How I Got That Shot: Erik Almås

January 3, 2011

© Erik Almås

Agency: Harrison & Star
Creative Director: Chris Watson

San Francisco-based advertising and fashion photographer Erik Almås spent two weeks in Hawaii last December shooting an image that was part of a print and online ad campaign for biotechnology corporation Genentech. “The client wanted to convey a deeper sense of exploration, of finding new ways of looking at DNA, and of crafting medicine to help cancer patients,” Almås explains.

He had already done three other images for the same Genentech campaign but one ad called for an underwater shot, something the photographer had never done before. “Of course I wanted to do it,” he laughs, so he first took an online diving course and then flew to Hawaii on a Sunday. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of that week he spent practicing and getting his diving certification. By Thursday he and the producer on the Genentech campaign were diving at the location. When Friday arrived so did the client and that’s when Almås began working on the shot. “It was beautiful to have an art director who trusted me that much,” he says, “and then there was the adventure of learning how to dive just to create a picture like that—it was astonishing. I love that photography takes me places that I would never go otherwise.”

Cameras: Canon 1Ds Mark III and a Canon 5D, both cased in underwater housings from the underwater imaging company Sea&Sea. One body had a 28-70mm lens, the other a 16-35mm lens.

Lights: Mostly available light, except for the coral, which is shown in the final image but was shot separately by Almås and lit by two strobes attached to either side of Almås’s camera.
 “One minor problem we encountered was that because the water absorbs color we couldn’t get the color of certain elements right initially,” Almås explains. “We ended up using strobes to light the coral and bring out its amazing color, even though these colors were later toned down a bit to match the mood of the cave.”
In the final ad, the light seen streaming through the surfaces of the cave wall shows a DNA strand circling through it, which is a thematic element running through the print campaign.

Logistics: The client wanted natural light rays to be shown streaming into the cave and since that only occurred at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Almås had to limit most of his shooting to midday. “Of course you can only be under water for so long,” he says, “so the window in which I created those shots when the light was right, that only happens for like an hour and a half, so we were diving for three days in a row to capture this one picture.”

Exposure: The fish, diver and the coral were all shot as separate elements at an ISO of 200 using different exposures, depending on the depth at which each image was shot. Almås says he shot some of the images with a shallower depth of field to freeze the motion.
The cave itself is a composite of two different cave shots and was done using a tripod weighted to the sea floor at a 6 second exposure at f/8 with an ISO of 400.

Post production: Almås composited all of the scene’s separate elements—fish, diver, coral and two different cave shots—in Photoshop, then took the image to his retoucher, Erik Passawar. “Erik comes in and cleans up all the pixels and makes it ready for print,” says Almås. “He also works with clients after I hand off my vision of the images and he tweaks it to their liking.”

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