Underwater Art and Photography by David Benz and Melanie Schuler – with Interview

Thanks for doing this interview with THE EYE, can you first give a short introduction, who are David and Melanie? 

We are the team from Art & Water, founded in 2008, specializing in professional underwater photography. Aesthetic, mystical and magical. Images of quirky creatures, mysterious mermaids and sirens, colorful reef scapes and fairy tale life from the wide depths of the seven seas. Art & Water? We often get asked what´s behind this name. What is behind this label? Just one click to our website brings clarification. We are presenting extraordinary and distinctive photographs of mermaids and sirens. As underwaterphotographer and dive model we are now hunting together on subjects for photographs in the depths of the oceans, investigating, and writing for over 2 years now. As an involved team of authors and photographers we are travelling for our delighted readers all around the world and are reporting from heavenly diving destinations, superb resorts and the wonderful underwater world on-site. Thereby we are always risking a look behind the scenes, apart from the ordinary tourism and the regular inquiries. “Not only scratching the surface” is our device. In doing our works we got to know most of the world´s oceans very and fell in love with them. We portraited whale sharks in the Pacific, dived with leopard sharks and ghostpipefishes at the wrecks of the Andaman Sea, photographed dolphins and stingrays at the Caribbean and Red Sea. At the beginning of 2008, and with the foundation of Art & Water, the idea of model photography underwater was born. For us a liaison of feminine and maritime beauty. Because of the sensuality of our models, the interaction of daylight and location our photographs should generate a natural, contrastry and simultaneously a captivating atmosphere. It is for both of us the ultimate way of photography to show a body underwater in an aesthetic and beautiful illustration. Thereby it is about sensuality, a little bit eroticism, magic and expressevity. Sex sells? Certainly. But not for Art & Water. We are renouncing ourselves consciously from cheapest nude photographs in boring swimming-pools. Not the degree of nudity makes an image lovely but rather the story which is told by the photographs. Savage and vulgar underwater images of adorable mermaids do not belong to our repertoire. Currently we belong to the best and most successful underwatermodel photographers in Germany and beyond. 001

How come you are shooting together and do each of you have a specific role / specialty / preference while doing so? 

David: Underwater images are very difficult to produce on its own. Are you acting as a team it´s much more easier. My partner Melanie is not only acting as dive model but rather also helpful with sighting of scenes and in difficult light situation, for example at modelshootings. Melanie: The distribiution of rolls was clear from beginning. My partner David is working as underwaterphotographer. Me, I´m the dive model. During our reporting I´m acting as interpreter and I´m responsible for the development of our reportage.

The ocean is a big place, what is the best location in your opinion to shoot and why? 

To find the right place is always a gamble. We say: “at the right time being at the right place.” Often it is just fortune. Basically we stay just in small depths until 30 metres, where the ocean is flooded with light and the colours are livelier and more intense. Determining our photoshootings on just one place would be worng. The world´s oceans have so much to offer and host new surprises daily.

Can you tell us an anecdote which happened to you while diving?

David: For me the most quirky and unforgettable experience was a “friendship” with a trumpetfish in the Caribbean. During my dives on Curaçao a trusting trompetfish followed me for a week like a dog follows his master. Hardly submerged he swam by my side, obviously searching for my proximity and did not leave me before I went out of the water. This scenario repeated itself for one week, day by day. Melanie: The most lovely experience I had until now was with a turtle, also in the Caribbean. She crossed my path, was swimming close to me and it seemed like the turtle wanted to show me the beauty of “her world”. Only then, after half an hour, she swam away and left into the open ocean. It was a wonderful feeling, having this turtle so close to me for such a long time.

I once was scuba diving in Aruba and saw a lost hammerhead shark swimming which made a lasting impression on me, did you have any encounters which you’ll never forget? 

Ohhhhhh yes. We did. We went for a dive on 30 metres on Southern Leyte (Philippines) to photograph the smallest of the smallest adorable creatures: barely 8mm pygmy seahorses. The heaven above went dark as 2 whale sharks (nearly 12 metres long) turned their circles above our heads. Until we finished our dive and went to the water surface three more of these giants crossed our path. In this particular case it means: right time, right place. But unfortunately with the false objective. Lots of divers need a whole life to see just one whale shark from a distance, we had 5 of them during our dive, within our reach. This encounter we will never forget. Never. What kind of equipment do you use to photograph underwater? David: Since the beginning of underwaterphotography I used OLYMPUS and still stick to my decision until today with this brand. My first camera was an OLYMPUS C-5060, followed by an OLYMPUS E-330 and E-30. Today we take photographs only with the professional model E-5. For the different types of cameras I always used the extra customized carbon-housings of BS-Kinetics.

Do you use artificial lightning?

David: Like I always indicate in our photo workshops: light is really important doing underwaterphotography. For the perfect illumination I use two amphibious flashes. Two INON Z-240 take care of enough illumination and enough light in difficult moments. As special lighting and illumination during our modelshootings underwater we cooperate with SEATEC-Underwatersystems. Thereby we use special lamps underwater to obtain a mystical cue state.

What is the biggest challenge working underwater?

Melanie: Especially for our underwatermodels it is very difficult to act really safe and relaxed in the depths of the ocean. We are trying to tell real stories with our images. Transforming them on the ground of the ocean is a real challenge. Also for me, as dive model, the job is also not easy every time. Strong currents, extreme depths and also the proximity to “dangerous” animals demand full concentration and use of physical strength. David: For me as a photographer working underwater is always a challenge. Some creatures are that small, that you hardly can see with the naked eye. Portraiting them in 35 metres depths with a strong current is sometimes really impossible. However, beneath such challenges often the best images are arising.

How did you get interested in underwater photography? 

Melanie: Due to my first holiday together with David on Mallorca, Spain, I discovered the love to the ocean while doing my first snorkeling. Real soon I learned diving to see much more of these magic characters and beautiful coral gardens. During my first official dive on Curaçao a big swarm of small fishes sourrounded me and immediately I began posing so my partner was able to make some impressive photographs of me and the fish swarm. From this moment on I was the underwatermodel. David: Already in 1997, at my first trip to the Caribbean, the underwaterphotography was a topic for me. I wanted to bring the people closer to this foreign and weird world underwater with my images. Although the possibilities were limited and digital photography was not a subject at all. The first photographs were taken by a disposable camera. Today I´m smirking about it, but everybody begins in a small way. Even today I hope to delight the readers of our stories and observers of our images and to show, how beautiful and quirky the ocean and it´s residents can be.

Do you have favorite animals to photograph?

David: For me the smallest are the biggest. The smaller a theme is the bigger is the challenge for me as underwaterphotographer. Beside macro photography also whale sharks, stingrays and turtles belong to the most impressive underwaterthemes, if not a mermaid is crossing our way.

What are some must-have travel items for you? 

David: This is really clear: my photo equipment. No holiday or even a trip into the bathtub without my camera. Melanie: Anyhow a pair of sneakers for trips into the jungle. And then I´ll snatch David´s camera to paint the world red.

Do you post-process your photos digitally, if so what is your favorite program?

David: Because of bad light- and viewing conditions you often have to go back to image editing programs. Images editing YES, images sophisticating and manipulating NO. We are using Adobe Lightroom and Corel Paint Shop for our image editing and finalisation.

Suppose you can pick one assignment anywhere, about anything you would like, what would that be and why?

Melanie: This is for sure a really difficult question, because there are unfortunately too many beautiful places on earth. I wouldn´t choose only a location for diving but also a country, where culture and differences couldn´t be more different over our local life. Personally I would say that next year a big dream will be realized with working on Papua New Guinea. David: What shall I say? My partner Melanie said everything in a nutshell. However I want to distinguish two more places. On the one hand I´d like to have an underwatershooting on the Bahamas with tiger sharks or the stingrays which live there. On the other hand the eternal paradise South Pacific. We´re working on it and we are hoping to realize these jobs as well.

We interview photographers for this magazine so our readers can get inspiration and learn. Who have been/are an inspiration to you and why?

David: My inspiration, my mentor for becoming an underwaterphotographer was Herbert Frei. Germany´s most known and experienced underwaterphotographer. A meeting with him smoothed my way and so today I am there where I am. Useful tips, tricks and a lot of exercise hours together let me, as his foster-son, grew up to a professional underwaterphotographer. Thanks, Herbert!

Do you have any tips for our readers regarding photographing underwater and photography in general?

David: The most important is, and we are always preaching this on our workshops again and again, to take some time. The time is the be-all and end-all for the design and the realization of a perfect photograph. Without taking yourself some time only medium images will be developed. Melanie: For realization of our images it can happen that we are staying for 45 minutes at one place to get the perfect shot. And sometimes nature is predetermining the time we have to take for ourselves. Image art&water (41)

What is the major difference between shooting underwater and on dry land, except of course the water?

Melanie: First of all it´s much more difficult to move your body underwater. You have to pay attention at so many things: the current, things you should not touch, often there are difficult light- and sight conditions. David: It´s getting difficult to realize the perfect image if there are so many fine particles in the water. The rising colour elaboration which is growing with depth and the increasing darkness surely make the biggest differences between topside- and underwaterphotography. Image art&water (42)

With the digital revolution of photo cameras we have the chance to shoot just everything we want. How many photos do you shoot on average during one dive and how many of them do you consider to be good? 

David: With my first digital camera I really photographed everything underwater what moved. The result was up to 150 images per dive, from which only 5 photographs were suitable. Today we are moving with the best technical equipment and technology and also with the necessary eye for the theme underwater. Per dive we are now producing up to 50 images, from which averaged half of the photographs can be taken for processing.

I can imagine when shooting animals you have hardly any control over your subject, you just need to be at a place where you find animals. Any tricks you use to find good spots?

Good spots aren´t just there. It is important to prepare yourself on the dive area you want to visit, to read some books and to inform yourself well about the dive sites. Locally you should go back to experienced dive guides. After a few dives you will perceive by yourself where to find the best themes. Because of the behaviour pattern of the animals we also know, where it is profitable to have our camera ready and where not.

Do you shoot on assignments or is your photographing a very good hobby?

What was a hobby for us in the beginning has turned into professional work as time passed by. We are writing for different diving magazines, online as well as for printmedia. Also we work for tour operators or rather hotels and resorts which book us for photo series. For our sponsors like OLYMPUS, SUBGEAR, SEATEC or BS-KINETICS we create promotional photographs, testing the newest material and are perfecting our works around the globe with their support. A job which makes no millions, but never-ending fun and pleasure. Thanks David and Melanie for talking to us! Website Facebook

More amazing underwater photography:

logoPXL This interview is part of pxleyes magazine “THE EYE”. Interview done by: Robvdn

Image art&water (01) Image art&water (4)


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3 Responses:

  1. Dafni Kosmidou says:

    You are so lucky to live the absolute freedom and beauty of the deep water!!!Thank you for sharing it with us.

    ( 2 years and 2639 days ago )
  2. erzelya1 says:

    nice nice

    ( 2 years and 2582 days ago )
  3. Sally Mingle says:

    The pictures are gorgeous, guys! I’m looking at them and wondering if they are actually real! I mean I know they are but it’s hard to imagine that such a beauty actually exists. These mermaid pictures reminded me of an old Deftones video http://mp3pole.com/video/f0pdwd0miqs/Deftones-Sextape-HD-Official-Music-Video The pics are so mysterious and mesmerizing, I’m totally into them!

    ( 2 years and 2539 days ago )