Photographing a Kayaker Underwater with Strobes for Red Bull

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All images by Juan Luis de Heeckeren. Used with permission

Juan Luis de Heeckeren is a Chilean photographer that was recently contracted by Red Bull to develop a creative portrait series around Red Bull Kayaker Viktoria Wolffhardt. He has dedícated most of his life practicing action sports and capturing images of them. In fact, Red Bull, The North Face, Quiksilver, Patagonia and others have hired him before. Juan also works as a Photo Editor for different magazines.

But when he was hired to do this shoot, Juan wanted to do something completely different. It resulted in Ms. Wolffhardt being shot underwater for much of the shoot.

Be sure to also check out Juan on Facebook and Instagram.

Phoblographer: What made you get into shooting water sports based images?

Jean: I`ve always been around sports, mainly action sports. And i love the ocean too, so i try to be around the ocean or water every time i can. I started shooting my friends surfing, windsurfing, wake boarding, etc since i was a kid. In Chile we used to do this this kind of sports and the canvas for shooting is amazing, so I love to do it.

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Phoblographer: When you were pitched the idea of shooting underwater, what were some of the first thoughts that came to your mind?

Jean: I wanted to do something surreal thats why I thought about doing this underwater, it’s always like been like another world.

Phoblographer: Where did the creative inspiration for the shoot come from? How did that affect the lighting?


Jean: There are some surf photographers that I usually see photos on social media who have nice underwater images like Sara Lee or Morgan Maasen, but I didn’t want the same style and instead some dreamy stuff that I like. I try to use light in a way that would look normal to the viewer, like if the sun would be passing through the water. That was a challenge on the action photo because as she was upside down, most of the light was coming from the bottom of her and I had to bounce it in a way that would look real.

Phoblographer: This is a very wild idea. When you pitched it to Viktoria Wolffhardt, was she immediately willing to do it?

Jean: Yeah she was stoked! She is very nice, beautiful, and with lots of energy and made the shoot so easy!

Phoblographer: How much logistical planning went into this shoot?

Jean: We work a lot, it was hard to find the right location for the set up. We started trying some lighting on the lake, then on an Olympic pool, and we ended up using the pool of Hotel Ebners Waldhof at Fuschl because it had good enough space to set up the lights because it was not very deep.

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Phoblographer: How much work was done underwater to actually get these poses? Posing underwater isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

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Jean: We previously worked in the studio with Viktoria looking for her best angles, working on some ideas and poses. So when we were on the actual location she knew what to do, we had only 3 hrs to set up the lights, shoot and pack, so we had to be fast. Viktoria was so good on posing, she is very photogenic, and very relaxed on the shooting even though she had been in few photoshoots before.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you used.

Jean: I used my surf photography gear, that was not easy because is not the best year to shoot an assignment like this. The housing has few controls and there no possibility to sync with external flashes.

I used a Nikon D4 with 105mm and 50mm Nikkor lenses and a Aquatech housing with a nikon SB 910 speedlight with its housing. I had to take the flash out of the housing from the original mount (with this mount you can only direct the light forward) and try to direct the light to the Broncolor Move’s photocells that were out of the pool. The Moves are amazing, they have lots of power and they are easy to move around.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.