There I was six feet deep in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica trying to execute the perfect pose for a photograph. It was my first time attempting to model underwater aside from those silly pool pictures I took with friends when I was 12 years old. I went into the experience thinking it would be a breeze. I mean how hard can it really be to dive beneath the water and then swim up towards the surface? Turns out it’s slightly more complicated once you are attempting it. I’m not only telling you this for fun, there’s a method to my madness so stick with me. But I’m getting ahead of myself let me start from the beginning.
My boyfriend is a photographer and it was him who helped me venture out of my comfort zone and begin to model. I do it mostly for fun, it challenges me and it gives me the self-confidence that I lacked growing up. So it was for him that I would stand on the edge of cliffs, climb over “KEEP OUT” signs, and subject myself to sometimes harsh weather conditions to get that perfect photograph. I loved it, and I was more than up for the task before me. It was me who actually brought up the idea. I had seen a few photos online and I wanted to try it out.
We were in Costa Rica last year during Christmas and New Years to spend time with my boyfriend’s family. During our last week we planned a few excursions to the Western part of the country to enjoy the beaches. We made our way down the coast staying in Airbnbs and trying to find the best places to photograph. We heard from locals that Manuel Antonio was a great spot for snorkeling, just off the coast you could spot turtles, colorful schools of fish, and on the lucky chance a dolphin. Once there we stayed among other tourists just outside the National Park and booked a day on a Catamaran out at sea. There were six of us and we paid the equivalent of $40 U.S dollars for the trip. Out of that transaction we received a boat just for the six of us with lunch cooked fresh on board, complimentary beverages with alcohol, and a 40 minute snorkeling break above a small reef inside the bay. It was completely worth it.
We had five hours out on the water, enjoying the sun, music, and company of our ship crew. They were typical Ticos living their life Pura Vida style. To a Costa Rican the term is literally a way of life. I mean it actually translates to pure life. It means opening your arms to newcomers and welcoming them the way you would family, it means remembering what truly matters in life, and striving to seek happiness in whatever you are doing. In my opinion it’s the healthiest way someone can live. We even explained to our captain and tour guide who were father and son that we really wanted to get a decent photo and they agreed to give us a full hour of water time before heading back to shore. Ticos are constantly doing little things like that to help others find their happiness. You never have to worry about someone flat out denying a request they always do what they can to make it happen.
Once near the reef the boat was anchored and we put on our gear. Not that there was that much of it. We had life jackets, goggles, mouth piece, and flippers for out feet. I opted out of the life jacket because it was optional and taking it off and putting it back on while out near the spot would be more of a pain. Together we jumped into the water and swam to the point the caption directed us to. The ocean was like a dream, warm enough not to raise goosebumps on my skin, but cool enough to be refreshing under the harsh sun of the day. We used GoPro’s Hero 5 to get the picture and so we didn’t have intense camera equipment to swim with. We swam maybe the length of a football field to get to the reef. I underestimated my swimming abilities just a bit. The distance wasn’t the problem, but the treading water for an hour was more work than I had anticipated. Even though the reef is close to the surface people cannot stand on the coral because it will cause the ecosystem to break down at an even faster rate. So I alternated between floating on my back and bobbing up and down when I was above the surface. Nevertheless it was a great workout.
Anyway the plan was this: Dive down as close to the sandy bottom as possible. Readjust my position to face upward. Then begin swimming up towards the sunlight slowly, making sure my movements were elongated and graceful. In other words despite the fact that I would be quickly running out of air I had to stay calm and keep holding my breath. So without further delay we began. It was hard because we weren’t sure which angle we should shoot from and we had to find the perfect spot to swim towards the light. This took a lot of pre-diving beneath the water and surveying the lay of the land below. I had plenty of opportunity during this to watch the fish swim between my fingers, and follow a sea turtle to the safety of its shelter below.
Once we had figured out the best angle we discussed how we would do it. Both of us ould dive down at the same time. Once at the bottom I would count to five slowly and then begin swimming. Needless to say it took many tries, the hardest part was getting the two of us in perfect synchronization with our movements. Sometimes I would take a breath and not sink down far enough, sometimes he wouldn’t be ready after I counted to five. It was a process, and while no photo is ever perfect we wanted to make sure we had a variety to choose from when it came to editing them.
We worked all the way through the hour, then reluctantly swam back to the boat. It’s hard because I know whenever I get involved in a project I hate stopping before I feel I have gotten the image I sought out for. In this case we were on a time limit that had already been extended. I returned determined to put the picture out of my mind and enjoy the rest of my time on the ship. We ate lunch freshly caught sea bass, steamed veggies, rice, and a special sauce made by the cook that was tangy, spicy, and sweet.
Then we lounged in the sun, took turns sliding off of the slide attached to the back, and did one final fast cruise around the bay before returning to the dock. It was paradise. I will remember this day always, not because it was the quintessential tropical experience but because of all I learned. The biggest lesson for me was to not assume something will be a certain way because of how simple or easy it appears in an image. That image disregarded the before and after moments and froze a second of movement and it’s far from easy to achieve/capture that as both a model and a photographer. So my underwater modeling experience taught me to be more open, more considerate of the things that models, photographers, and other creatives go through, and sacrifice to achieve a vision. It made me want to try harder at all of the things I am passionate about and allowed me to recognize the things I need to work on like for instance I need a stronger lung capacity to model while underwater, and overall do more research and be more prepared for my modeling moments even when I am doing it for fun. The more serious you take something the better it will turn out.