Photographer captures stunning underwater portraits at 100ft, breaks Guinness world record again
After breaking the Guinness World Record for the deepest underwater portrait shoot, photographer Steve Haining has done it again. Not only has he outdone himself, but he’s done it five times better. From the initial 21 feet, Steve set the new record by doing a portrait shoot at 100ft (30m). And it all started as a joke.
Steve has been a photographer for as long as he can remember. He got a 35mm film camera from his mom when he was still a kid and never looked back. Today, he’s best known for his portraiture. And now, apparently, for breaking the Guinness World Record for an underwater portrait photo.
The first record-breaking underwater shoot
“The underwater shoot I’m most known for kind of happened at a weird timing,” Steve explains. As I mentioned, it all started as a joke Steve had with his friends over COVID-19, as it was challenging (or impossible) to have a crew in a studio. It was something like, “Oh, we won’t have to worry about getting together if we all have our own air.”
“I was just being funny because, at the time, there were a bunch of contradicting rules about photography and filmmaking and where you could and where you couldn’t,” Steve adds. But what started as a joke turned into a record-breaking underwater photo shoot.
“We didn’t know that this was going to be a Guinness world record, but we did submit it,” Steve told DIYP then. “And that began a really cool relationship with Guinness as well.” They required evidence of the dive, including video proof of the process, documented depths, government-approved nautical charts, and proof of the location. “It was probably the most paperwork I’ve done in my life.”
“At the end of it, Guinness approved the record for 16 minutes at 21 ft at a higher part of the Wetmore. It wasn’t the deepest spot, but I was excited and beyond happy to take it simply because I couldn’t [provide] the dive computers and information for the deeper dive. Had I known I needed better documentation I certainly would have been prepared, but this was about the photos, not about the record.”
The news spread fast, and not only in the US and Canada. Steve’s friends even told him they’d seen articles about him in magazines in Poland, Russia, Brazil, and Italy. “For me, it was the first time in my life that I had been published for something I did just out of creativity and not with a motive of working with brands or public figures,” Steve says. But he knew that he and his team could do even better – and it led to the second attempt.
Breaking the Guinness World Record – again
Steve met up with his model Ciara a few times after the initial shoot, and they practiced underwater for fun. Then, this summer, Fujifilm hired him to be their underwater DOP. It was meant to be. “I was heading to Miami to do some work on a project for them, and I called Mareesha to fly down and help,” Steve explains. “At the end of the project, Fujifilm asked what we were up to.”
“We explained that we were planning on going back to Tobermory one day to do another photo shoot. We wanted to continue the series. Fujifilm asked us the details and how deep we would go the next time. We picked a number 100 ft (30 m)… 100 ft, can we do it? The response we got from the Fuji team was amazing, and we knew right then that we had to do it again sooner rather than later. We had our eyes set on a shipwreck that’s at exactly 100 ft.”
Overcoming the challenges
Initially, Steve loved the idea of scuba diving. However, as the pressure to succeed mounted, he admits he became nervous. His top priority was safety for his crew, his gear, and, of course, himself. He relied on AquaTech underwater housing. Even though they’re only rated for 10 m, he’s taken them as deep as 75 ft (23m), so he wanted to give it a shot again and, at the same time, test out the gear.
AquaTech was initially surprised that Steve wanted to go as deep as 100ft, but they agreed to help out. After all, if Steve had good results, that was also a plus for them. The risk was on Steve, after all. AquaTech provided him with access to the gear, and they supported him.
There was another thing to consider when diving this deep: you start to lose color the deeper you go. “In the shallow water, you lose your yellows, and as you go deeper, you lose your oranges,” Steve explains. “Your reds turn to black, and as you go deeper, it becomes just blue and grey and black.”
Thankfully, you can bring back some colors if you bring your lights down with you. But then, another problem arises:
“In the real world I love using strobes, I set up lights everywhere, I think of all the details. I’ll hide them in lamps behind curtains wherever I can to help build my story, but underwater is a little different. Radio signal doesn’t travel underwater. [This] means strobes need to be powered by wires.
One more thing to worry about underwater I tend to use video lights for my photography. I was prepared to mount a couple of lights on my camera and just make it work again. And then, I got a call from Nanlite.”
Nanlite found Steve’s projects intriguing due to his unique shooting style, especially his underwater photography. This drew them in and made them want to be a part of it. Usually, their tubes were rated for about 32 ft (10 m), but some people used them around 60 ft. Nanlite was excited to see what Steve could do with the lights at 100 ft and if they would survive. They had seen the lights used beyond the recommended setup before, so they were curious to see how much further they could be pushed. Nanlite gave the lights to Steve, asking him to see what he could do with them.
Another challenge was the temperature. As you can imagine, it gets cold in waters that deep. But it was September when Steve did the shoot. It was the end of the summer, so he and the team figured it was the best choice. “The waters had the whole entire summer to warm up, so this was our best bet to have conditions that were achievable,” Steve says.
Steve was very committed to his training. He earned his Advanced Open Water and Nitrox certifications. Additionally, he was involved in search and recovery, where he and his team focused on compass work. Steve dedicated himself entirely to his training and ensured he was always ready to do whatever was required. He and his team constantly pushed themselves to be more creative and challenged themselves to improve. And it paid off – they dove down to 100 ft or 30m, did the shoot successfully, and broke another world record!
Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.