Plenty of people have vivid dreams. Few manage to turn those dreams into reality. Mallory Morrison turns her’s into beautifully artistic works of underwater photography. Ethereal at times, Morrison’s roots in dance photography are evident in many of her underwater works.
As she prepared to address a meeting of Samy’s Camera’s Underwater Photo & Video Club, Mallory Morrison was kind enough to join us for an interview about her underwater photography and career.
Q: We are always interested in hearing about the camera setups of professional photographers. On your typical underwater photography shoots, what cameras and gear are you using?
Q: You’ve said that your father helped teach you about photography as a kid. What was something he taught you back then that still influences how you shoot? Do you remember what camera he taught you on?
A: My dad was very technical and thoughtful with how he created an image. He taught me that you can have both a technically and creatively beautiful image. I have always carried that with me and I hold myself to his standard to this day.
He gave me a Minolta XD11 that I still have in my office to remind me of the fun I had exploring the new world of photography.
Q: Originally, you are a dance photographer. Much of your underwater photography displays a similar gracefulness that comes to mind when many think of the movements associated with dancers. What sparked you to take your work from the stage to the water?
A: I found underwater when I was in photo school at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara. They had a pool that students could use. My friend was into surf photography, so he had a housing. I was shooting dancers in the studio at the time and getting very frustrated with the limits of the cold, concrete space. All of these elements came together in my head one day and I thought about putting dancers in the pool and using my friend’s gear. After I tried it once, I was hooked.
Q: Describe your physical set up for your underwater photography shoots. Do you shoot in special pools designed for photography?
A: I usually shoot in residential pools, around 8 feet at the deepest point. I usually have 2 assistants and 2 lights, with each assistant hand holding the lights as we shoot. I usually have some diffusion in the pool and over my lights.
Q: Do you wear diving gear for your shoots or are you not under the water long enough to need it?
A: I usually hold my breath. I haven’t found it necessary to use diving gear because I always want to come up and talk with my models after each session. I have only used dive gear when shooting video.
Q: How does the creative development process for your underwater photography shoots? Do you sketch out the ideas, try to write them down or just hold it all in your head until it is time to shoot?
A: My ideas come from all different places. Sometimes I shoot my dreams. I have always been a very vivid dreamer and it helps me process them by recreating them. I usually write my ideas down in a notebook and sometimes I sketch them out in little stick figures.
Q: How do you select the models that will be the subjects of your underwater photos? Do you require them to have previous underwater photography experience or do you have to teach most of them to adapt to the setting?
A: It is usually the case that I work with models who have never modeled underwater before, but have the skills to learn as we go. I usually work with dancers or models who have dance and swim experience. I don’t require previous underwater photography experience, just as long as get a good feeling from them and we can communicate well. Lately I’ve been working with synchronized swimmers and it is dream to work with them!
Q: The use of space in the framing of your photographs has a distinctive feel. Is that intentional?
A: Definitely. I like to create a space that doesn’t look quite real; the perspective that is not of this world.
Q: Do you have a project you are working on at the moment?
A: I am currently taking a little creative break from shooting, but I have an idea in mind that I would like to start shooting in a few months. I would like to work with different pairs of people and show how body language between people can tell their story of how they relate to each other.
See more of Mallory Morrison’s photography at her dedicated website.
For more information on attending a Samy’s Camera H2O club meeting, visit and ‘like’ the Samy’s Camera H2O Underwater Photo & Video Facebook page.