signals. If you’re in shallow water doing repeat apnea dives then you might prefer to communicate above the surface. The most important thing is to decide on a dive plan and communication methods before you get into the water!
Be aware of your bubbles!
Even if you’ve got years of experience with modelling on land, there are certain aspects of being underwater that will be completely new. One of these is bubbles! They can get in the way of a shot, or be the most perfect feature of a shot. They are really hard to control, so the best thing to do is to try lots of different things. You can deliberately blow bubbles to create a really obviously visible ‘I’m underwater’ effect, or do the complete opposite and exhale all air before diving so that there are (almost) no bubbles in shot. Discuss with your photographer first to figure out what kind of look you’re going for.
Eyedrops are your new best friend!
If you struggle to open your eyes underwater in a swimming pool, underwater modelling may not be for you. Even fresh water can sting a little, but hours of chlorinated or heavily salted water can really take a toll. There are lots of rumours of things that ‘help’, like putting milk in your eyes, but simple frequent use of eyedrops is what most underwater models swear by. Be prepared that your eyes will go red, and that long exposure to chlorine at an underwater photoshoot can make vision go very fuzzy – it’s temporary so don’t worry, but certainly don’t plan to drive a vehicle immediately afterwards!
It may seem like there are a million things to remember, and yes, underwater modelling is completely different from land modelling. Fabric will float everywhere, your hair will drift over your eyes, bubbles will seem to sprout from your nose and you’ll move around in a panic trying to control your pose. It might seem like more effort is the solution… until you run out of air in a few seconds. Panic response increases use of oxygen in the body. Your breath will last longer, and your images will come out better, if you just stay quiet and still, move gently and slowly, and keep your mind as calm as possible.
So there you go! If you are looking to set up as an underwater model or an underwater photographer, and want some inspiration or advice, you can connect with me on social media as Lily la Mer (Facebook), LilyShowgirl (Twitter) and Mermaid_Showgirl (Instagram). I wish you all the best in your underwater adventures and look forward to seeing your first underwater images!