In episode #52 host Brett Stanley chats with landscape photographer turned underwater photographer Adam Attoun.
Based in Reading California, Adam talks about his background in landscape photography and how he’s brought many of those techniques and aesthetics into his underwater portrait work. We dig in to his process, how he gets such a unique look to his photographs, and how the Northern California weather really limits his shooting days!
Photography has been a passion of mine since childhood. Current interests pertain to both portraiture and fine art landscape photography. Within the realm of portraiture, I generally employ a traditional approach to photographing my subjects, but also enjoy adding a creative flare to many portrait sessions; and have relatively recently taken to the underworld, offering unique underwater portrait sessions that take place during the warm summer months here in Redding.
An equal amount of time is dedicated to landscape photography, in which I particularly enjoy photographing my surroundings in beautiful northern California. That said, I routinely take photography trips throughout the US and beyond in an effort to broaden my reach.
I always strive for the highest quality of images possible, which entails the use of high resolution digital cameras, the sharpest of lenses, a wide array of studio lights and light modifiers, as well as cutting edge computer and graphics equipment, all of which get upgraded over time with evolving technologies. Feel free to contact me at any time should you have any questions.
Ep 52 – Adam Attoun
[00:00:00] Brett Stanley: Welcome back to the underwater podcast. And this week I’m talking to landscape photographer, turned underwater photographer, Adam Mattoon. Based in Redding, California, Adam talks about his background in landscape photography and how he’s brought many of those techniques and aesthetics into his underwater portrait
We dig into his process, how he gets such a unique look to his photographs and how the Northern California weather really limits his shooting days. All right. Let’s dive in. Adam, welcome to the Underwater Podcast.
[00:01:02] Adam Attoun: Well, thanks sincerely for having me.
[00:01:04] Brett Stanley: It’s great to have you here. I I’ve been watching your work for, for the last few years and, and I’m just blown away by the, by the quality and the uniqueness of it. how did you kind of start in the underwater world? Is it, was that something that you’d always wanted to do or was it just something that you stumbled across?
What, what was your kind of entry.
[00:01:22] Adam Attoun: well, I, I always prefer taking pictures. and generally I shoot conventional portraits or landscapes, but where I live, it’s extremely hot during the summer, so there’s not much in the way of landscape photography, and it’s pretty much too hot to take conventional portraits. So I was just sitting in my pool one day
[00:01:41] Brett Stanley: Right.
[00:01:42] Adam Attoun: just the idea popped in my head
and I had seen a few underwater pictures prior, but I really didn’t know anything.
[00:01:48] Brett Stanley: Did you have an affiliation with water beforehand or was it just something where you were like, Oh, I wonder what this is gonna be like if I take the camera under the water?
[00:01:56] Adam Attoun: I’ve always preferred being in the water. I swim prior to work every morning. Enjoy summers in the pool. But no, I’d never thought prior about taking underwater portraits. You know, like I said, I had seen a few portraits prior, but didn’t really think much of it. Didn’t think about the technique, didn’t know who the photographers were, and it just popped in my head hey, it’s something I can do during this summer,
[00:02:16] Brett Stanley: Yeah, that’s perfect. How long ago was that? Like how long have you been just shooting underwater for at this.
[00:02:22] Adam Attoun: Oh gosh, let’s see. It’s been about eight years now, but generally I can only. During the summer and primarily during the month of July. So in theory you could say I’ve been shooting for eight months now,
[00:02:35] Brett Stanley: Right. Yeah. Okay.
Cause whereabouts are you? We, you’re, you are in California Some.
[00:02:41] Adam Attoun: I’m in far northern California in a small town called Redding, which is about two and a half hours north of Sacramento in about three hours from San Francisco.
[00:02:50] Brett Stanley: Oh, okay. And is it, is it high in the mountains or something? You have such a short amount of, Of summer, you must be some.
[00:02:57] Adam Attoun: um, no summer last, It’s just that where I live specifically within Redding, my pool just doesn’t stay as warm as I prefer. But in terms of elevation, no. We’re, we’re Nestle at the foothills of some mountain ranges. So it does get quite hot here during the summer. I think just given the location, the GE.
The air tends to settle. The sun is quite intense, so we can sometimes reach, you know, upwards of 110 plus degrees for over a week or two, which is nice for the pool. But even when the temperatures are around 95, I, you know, I’m a big wimp when it comes to cold water,
[00:03:33] Brett Stanley: right.
[00:03:34] Adam Attoun: so my pool’s never warm enough for me.
But yeah, when it’s 110, it’s great.
[00:03:39] Brett Stanley: Oh, okay. Is, is your pool kind of heated or is it just heated from the sun?
[00:03:43] Adam Attoun: Now it’s heated from the sun and within Redding I live in sort of somewhat of an elevation if you would consider it. So my pool probably, and it’s pretty deep because it has a diving board, and when you have a diving board, there’s a code. It has to be a certain depth. And so it just, you know, I don’t have an actual heater rely solely on the sun and it’s most people can tolerate it.
I can tolerate it and it’s great when you’ve been out working in the yard, Whatever you wanna cool off, it’s great in that. But uh, yeah, I’m just a big wimp
[00:04:13] Brett Stanley: Yeah, no, I get it. Totally. we used to live in a, an apartment building and that had a pool that was only heated by the sun. And I think because it was in the middle of the apartment building, it only got the sun like three hours a day. And uh, it was always cold. Like you, it was just freezing. So I totally understand. I, I have a pool now that is gas heated. And it, it means that I can shoot all year round, so I totally underst. The, you know, being not having that would really limit your kind of season of, of shooting.
[00:04:42] Adam Attoun: At limited, but I’m also grateful because in truth, I don’t think I’d want to shoot all year. I, I prefer landscape photography. And so I can devote more time to, to landscapes in that, in that sense. And it helps concentrate my sessions throughout, you know, for a shorter duration of of the season.
[00:05:02] Brett Stanley: Yeah, so, so that’s how you prefer to work. You’d rather do like, just set aside a month to shoot, you know, an amazing amount of content and kind of work on that and then kind of be done. You like that kind of compartmentalizing.
[00:05:15] Adam Attoun: Exactly. I do. I, like I said, I think my true passion, at least at this point at least, is landscape photography, conventional portraits. I, I fit in, you know, most of the year outside of summer, and they just kind of fall in between my landscape sessions. But yeah, no, I, I generally prefer just separating u underwater from everything.
[00:05:35] Brett Stanley: How do you go um, with the editing and stuff? Do you kind of spend like a month shooting everything and then you edit for the rest of the year, or are you kind of trying to fit the editing in as much as possible as well?
[00:05:47] Adam Attoun: I’ve always prided myself on the ability to give people their pictures very quickly. So generally speaking, I, I try to shoot and then edit, shoot, then edit. It doesn’t always work out that way. Oftentimes I have back to back sessions one evening after the next. And so I can’t always get to editing.
But it’s not uncommon that I have a week or two of vacation from work during the summer, in which time I can devote a lot of time to editing. I usually get caught up during that period.
[00:06:15] Brett Stanley: And your editing process is, it seems like it’s quite a, like a chunk of your work cuz you, your images are so polished and so um, produced, I guess for lack of a better word. Do you spend a lot of time in the editing suite?
[00:06:29] Adam Attoun: Yes and no. It just, it, it just depends on, on the given situation. It depends on my mood, depends on the original image, Depends on the, on the, on the subject, how comfortable or qual how, how comfortable they are in the water. So there are a lot variables regarding post-processing in that.
[00:06:47] Brett Stanley: And what are those kind of variables like? Are you getting any. Feedback from the models or from the clients in terms of what they want as the end result, or is this kind of a more of an artistic process for you in terms of what the end result looks?
[00:07:03] Adam Attoun: I generally don’t have a preconceived idea of what the images are going to look like. There have been one or two occasions when I’ve tried to adhere to a certain theme, but in general I pretty much randomly throw on fabrics get the person in the pool and we get what we get. And rarely is anything actually planned.
I’ve had a few people bring certain outfits that they that they want to try, and oftentimes those are themed and so those are somewhat preplanned, but more on their part. I generally don’t know in advance what I’m going to be doing.
[00:07:36] Brett Stanley: A and do you like to work that way? Do you kind of like not knowing what’s gonna.
[00:07:40] Adam Attoun: Uh, That’s a good question. I think I get satisfaction on the rare occasions when I, I know in advance what I want to do. I think When, when I don’t have a specific agenda you know, and, and don’t get me wrong, I do like the, the randomness of everything, but by the same token I, I do enjoy specific ideas.
In fact, I, I do have one idea just popped in my head. From a Facebook post, I forgot . It was a recent post, and somehow I got on the topic of the rock band kiss, which was my favorite rock band as a kid. And to this day, I, I don’t wanna change the topic here, but in any
[00:08:16] Brett Stanley: No, no, it’s
[00:08:18] Adam Attoun: The idea came to me to do an underwater kiss shoot with four subject wearing kiss makeup.
I think that would be, that would be pretty neat for
[00:08:25] Brett Stanley: Yeah. And is that kind of where your inspirations come from? Is it just
kind of random stuff that kind of pops in and you’re like, Let’s try this under.
[00:08:33] Adam Attoun: No, not really. I think at this point, honestly, I’m, I’m lacking inspiration. I’ve, I, I feel like I’ve lost a lot of my creativity. I, I learned through experimentation with no specific ideas in mind. It generally, I would just try different things at first and over time you know, I just, you know, perfected my current technique.
To the point now that everything is relatively routine. In the beginning it was, it was a lot of fun given the experimentation and the continuous learning. I, I think. It would be nice to come up with some specific ideas. At this point, I don’t have many, so I often tend to rely on, on my subjects if they have a specific idea.
Otherwise, if they don’t, then it’s pretty much gonna be status quo. I’m gonna put ’em in a dress, I’m gonna drape some fabrics, fabrics around them, throw them in the water, and then we see what we get.
[00:09:23] Brett Stanley: Right. Yeah. So you kind of go back to your Yeah. You go standard process. are, you know, you’re not inspired to, to push yourself out of that that box, I guess. Do you find that? Because you do a lot of landscapes, do you find that the difference between the landscapes and say the, like this underwater studio work that you are, because you’re kind of stuck with that studio Do you find that the, the shooting in the studio kind of forces you to be more creative, which takes more energy as opposed to when you go and shoot landscapes because the landscape is already there. In the studio, you have to kind of, I guess, bring everything in if you want to have a
different look to. Do you find that there’s, That one’s a little easier than the other?
[00:10:08] Adam Attoun: I think they’re both difficult in their own right. I think that again, at this point underwater for me is. Pretty routine. I don’t tend to bring a lot of props and whatnot into the water. You know, a lot of photographers you in particular, I, I strongly admire for your ability to create these elaborate underwater sets, which I unfortunately just, I don’t think I have the patience nor the time.
You know, I, I tend to work Monday through Friday, and so I, I can’t devote as much time, for example, to the pool. You know, I’m constant. Taking care of and cleaning the pool. And so if I were to build a, a, a, a big set in the water, then it would be hard for me to just leave it there because, you know, things move, things move around in the water when I’m not there.
And again, time wise, I just, I, it would be, it would be pretty difficult for me to find that type of time, but I do admire your in particular ability to, to create these sets. They’re, they’re magical. I, I wish I had that , you know, and it’s not my style, to be honest, at least at this point.
[00:11:08] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:11:08] Adam Attoun: I’m, I’m doing what I do.
It’s, I’ve created my own sort of niche in terms of a style and you know, although it’s routine for me, I continue to do it in part because a lot of people, you know, they, they, they request it. And so I’ll continue producing as long as people want it. From my standpoint, it was certainly helped to evolve re compared to landscape photography.
There are infinite possibilities in terms of what can be shot underwater. You know, landscape, like you said, you’re you’ve got a few different angles. You’ve got light. Now the difference with landscape is you have infinite locations you could theoretically shoot from. Again, I don’t always have the luxury of, of traveling everywhere.
I’d like to go. But yeah, there are, there are huge differences between landscape photography and underwater. Underwater is different from pretty much any other type of photography or modeling from that standpoint, every model I’ve shot said it’s different from everything they’ve ever done. So yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s very difficult to compare underwater with, with most other types of photography.
I think. There is some similarity to studio work in the sense that you’re using, or in my case at least, I’m using strobes and you sometimes have to worry about lighting angles, quality of the softness or the harshness of the light shadows and whatnot. So I guess you could, you could equate it somewhat to conventional studio portraiture, but otherwise it deviates far from.
[00:12:28] Brett Stanley: Yeah, I have to agree. It’s kind of so my journey, it seems. A lot like yours in terms of, I started, you know, shooting landscapes and I love shooting landscapes, but I just, I don’t really do much of that anymore. But then I transitioned into the underwater studio work and for me, what I found was the reason that I loved landscape so much was because all I needed to do was kind of turn up and nature had done everything for me. I just needed to get the right timing and. Then I could make something beautiful out of it. Whereas with the underwater studio work for me, I find that it’s I have to bring everything in. So, so that’s why I tend to build these sets and kind of do stupid stuff under the water with things that don’t belong there, because I’m trying to, I guess, get the of a landscape, but trying to do that in a studio sort of situation for me, especially underwater, I love shooting underwater open water like in the ocean or in in Springs and that sort of stuff because the landscape photographer in me loves that landscape and all I’m doing is putting a model in there and trying to bring those two things together. So it’s interesting that you’ve. the same way, but you kind of like to keep the studio stuff more simple and a little bit more controlled, I guess.
[00:13:46] Adam Attoun: Yeah, I, I too, I agree with you. I love shooting in natural bodies of water. I’m very limited where I live. I’ve got a couple lakes and then any clear water is extraordinarily cold. And I’ve already alluded to the fact that I’m a whip when it comes to cold water. So I think the dream would be to go to like Thailand or Hawaii or Florida.
There are some beautiful underwater landscapes there in the water is much more tempered. I think that would be, But for, for now, I I’m pretty much limited to the pool.
[00:14:13] Brett Stanley: So so looking at your landscape work and I know that’s kind of where you came from, the lighting aesthetic and your landscapes are beautiful. Like, you know, my landscape work is, is nothing like what you create. You create these beautiful, almost fantastical. Hyper real scenes from, from these landscapes.
It’s, it’s more akin to what you feel when you’re there than what you actually maybe see, but it feels like you’ve brought those aesthetics into your underwater work as well.
[00:14:42] Adam Attoun: Yeah, I think um, my eye is, you know, I see things a certain way and so I think that. That is brought out in, in the style of my processing or lighting and in the way I treat my landscapes. I don’t I, I just try to create images for visual impact. To be truthful, it’s not necessarily something I might be feeling at the time.
I can assure you there’s not much joy in standing in, you know, minus 10 degree weather, shooting snow
[00:15:11] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:15:12] Adam Attoun: five in the morning or whatnot. So, yeah I just, I generally strive for uh, Visually appealing images, re regardless of you know, what I might be feeling at the time. , oftentimes it’s quite uncomfortable.
[00:15:25] Brett Stanley: Yeah. Yeah. Especially if the water’s a bit too cold.
[00:15:29] Adam Attoun: Yeah,
[00:15:30] Brett Stanley: No, I mean, that’s interesting cuz it’s, you know, and I shoot the same way. Like I, I don’t, I don’t tend to try and tell a story. I don’t try and tell. The viewer what to feel with an image. I tend to create something that is visually pleasing and then kind of look at it later on and think, How do I feel looking at this now?
Whereas a lot a. A lot of other photographers will work the other way around. They’ll, they’ll come up with a story or a, or a concept and they’ll wanna bring that concept through the imagery to kind of inform the viewer of what to of what they’re trying to convey. Whereas for me, I feel like I’m just opening it up.
It’s more like a poem, I guess, than an essay. You know, I’m not trying. Influence people. I’m, I’m more interested in what they see in it rather than what they think I saw in it.
[00:16:19] Adam Attoun: absolutely.
[00:16:20] Brett Stanley: Does it feel that way for you as well? Are you kind of less interested in, in what your feeling was at the time and more interested in what the viewer feels from it?
[00:16:30] Adam Attoun: Yeah, I I might you know, it’s kind of like music, you know, people interpret songs different ways or poetry, any type of art in reality. So this is no different in that sense. I might. You know, create an image. And again, I don’t necessarily have a preconceived notion of what I want this meaning or want, want the image to mean or what I’m going to be doing in advance.
But after the fact I’m not usually trying to tell stories with my pictures, but on occasion you can. Based on the models, facial expressions, pose, the way that everything flows or the lighting, you can create somewhat of a story or a meaning behind a particular image. And it’s always interesting to see other people’s take on, on what I might perceive it to be.
[00:17:14] Brett Stanley: Yeah, totally. And I think that’s the thing with, with posting things on social media is you do get people’s response to it. You do get people’s. Kind of interpretation of it. And I really love when people write that stuff on, on my images, for example. Kind of their interpretation of it. And it, it’s something like, Oh, I never even thought of that.
I didn’t even that. That’s not something I would’ve gone to. Where do you get your inspiration from? Is there something that you, that gave you this kind of visual style that influenced.
[00:17:44] Adam Attoun: You know, I’m, I’m, my style, I would say has evolved over time and you know, his, historically I was always a purist in terms of photography. I would take a picture and that’s, that’s what it was, you know? But now I tend to devote more time to the computer even back in the film era. I would use various techniques within the, in the dark room while processing my images.
And that’s, in a sense, comparable to Photoshop nowadays. It’s just, again, things have evolved to the point we’re all using Photoshop. So I’ve transitioned to, to, to Photoshop, to digital obviously. So my style has evolved in that sense. I, I’ve seen, and it, it started primarily with landscapes because, you know, landscape photography, there’s been a, a movement over the, over the years from, from a puristic type of style to more of an artistic type of style in terms of processing.
Uh, One of my favorite photographers for landscapes is a guy named Ryan Dyer who. Hugely influential in my style of landscape photography. I don’t try to emulate him per se, but I’ve learned a lot just in terms of his way of thinking that made me look at my images differently. Made me look at a specific scene differently.
And so based on my vision for landscapes, my processing evolv. Over time, and that translated into my processing for underwater portraits as well. So lighting for me has always been crucial in any type of photography, including conventional portraits. But the way a scene is lit, landscape wise, I often tend to try to emulate that underwater in terms of backlighting or directional.
[00:19:25] Brett Stanley: Yeah, it’s definitely, definitely something that I’ve noticed coming through. Cuz a lot of your landscapes and your underwater have very much a definite light source,
[00:19:36] Adam Attoun: It’s funny because I’ll go I’ll go out photographing with my buddies, and my style for landscape photographer generally is photographing into the light. In other words, my, my camera’s pointing toward the sun or the, you know, the, the horizon.
As, as the sun arises and it’s not uncommon, my buddies will beat.
Looking a different direction, and I’m like, No, you know, I, I can’t shoot that. I’ve gotta face the sun.
And so, The exact same thing can be said about underwater. I, I like to have, you know, light in my picture. I, I do use natural light, in which case, obviously things aren’t quite as directional.
It’s directional in sense. Strictly coming from above. But when I employ the use of my underwater strokes, then I can, I have much more directionality and you know, just various lighting, intensities and whatnot, which is generally what I prefer. I, I, some of my natural light images, I do it, I do like a lot.
But generally I prefer the ones with Theros because I have more control and I can employ the use of my usual landscape style in terms of the light. And I often tell people, and I have a general routine right now that I, I utilize when photographing people. I’ll, for example, I’ll start in the deep end.
Maybe I’ll put in a black, a back light, then I’ll go to the shallow in, then I’ll, then I’ll turn on Theros toward the end as it gets darker and. And I tell people these are generally going to be the best shots, and at least for my style, those are definitely the shots that I tend to prefer from any given session.
And again, it’s not that there are several natural light pictures that I, I I very much like that I have taken. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just my style tends to gravitate toward artificial ed or at least mimicking, you know, the sun in some.
[00:21:27] Brett Stanley: Yeah, so, so what you’re saying is that the, when the ambient light is getting darker and your strobes are starting to be more prominent, You feel like those are the better shots?
[00:21:36] Adam Attoun: I, I tend to enjoy that the most and, and I I’ve gotten great shots in my opinion, from the use of no lights And I do use strobes even when the sun is still out. So generally I tend to start my sessions close to sunset, usually around 6:00 PM ish or so.
And then I, I tend to just have the person, I’ll, I’ll start without any lights at all, just to kinda get the person warmed up and the sun is pretty, you know, intense.
But the. Pool is situated. I’m, I’m rarely shooting in the actual sunlight, so that’s in part why I start in the deep end for any given session because it’s in the shade at that point. And so I’ll tend to have the model swim around in the beginning with no lights. Because there’s a lot more flexibility.
Once I start bringing the lights in the water, then they have to be a little more disciplined in terms of the way they, they approach, you know, swimming and whatnot. They have to stay. Ideally, they would block the light with their body, because I don’t, I don’t know if you use back light often, but if aro points directly into the camera it’s pretty much an unusable image in that
case because it blows everything out.
[00:22:47] Brett Stanley: So that’s your kind of your, when you’ve got that, that strobe, underwater strobe sort of on the back wall of the pool or whatever, you’re having them block it with their body. So that they basically absorb the light and it just gives them those like a rim. And depending on how much particulate it’s in the water, it gives them that those kind of what we call god rays, I guess sort of coming out and, and the lighting up the fabric and all that sort of,
[00:23:10] Adam Attoun: Exactly, and it’s hard for them to control themselves often. So that’s in part why I I, I let them swim around prior with no lights at all because it’s much much more forgiving in terms of what they do. But Once they, and I’ve had the best, you know, underwater models that I’ve ever shot prior still have difficulties trying to stay in one spot, and I understand it’s difficult.
I don’t criticize because it’s, it’s, it’s extremely difficult modeling underwater especially if they have their eyes closed. So, I tend to just move left to right with the model, you know, opposite the model to try to keep the back light between them and the camera. And oftentimes I’m successful.
Sometimes I’m not fast enough because they’re close to the light. So if they move two inches, I’ll have to move two feet, you know,
[00:23:58] Brett Stanley: Yeah. Right.
[00:23:58] Adam Attoun: fast at times. And but yeah, I definitely try to keep the, the, the light out of the direct camera.
[00:24:06] Brett Stanley: And that’s definitely the thing, right, as being a, being a photographer, I think is being able to move yourself to get the right shot. You know, it’s not always about the model moving around and you’re just stationary. It is for me, especially a lot of the time, is me jump having to swim quickly from one side of the pool to the other to get that angle. That’s gonna make that shot work because the model’s moved a little bit and so you’re trying to compensate for that.
[00:24:31] Adam Attoun: Absolutely.
[00:24:32] Brett Stanley: So in terms of your lighting setup, I don’t know if you mind sort of breaking down a little bit of, of how you do light these images. I know, you know, we have a light behind the, the model is the rest of it, just the ambient light coming from.
[00:24:46] Adam Attoun: So I, I, it really varies. Sometimes I use ambient light above and then a back light. Sometimes I’ll bring sometimes I’ll use two, even three lights. Generally I prefer when I’m using more than one light. I, I prefer the main light source to come from the outside the pool, from the top side pointing down.
And I tend to use a soft box for that, or sometimes an umbrella just to spread the light out. And again, this is just my style. There’s no wrong or right way obviously, of doing it, but. Lighting really varies. It just, sometimes I’m in, I’m in the mood to try to experiment a little bit sometimes in the, I’m in the mood to, you know, create more of a, nothing compared to you, for example, but more of an elaborate setup for what I’m used to.
I might bring, you know, light stands and umbrellas or whatnot into the actual water underwater and, and play more like a conventional studio in that sense. But I wanna emphasize the fact that the person is underwater. And so in real life, you know, the main light source generally comes from top side.
You know, in real life you’re gonna have bubbles, you’re gonna have reflections. So I always strive for including the reflections and the bubbles and the, and create. Top light source, but obviously when you’re using more than one light then, and, and, and natural light is considered a, a main light in my opinion.
But anytime you introduce a, a light into the water itself, you know, it’s not natural anymore, which, and that’s fine. Obviously I’m not, I’m not seeking natural port natural light portraits per se. In any event, lighting just varies. I have my style that I prefer and that’s great cuz I can rely on that.
It’s also nice to try different lighting techniques. It, it really alters the effect of an image, the, the way you light it.
[00:26:33] Brett Stanley: Oh, totally. Uh, I think one of the things that, that strikes me about your images is that you do have, you know, these directional light sources that are very obvious, like the one from behind and possibly one from above. but the rest of the image seems to be very softly lit and very well lit.
You know, there’s no, it feels like the, the front light is very much, you know, a very large, soft light source, which just gives such a contrast to the hard light sources coming from behind. It’s beautiful.
[00:27:01] Adam Attoun: thank you. And that’s dependent in part on how bright the ambient light might be. I shoot, like I said, I started around six, and so there’s still quite a bit of light in the sky and it’s just a balancing STRs with the natural light in that case. But as the evening progresses, I’m relying solely on the strobes, and then I’m generally dealing with partial light with greater shadows.
But I’ve always preferred that I’ve generally preferred that sense of lighting even in my conventional studio portraits when using strobes and to an extent outdoors when using St. Strobes with outdoors. Again, it depends if you’re shooting at night or, or prior to darkness. But definitely regarding studio when you have complete control over every aspect of the lighting.
It’s similar when you’re shooting in the darkness underwater as. because you’re not relying on any ambient light to for any fill or anything like that. So things progress as the, as my sessions progress with time in terms of the natural ambient light that’s, and I’m used to that. So I’ve kind of dialed it in how I want to approach.
[00:28:08] Brett Stanley: And I think that’s great too, that you have that kind of over the session, you have that change of lighting, which you know, in one session gives you a few different kind of looks as well. And a few different options in terms of, of the actual visual style,
[00:28:23] Adam Attoun: You know, you brought up an important point that I, I think I’d like to address, and that is I, I don’t, I oftentimes don’t, Allow people wardrobe changes during a session. The problem with that is that they, they could easily end up with, you know, five or six of the exact same look
in in terms of the finished product.
And, and so I often will light things and use different backdrops or digital backdrops or whatnot. For just to create more of a variety for the actual subject. That, that way they, they don’t end up with five of the exact same pictures. I’d like them to get quite a variety. If I, if I had my way, each picture would be different and they tend to be, like I said, I use, I, I call them stations in my pool at 6:00 PM 6:00 PM I’ll start in the deep end, no lights.
Then I might throw in a back. Then I’ll go to a, a backdrop that I might have in the water. Then I might go to the shallow end with natural light. Then I’ll go to the shallow end with strobes and whatnot. So I, I have these stations throughout the, the evening and each station is a different look. And because it’s lit differently.
And so at the very least, people are gonna have five different looks cause that’s how many stations I tend to use. And so the only thing that doesn’t change in that sense is their wardrobe. And it’s not even uncommon that I change colors of the wardrobe just to again, give them that variety.
[00:29:48] Brett Stanley: Yeah, see, I think that’s a great way of doing it because you know, it, costume changes and that sort of stuff, you know, it takes time and especially if you’re not using assistance, you know, changing things up. Up, even lighting wise can take time. Cuz you’ve gotta get outta the pool, you gotta change things around. But having the ability to change the location and the lighting set up can totally change the the feeling and the look of that image dramatically. So
feel like what you’re doing is almost recycling or upcycling, I guess every image to something different. I do
a very similar thing in my pool as well.
You know, I have a shallow end, I have a deep end, you know, and there’s all these different corners and you get to know your pool. You know, you get to know, if I set this here and do this you know, I’m gonna get something very different to that and it’s gonna work for this particular outfit. It’s gonna look really good. So I feel like you kind of can dial things in and mix things up without really moving too.
[00:30:40] Adam Attoun: And that’s one benefit. You’ve, you kind of alluded to it earlier, how, you know everything’s right there for you. It’s not, you know, with, with landscapes, you, or even traveling to shoot, like in exotic locations underwater, you’re, you’re traveling and you’ve gotta bring everything with you. Whereas when you’re photographing in your pool, everything’s right there for you which is really convenient.
And . And in your case, you know, with all your, your big setups, I mean, you couldn’t do that necessarily. At least not easily, I think, I don’t know. In Florida, for example.
[00:31:09] Brett Stanley: No. I mean, I’d like to try, but yeah.
[00:31:12] Adam Attoun: Yeah.
[00:31:13] Brett Stanley: No, I mean, that’s the thing and that’s why I kind of, that’s why I love underwater studio photography so much because it does. And I hated studio photography above water. As in, you know, by the way, like I, I had a studio back in New Zealand when I was starting out and I kind of hated it cuz it was boring and I just didn’t really like it.
I liked taking people out into landscapes and shooting them in the real world, whereas now underwater here the underwater studio has something different. I, I still can’t kind of work out what it is. I mean, I know it’s water, but the difference that it makes just by filling the studio full of water you know, it gets me so excited to shoot in there every day. Whereas shooting in a studio above water, I think I would struggle to get the same kind of excite.
[00:32:00] Adam Attoun: Yeah. Yeah. I totally underst.
[00:32:02] Brett Stanley: And I think it’s just down to, you know, working out those different things. Like the, I love the reflection, I love bubbles. I love the texture of the water. I love what water does to the light when it comes through. You know, and it’s just things you couldn’t do anywhere else.
[00:32:15] Adam Attoun: That’s exactly true. I gotta, I gotta interject here, Brett, that I, I, I’m a huge fan of yours. I think your work is top notch. It’s unique. It’s it’s just you know, I don’t try to mimic other people. I, I try to hear it to my own style and create my own niche, but I think I’m in, in, in strong admiration of your work
as I know a lot of people are.
You have a huge following and for good reason.
[00:32:40] Brett Stanley: I
[00:32:40] Adam Attoun: So just a little side note there,
[00:32:42] Brett Stanley: Thanking you, This is when I get koy and blush. But it’s the same with your work, man. I’ve just, I’ve never seen anything like this underwater before. The way you, the way you light it and the way you work with fabrics and the way you get these poses out of these models is just incredible.
And the way you process it as well, your post-processing is, Believable. Which I think is the most important way of, of editing. There’s, you know, there’s so many different ways of, of post production. The one that’s most important to me is having something that there’s believable, and yours is, I know you, you, you do different things with backdrops and, and all sorts of stuff, but I never look at it and go, Oh, that’s what he’s done.
You know, usually I look at your work and go, This is incredible. Like, it’s seamless to me.
[00:33:32] Adam Attoun: Thank you.
[00:33:33] Brett Stanley: That is in itself, that is a,
[00:33:37] Adam Attoun: Well, I try to, I mean, it’s ideal when things are as natural as possible. I think one of the biggest things I strive for in my images is the sense of flow. And so I’ll often instruct models to move underwater in, in a, in a way that. Augments that sense of flow. Some people have obviously a more difficult time.
I’m sure you’re used to that as well. Some people will submerge and they can’t really swim around. They might like strike a specific pose and just kind of hold it underwater and that’s fine. Oftentimes though, it’s. Not what I’m seeking. It. Oftentimes what I’m looking for is motion underwater, and so I, I oftentimes will tell them, Hey, just go in there and just kind of swim around, Try to stay in place, but just twist around.
Go back and forth, Bob, your head sideways, left and right to create that movement in your hair. You know, and that’s generally what I prefer, and not a lot of people can necessarily do that. I’ve had a few people that, you know, just have extreme command of themselves and the fabrics underwater, and it’s not easy.
But that’s generally what I strive for. So you add that with intriguing lighting and then that’s, you know, that’s what I prefer. You know, that’s what I try to achieve regarding a sense of style is flory and lighting motion and light.
[00:34:57] Brett Stanley: Flory, What an amazing word. That’s
[00:34:59] Adam Attoun: used that word from the beginning of time.
[00:35:01] Brett Stanley: That is so good.
I mean, yeah, I mean, it is totally, exactly what I’m getting from your work is that, and I, I had seen maybe early on I’d seen some, some, videos that you’d done of your models and I just, them, them kind of gyrating and, and sort of swirling in the water and I was just like, Oh my God, how does he shoot that?
Cuz it is the exact opposite of what I’m trying to get my models to do.
[00:35:26] Adam Attoun: Well, in fairness, Brett, I, I should, I should interject here and stay that first of all, I don’t shoot underwater videos anymore, but when I did, I had a completely different set of instructions for the models.
It’s, it was totally different from stills with video. I’d say move and move fast. Blow as many bubbles as you can.
I mean, completely different than stills.
I, I say swim, but swim. Don’t swim too fast. ,
[00:35:52] Brett Stanley: Yeah, totally. So I think that’s the other thing is how do you, you know, how do you work with models? What sort of instruction are you giving them? Do you, do you kind of coach them in terms of, of letting out their ear to be able to sink and like, do you give them a lot of direction or are you kind of just letting them do their thing and, and you’re just documenting it?
[00:36:12] Adam Attoun: Generally speaking, even the most awe inspiring models require some form of instruction because they can’t see exactly what I’m seeing.
[00:36:21] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:36:22] Adam Attoun: Everybody’s different. It just depends on the individual. But I, I start each session, each session with a set of instructions, number one being facial expression. You know, I tell them I can control the lighting, I control the camera rings, but I can’t control your facial expression.
So that’s the most critical. If they can get beyond that, then oftentimes we, we can create some form of usable images. But e everybody’s a little different and pretty much. In between each drop on. Blabbering some type of request or command of whatnot. And oftentimes the, the same person will do, you know, that each person has their quirk.
You know, one person might keep swimming toward you, inadvertently, One person might keep going to the left, One person might be going too deep. So
everybody has their thing that they have a hard time controlling. And even the most experienced of underwater models have similar , similar quirks, but. You know, you just, you work with it and you, you try to time your picture when they’re in the exact spot and in the right pose.
[00:37:31] Brett Stanley: How fast are you shooting? Are you kind of, are you someone who’s very thoughtful and only shoots when things look good? Or are you kind of like shooting constantly the whole time to try and make the most of it?
[00:37:42] Adam Attoun: I’m not shooting constantly, but I’ll I try to time it based on the fabrics, the pose the hair if I can. And then I’ll, I’ll take oftentimes five to 10 shots on any given breath hold in an effort to. You know, get the right, right image. And usually it ultimately boils down to luck, , you
You can’t necessarily, I mean, a, a fraction of a second can make all the difference in the world regarding a specific, you know, pose or a specific look.
So oftentimes you just, you get what you get. But yeah, I, There are times when I can actually time it.
[00:38:18] Brett Stanley: Right. Do you shoot plates as well? Do you shoot kind of bits of fabric and, and bits of hair or, or get the model to kind of hold something so you, that you know that you can use this piece later on to
[00:38:30] Brett Stanley: add in?
[00:38:30] Adam Attoun: Yeah.
So all if I have a, a a skilled underwater, you know, swimmer and I, I happen to be using a black fabric, I’ll oftentimes take a minute to ask them. To go as deep as they can. Then it blows some bubbles and I’ll photograph just the bubbles
so that I can superimpose those bubbles onto other images.
[00:38:50] Brett Stanley: Do you make brushes outta the bubbles for, or do you just literally sort of cut and paste the bubbles themselves?
[00:38:56] Adam Attoun: I have a decent sized repository of bubble images that I tend to superimpose or overlay
on an image, and I use them. I use the bubbles. It’s not uncommon where I’ll actually remove the original bubbles and then add my own.
And I add them oftentimes for two reasons. Three reasons I guess. One is just to fill in blank spaces that I feel aesthetically and image might be lacking. You know, maybe there’s an empty space that needs something. There to, to fill it in. That might be one reason. Another reason is to again, emphasize the fact that the person is under water.
And then finally sometimes I use it to, I use bubbles to conceal errors. Sometimes you have wardrobe errors, for example,
so I can use bubbles to cover those types of things up.
[00:39:44] Brett Stanley: Oh, that’s great.
[00:39:46] Adam Attoun: And it’s not always Uh, oftentimes I do, but not always. Sometimes I just I go with what’s there if it works.
[00:39:52] Brett Stanley: Yeah. So the shots to me are very kind of, they have this very painterly kind of, kind of look to them like it is very much, you know, has that classic painter kind of thing, is that something that, that you have strived for?
Are you inspired by, you know, classic painters or is it just something that has, has evolved organically?
[00:40:13] Adam Attoun: That’s a direct translation from my landscapes. That’s where it started, was with my landscape photography that sort of carried over into the underwater world. I, you know, it’s a similar sense of of lighting that ethereal type of atmospheric look. And yeah, I do strive for that. Oftentimes, not always.
But when I bring out the STRs and I have greater control, like I said, of the lighting, oftentimes I light it specifically so that I can achieve that effect.
[00:40:41] Brett Stanley: Because there’s something about it, and the more I look at your images, the more I kind of, kind of realize that you don’t really do. Dark shadows, like everything seems to be kind of, kind of lit,
[00:40:52] Adam Attoun: It just depends on the, you know, as it gets darker, you know in the evening and there’s less ambient light and I have one strobe directly overhead or, and let’s say a strobe behind,
then I tend to get very strong shadows in those cases. And again, it, that’s why the model will get several different looks in any given session because the light change, the lights will change as the, as.
The sessions progress and usually we end up with pretty intense shadows as I use the overhead strobes. And it also depends on the light modifier. So if I use a smaller soft box, I tend to get harsher shadows. Conversely, obviously, a a, a wider, like, like an umbrella for example, or a larger soft box will generally create softer shadows.
And it just depends on the mood I might be in or the model or, you know, the effect I’m trying to achieve. So there’s no wrong or right, you know, answer to.
[00:41:46] Brett Stanley: Yeah, no, I mean, it’s just a stylistic thing. You also have a day job like you work. Monday to Friday, how do you go juggling all this and having a, having another.
[00:41:58] Adam Attoun: Well there uh, my work has changed a little bit so that now I do have more time, specifically you know, I, I. Our, I, I’m a physician and so I, I used to take call oftentimes at night, during the week, and then not an infrequent weekend.
Our, our work structure has changed. That’s, that we’re essentially no longer on call. And so I have more time in that regard, but I’m still busy throughout the day and so and often tired after work, by the way. So sometimes it’s hard to come home after a day of work and then have a four hour shoot ahead of you
[00:42:35] Brett Stanley: Oh totally.
[00:42:36] Adam Attoun: but it’s not easy, but.
underwater is just one of my forms of photography. So any form of photography can be difficult to juggle with the day job. I tend to go to medical conferences once or twice a year, and so I try to I try to choose locations that. Allowed me the opportunity to shoot landscapes as well, depending on the time of year.
So that’s oftentimes how I get to travel for landscape photography. Otherwise, I’m limited to either when I’m on vacation from work or weekends, especially now that I have more weekends free or depending on the time of. Yeah, I might, It’s not uncommon I can shoot either before or after work in my area for landscape photography.
But in terms of underwater portraiture, you know, now that I’m not on call, I can pretty much shoot Monday through Friday. All of my sessions tend to start around 6:00 PM regardless if I’m working or not. So I’ve always been able to shoot even during the week as long as I wasn’t on call. I guess now I have a little bit more time in that regard.
But it’s still time consuming. Not to mention the editing process.
[00:43:45] Brett Stanley: Yeah, totally. So how long on average would you spend on an image to, to get that finished?
[00:43:52] Adam Attoun: It really varies. I mean, I can spend literally 10 minutes on image. I can spend an hour, you know, 10 hours I suppose, if I really wanted to. Just depends how crazy I want to get some of these underwater composites that I’ve done. Tend to be the most time consuming when I’m changing backdrops. It’s a lot of work and it comes down, like I said, to just giving the model a variety of images.
Not all images work for it, but yeah, those can take on the order of one or more hours. So it really varies.
I don’t like to spend more than 20, 20 minutes on an image if I can help it.
[00:44:25] Brett Stanley: Yeah. Right. Yeah. Especially if you’ve got a lot, you know, like getting through them all. How many images do you tend to deliver from a shoot?
[00:44:33] Adam Attoun: I’ll shoot between 600 to a thousand. Generally. That’s what I strive for. I always you know, if I could get 600 images I’d, I’d be pretty happy because out of those 600, you know, you’re lucky to get, you know, I don’t know, fi I’d tell a model I’ll. I’ll get you five. I I strive for five images
and depending on their skill set, they may get more, they may get less.
So I strive for five because I have five stations in my pool and so I try to get one look out of, you know, each station. So that would be five and, and if they get more great and that’s why I might change the colors of the wardrobe, I might change the background or whatnot, just to give them even more.
So, really varies. But yeah, five is the ideal number I.
[00:45:16] Brett Stanley: Yeah. As, as a photographer, I, I tend to not particularly like to have. Too many, I don’t, don’t particularly like to deliver too many images that look similar. And I think you mentioned this before as well, so that if I get one image, one good image from one setup, I’m happy. Like I don’t need to have five images from the one setup. Are you, do you feel the same way or do you, do you kind of like having similar images in there as well?
[00:45:44] Adam Attoun: No, I, I pretty much loa it, and that’s why
[00:45:46] Brett Stanley: Right. Yeah.
[00:45:48] Adam Attoun: you know, when I post pictures, for example, in my own portfolio on, on the web, I, I don’t like to put images of the same person that are identical, and that’s with any form of photography. That’s even with landscapes. I don’t like having, you know, slight variations in a specific landscape scene, for example.
So variety is the splice of life. Same can be said about. portraits, , I guess
[00:46:10] Brett Stanley: Yeah, totally. It’s always, it always amazes me cuz I, I don’t know how you do this process, but I have my clients actually choose the images that I edit. You know, that I let them give me a selection of images and then I, then I edit those and I’m always surprised at how many they send me back that are almost identical. And I just am just like, if you just spent like, you know, what is it about these two? I know sometimes it’s hard to, you know, decide between two because you’re, you know, maybe your face looks better in this one, or your hand is a little different in this one. But it’s, as a photographer, it, it irks me cuz it’s like, these are almost identical,
[00:46:45] Adam Attoun: It’s funny how that works out is I don’t even let people look at the images prior anymore.
I, I, I, make the decision solely on my own
[00:46:53] Brett Stanley: Yeah, I, I just don’t have the confidence. I, I think I see things very differently than my clients do, and I think I would choose images that they might not choose. So I would rather them I guess be at fault rather than me be at fault for choosing the wrong ones.
[00:47:10] Adam Attoun: It takes a little more of the joy out of it from your standpoint though, to have to, you know, cater to There are subtle nuances in terms of what one image might look like over another. I, I don’t get it either. Why? Yeah. Maybe the smile is just a tad different in one picture. Otherwise, everything is identical.
I don’t wanna pros, I don’t wanna process two identical images if I can help it,
[00:47:30] Brett Stanley: No,
[00:47:30] Adam Attoun: just, it gets, it’s, it just gets too boring in that, in that sense.
[00:47:34] Brett Stanley: Yeah, well in that case I tend to go, okay, which, you know, what do you like in this image and what do you like in this image? And then I’ll just make one image based. The two of them, you know, I’ll comp the hand from that one into this one so that you end up with just one perfect image rather than two almost
Yeah. Adam, this has been amazing man. Thank you so much for sharing your process and, and how this all works for you. It’s, it’s amazing. It’s, it’s such a beautiful work and, you know, getting to hear you talk about has been amazing.
[00:48:04] Adam Attoun: Well, I’m honored that you would consider me for your podcast. I think this was a a genuine treat for me.
[00:48:09] Brett Stanley: Oh, it’s a treat for me. Yeah, just, you know, I love catching up with people and meeting people and, and especially people whose work I admire. So this has been amazing.
[00:48:17] Adam Attoun: Well, likewise.