There’s something almost magical about underwater photography. Whether you’re snapping sea-life in the open ocean or capturing treasured family memories in a sun-soaked pool abroad, there’s a sense of exhilaration that comes from being able to take photos underwater. From amateur to a professional level, the attraction to this type of photography is clear.
Someone who understands the allure of underwater photography is our very own Spencer Cobby. With six years of experience as an underwater photographer behind him, he combines technical skill and the latest technology to produce stunning images in a wide range of environments. Spencer specialises in a full range of underwater photography services and is currently contracted by a number of companies, including Swim Zoom, Water Babies and Britton Brothers Wedding Photography.
Here, we’re diving into Spencer’s background in underwater photography and learning more about one of his current underwater projects …
How did you get into underwater photography?
Back in my early twenties whilst I was working on cruise ships, I was lucky enough to do a PADI diving course on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Being naturally inquisitive as a photographer, the thought of taking photos underwater whilst on my dives was really exciting. I was instantly taken with the idea of capturing life under the sea!
After qualifying, I picked up a disposable underwater camera as soon as I could, and that’s where my underwater photography adventure began. Back then, the cameras were very poor and the quality of the images was even worse, but this is where it all started.
It wasn’t until 20 years later, when I started working for a local underwater camera company in Ottery St Mary, Cameras Underwater, that I truly fell in love with taking photos underwater again.
What sort of things did this role involve?
I was fortunate enough to retrain as a BSAC Diver with Cameras Underwater. I spent my weekends photographing anything and everything underwater whilst testing the equipment. I got to know what worked and didn’t work, and soon began selling great equipment to passionate divers who wanted to take photographs underwater. This was a great opportunity to meet a whole range of likeminded people who share my enthusiasm for underwater photography.
What’s been your highlight of working in underwater photography?
I got the amazing chance to teach abroad, whilst with Cameras Underwater. I led a week-long underwater photography course on a diving boat in the Red Sea – a real highlight and a privilege to be a part of.
What is it about underwater photography that you love?
The main draw of this type of photography for me is the wonderful sense of freedom it provides. The freedom of diving underwater and seeing and recording things you have never seen before is a real thrill. It’s just magic played out in front of your eyes and the camera lens. You get to step into David Attenborough’s shoes for an hour!.
You’re currently contracted by Water Babies – what do they do and how long have you been working for them?
Water Babies is a swimming school for babies and toddlers that was birthed in the South West of England. Swimming is taught as a vital life-skill to these little ones, which in turn can enhance the acquisition of other skills. As well as teaching babies and toddlers to swim, Water Babies offer underwater photoshoots that capture spectacular images for families to treasure forever.
I’ve been working with them as a contracted Underwater Children’s Photographer since 2013.
Water Babies has grown to a very large franchise company now, operating in many countries around the world such as Canada, China, Holland, Australia and New Zealand, with many more to come. I’ve had opportunities to work abroad for the various franchises and have very much enjoyed the opportunities and the travel.
What does your role as a Water Babies photographer involve?
Mostly I work in the UK and typically undertake around 20-25 photoshoots a year around the South of England. My role involves lots of early starts and lots of driving to and from the various franchises dotted around the country.
I work in what is essentially an underwater studio, with a whole host of people helping out on each shoot. The photoshoots are based on activities from the children’s normal lessons, with the photography carefully interwoven. This means the babies and the parents feel safe and relaxed, and are more likely to enjoy the shoot.
Taking photos of babies and toddlers underwater isn’t easy, so there’s a team of people involved! The ‘dipographers’ (trained Water Babies teachers who interpret the babies’ body language and make sure they’re always comfortable) will swim the baby in front of the camera at just the right moment, ready for me to get the best possible photo. I have to be able to hold my breath, lower my heart rate and keep hold of the equipment, all whilst trying to capture that special shot. There’s usually three submersions, with up to three shots on each one. The dipographers are always totally focused on the little ones, keeping an eye on how comfortable and safe they’re feeling.
What’s your favourite thing about working for Water Babies?
I love creating images that make people happy. We get new parents in the pool helping to teach their children to swim with their swimming teacher. Sometimes, children as early as four months old are swimming! Photographing the moment that a child goes underwater and swims is magical. Getting to capture that moment and then show the parents the results is very special. It is often the only opportunity the moment would be captured.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to get into underwater photography, what would it be?
Be comfortable in the water and with holding your breath. Holding your breath over many hours, often in pools heated up to 35 degrees, can be very demanding on your body. You need to be fit and healthy with lots of stamina. Basically, you need to be as good as you were photographing the first child as you are when you’re photographing the 120th child in an all-day photoshoot! This is the key part of generating consistent results time after time for the customers and franchisee.
Find out more!
We also cater for swim schools, schools and other swimming clubs. During swimming lessons, children can come in groups of 4-6 for 3 sets of action shots and one underwater portrait. As long as the children are happy swimming in front of the camera, we’re happy to snap away!
Underwater photography is just one of the many strands of photography that Spencer is skilled in. To find out about some of the other photography services we offer, click here.We hope you’ve found this insight into Spencer’s underwater photography background interesting! To see some of his more recent underwater projects, check out the portfolio section on our website.