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Cenotes: Concepts

Lesson 7 from: The Summer Photography Workshop

Alex Strohl

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Lesson Info

7. Cenotes: Concepts

For this shoot we aim for high noon and explore what we can do with light beams shooting directly into these underground pools. Expand on underwater photography and action shots in unique light. Includes: Underwater Camera Settings - Framing Tips - Finding The Best Angles - Shooting Harsh Light - Adding Production Value For Cheap.

Lesson Info

Cenotes: Concepts

(camera clicking) This is my favorite chapter of the workshop because of how it all went. (ambient music begins) I talk a lot about expectations, and this is one of the rare cases where everything came through. This part of Mexico is super famous for its cenotes, which are these pristine turquoise freshwater pools that scatter the landscape. You'll see what my approach is in terms of angles, gear, framing, and story. Seriously, these are some of my favorite shots I've ever taken, and it's mainly due to a bold, spontaneous idea that I had in the cenote and that I'd followed through. So if you only take away one thing in this chapter, just one, it's: be bold, and don't be afraid to act. (upbeat music begins) (camera clicking) (upbeat music continues) We woke up super early (birds chirping) this morning and drove to the cenote in San Lorenzo, which is an hour and a half from Tulum. Very excited because it's iconic. It's this big round hole with blue water at the bottom and just massive ...

cliffs on the side. It's just right here, actually. Two rope swings: one here, I don't know if it's a rope swing or not. It's 60 feet down here. But there's one lower where, actually, I wanna have somebody jump. That might be you, Will. Do you wanna do it? Yeah. Sounds great. To get soft light, I could have come here early in the morning, but I decided to come at 11, just so the sun is right above the cenote. The water is gonna be this explosive blue and it's gonna work out perfectly for the photos I wanna take. Try to have some form of shot list. It doesn't have to be super fancy or advanced, just the three shots you wanna take, the two shots you wanna take here. I wanna get somebody jumping from the rope swing, like I said earlier, maybe you, Will. Somebody jumping from the rope swing shot from underwater with the underwater housing. So, like, a split. And the last one is Andrea floating in the cenote. It's the entrance to the earth. The mouth of the cenote has actually 73 stairs leading into it. And the sun should be ready in about 20, hopefully 20 minutes, trace gets set up. (ambient music continues) (camera cover rotating off) May even get me spitting on it. Are you excited about that? (zipper opening) There's the mushroom, the atomic mushroom. (mouth spitting) And this is the best shot. Rub it. (mouth spitting) You should do this before leaving. It's good to rinse it every time you put it in the ocean water too. After shooting in this, in the ocean, little rinse in the shower. (mouth spitting) You've gotta be generous, just spit. I'm checking the light here, And it looks to be pretty. We go between clouds and sun up there. So it's either super bright and then soft. Before I put this in the underwater case, I wanna have my right settings. (camera clicking) This is one of these places where you have to take a bunch of test shots because the light meter is so overwhelmed, the internal light meter, it just creates this sort of spiral of gray light. That's how it calculates the exposure: just makes this spiral and averages everything. That and that and that. So it's just reading the scene. So it's always ideal for this. Will, did you see the rope swing? I just saw it now. (photographer laughing) Do you wanna jump? I don't think Andrea's gonna wanna do it. Wanna start with that? Get fresh, and then? I'm pretty sweaty. Okay. Let's do it. So before Will jumps, I wanna scout the best spot for the rope swing. (sentimental piano music begins) I went down the platform, I went up, and I think it's better to be up, because the higher I am, the less I see the outside. So I can be, I can have my camera more like this instead of like this, and the outside is very bright. So I'm gonna try it from up here first. I think I'm gonna try first off angle. Not straight down, to the side. So the person who jumps is actually in the light. Yeah, if we're here straight down, Will, who's gonna jump, is gonna be in the shadow. But if you just move to the side of it, then boom, you're in the light. The sun is actually gonna be hitting Will. On the other episode about the ruins, we were talking about expectations. Well, sometimes things happen. And this is exactly what we expected. So I'm super happy. (camera clicking) (camera clicking) (photographer laughing) (camera clicking) (photographer cheering) (camera clicking) (camera clicking) Should be seals on them. (camera clicking) Cameras are in the housing, got my settings on shutter speed priority, ISO auto, and I'm gonna shoot Andrea jumping in the water. So before I go, I'm gonna check my seals. They are pretty dark if you can see. Seem pretty dark. Tight. Double check this, flashes, and a test shot. It works. Shooting photos underwater has become so important for me. It's like this new world that appears under the surface, because I can go somewhere bring a drone and get aerials, and then boom, go underwater, and then shoot another perspective from it. And that helps me build sets. And I always strive to build sets in a shoot, because they tell a deeper story than just one iconic shot. So if you're looking into shooting photos underwater, you're probably wanting to get splits. The first half of the image underneath is underwater and then the other half is over the water. So it's inside, outside. It makes this cool effect, and to get them, you need a special dome for your camera. The bigger your lens board, the easier it is. That's why I have this gigantic mushroom there, because it makes the domes easy. That's from AquaTech, but if you have a camera housing, get a bigger dome. And if you have a GoPro, get a special port. The other tricky part of shooting underwater is the focusing. You have to be careful, because there's distortion underwater. So if you're focused almost at infinity outside of the water, as soon as you jump in, it's all gonna be blurry, even if your subject is super far away inside the water. You have to pick your battles. Do you want the outside to be on focus, or the inside to be on focus? We convinced the guys from the cenote to make some fog. Hopefully the sun peaks through and makes rays. This was one of these moments where you have this idea and you know you have to make it happen. The sun coming in through the cenote. And I was like, man, I wish we had some fog. For my last shot, I just wanna get Andrea floating in the middle of the cenote. We're just waiting for the sun to poke through and get it. (camera clicking) A little sneak peek. Yep. You're gonna set the place on fire. We're not stopping, just get more. (camera clicking) I'm seeing a lot of smoke on the surface of the water. I'm gonna head down and shoot it. So don't be afraid to alter the environment and change it to your advantage. If you have an idea, just ask. The worst thing they can say is "no." I could have just stayed at the idea stage and been like, oh, it would've been cool to do that. But making it happen feels so good. You own these photos. They're unique to you now. You bring your own touch there. These might be the best ones from Mexico so far. When it came out, I was like, man, I'm missing something. And I saw Andrea just drying out in front of the cenote with this smoke in the back. And I was like, I better take some closeups of this. When you think you're done, you're probably not. You can always get a couple extra photos. That's just a happy accident. So no matter how much you plan things, it's good to be open and let these little things happen. (ambient music continues) That was a blast. These are some of my favorite photos I've taken in a while. I still can't believe these guys smoked up the whole cenote for us. I mean, when I look at the photos, I can see it was worth it to go through all this effort to smoke it up. But I still had to paint a visual picture for the guys, get them excited about it. So again, when you're going on a trip and you wanna come back with photos that are unique to this place, make sure to pick things and go to places that are iconic. And don't get me wrong, it doesn't have to be the most touristy spots or where everybody goes, but just places that you think represent it and are iconic. It's your trip, it's your photos: carve your own path.

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