Well That Hurt: Finding Inspiration the Hard Way in Underwater Photography

Probably shouldn’t have done that…

From time to time I like to browse some of my favorite photographers’ work to see what they’ve been up to. It gives me inspiration, new ideas, and also lights that competitive fire under my ass.

But sometimes it has the opposite effect. Sometimes I see something so unbelievably good that I sink into a deep chasm of self-doubt and frustration.

Today was one of those days.

Now when it comes to underwater photography, I am obsessed. So obsessed in fact, that when I learned the cost of underwater camera housing apparatuses ($2,000?! What?!), I built my own. Hell I’ve been obsessed with water itself for as long as I can remember. I think it’s the weightlessness of it mixed with just a touch of danger. Swimming to me feels like flying – if the air could kill you at any moment.

Even in my above ground portfolio, you really don’t even have to look very hard to see watery influences. In almost every photo, there are people and objects floating around, and water is consistently a central theme. I’m either standing in it, sitting on a car in it, put someone else under it or have it coming out of an umbrella (multiple times). It’s actually pretty funny to look back and see that unintentionally, I’ve always had water somewhere in my photos.

So one of the photographers I casually stalk (read: intensely dream about working with someday) is Zena Holloway. Her work is stunning. Like, crazy good. It’s so gorgeous that it actually pisses me off on a certain level and if I ever meet her I already know she’s going to hate me because I will either completely freeze up and say something creepy and inappropriate (my default mode) or I will ask a million questions and annoy the bajesus out of her.

So two great options, really.

But last month she posted a behind-the-scenes video of one of her underwater photography shoots:

An Underwater Film: Behind the Scenes of ‘How to Spend it’ Magazine from Zena Holloway on Vimeo.

As always it’s amazing, but shortly after watching I found myself frustrated. Seeing her models gracefully pose while I consistently flail about made me think of the countless “Nailed It” moments you find on Pinterest. I should’ve known just from reading the description what I was getting into.

“750,000 litres of water
One 5m high bed
Six hours to set up
Eight hours to shoot
1,468 photographs
Nine underwater crew
Seven underwater cameras
53 seconds without drawing breath
1,609m of hair extensions
217 Valsalva manoeuvres
…and 62 wet towels!”

Holy fuck.

I spent all day yesterday setting up and shooting. My list was as follows:

One assistant
Two models
1 Camera
Dresses from Goodwill
Light from Home Depot
Bottle of Jameson


And then comes the self-pity party. “If only I could just borrow some designer clothes. If only I knew a qualified hair and makeup person that could do the look I’m going for. If only I had access to a better lighting system, a different lens, or a better location.”

“If only, if only, if only, blah, blah, blah, blah blah!”

See, this actually happens a lot. The pity party hits, and then I calm down and remind myself of a few solid points: 1.) All of this awesome stuff does not make an amazing photographer, these are tools that amazing photographers have acquired over the years. I’m very doubtful anyone has access to all this amazing equipment and vendors from day one, and 2.) It takes time. Photography is an art that takes for-freaking-ever to learn and there is no rushing the process. Eventually, slowly but surely, I’ll get there.

And you will too :).

Essentially, the video below is all you ever need to keep in mind. Trust me – I watch it anytime I need to pull myself out of a bit of a slump :).

THE GAP by Ira Glass from frohlocke on Vimeo.

And if I ever do get to meet Zena, maybe we can just hangout. Nothing serious, just, like, drink some tea, talk about photography, get matching tattoos…that sort of thing ;).


Don’t forget to follow me on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography, and don’t forget to subscribe below! 😀



  1. Reply


    June 1, 2014

    Once again you have done it.
    I do not follow many blogs, and those I do, I must admit I do not consistently read.

    However, once again you have made me glad I took the time to read your words.
    Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Reply


      June 1, 2014

      Thank you JR! I’ll keep working hard to stay in your read list! 😀

  2. Reply


    June 2, 2014

    Oh man I have EXACTLY the same feelings!!! Just remember your situation breeds your style. I’m low budget too, but it pushes me to do things my way and that is beautiful. You will achieve your dreams. Xoxo

    • Reply


      June 2, 2014

      Exactly Janelle! I figure lets at least use it for good – small budget means we just have to be more creative! 😀

  3. Reply

    Kristen Marie Brown-Bates

    June 2, 2014

    I got a good laugh reading this, simply because I can relate so much! I’m obsessed with underwater images too. Now, how did you make your own housing????

    • Reply


      June 2, 2014

      Thanks Kristen! I made mine out of 8″ PVC pipe, plexiglass and a whole lot of other stuff. It got a little complicated but this blog post shows a bit of it: Building Underwater Camera Housing.

      Hope that helps! 😀

  4. Reply

    Tatiana Lumiere

    June 3, 2014

    damn. we’re fun of same people, and watching same staff. Alex brought THE GAP by Ira Glass to my attention few months ago, it does explain a lot. Move closer, we’ll get matching tattoos 😉

    • Reply


      June 4, 2014

      Haha ah I love you Tatiana 😉

  5. Reply


    December 30, 2014

    I know this is an older post but I love it! I’m obsessed with underwater photography too and looking at the major professional can get you down but also being on a tight budget can be so inventive! I so love that you made your own housing. I’m saving up for one! Love your blog!

    • Reply


      December 31, 2014

      Thank you so much Lisa! I’m glad you like it! And heck yeah for building your own stuff! 😉

  6. Reply

    Marcelo Mammana

    March 1, 2017

    Hi, I am one of those sinners of “if I only…”… I remember my firsts attempts of do-it-yourself housing: an old bottle of oil (glass bottle, big ones… they broke every time), and then plexiglass… with a rubber finger (those that drugstores sell for wounded fingers… well, I was a teenager and the pharmacist didn’t believe me that this was for triggering my camera underwater…). Anyway, they all ended like fish bowls, with more water inside than outside… But I kept trying… I finally could spent two years in Antarctica, diving under the frozen sea, so yes… tenacity pays… (www.marcelomammana.com).
    Your photos are just amazing, and your post are really inspiring! Thanks! best regards,

    • Reply


      July 3, 2017

      Marcelo that is such an amazing story! And your photos are amazing! You’ve earned my respect for sure – it’s a special world out there for those of us making our own gear. Hat’s off to you!


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