Water Shoot with Nadja & Deliane

For so long I've wanted to do a shoot in water with waterlilies and flowers. I've searched long and hard for nice lake in which to do such a shoot, but none have lived up to my standards - clean clear lake water AND waterlilies aren't the easiest to find around where I live. But then I got the idea to just set up a small pool and fill it with all the plants I wanted.

It took a lot of planning and it was a bit overwhelming, because I knew I wanted to shoot more than one model and more than one look per model. I wanted to take full advantage of the setup after all the preparations and knowing that I'd take down the pool again right after the shoot.

I chose Nadja and Deliane for the shoot, thankfully they both wanted in on the madness, hehe. Both are girls I've shot with many times and who are always up for a challenge. We found a date that worked for everyone and the evening before the shoot, I went to my parents' summer cottage and setup the pool.

The next morning, I got up early and hunted my local florists for usable flowers. Of course none of them had what I had in mind, so after Tenna, Nadja and I were picked up by my mom to go to the summer cottage, we had to pull over a few other florists before I found the right flowers. After that we went to pick up the waterlilies and then arrived at the summer cottage and began prepping for the first look.

For the first look, I'd found this beautifully embellished gold/copper gown (brand: A Star Is Born), which complemented Nadja's natural red hair. I did a very quick makeup on her in copper tones and we got ready to shoot. The water was 19 degrees celcius when Nadja got in for her first turn, and throughout the day, Tenna added countless of buckets of hot water in an attempt to heat up the pool and make it more comfortable for the models.

We used the sword again for this shoot. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to use it again.

Since this was the first setup, I spent some time figuring out the angles and the best use of the light. We were quite fortunate that it was a really warm late August day, but that also meant full sun all day. I'd brought along my big diffuser screen for just this sort of bright sunlight. Honestly, I feel like it worked out brilliantly, I love the softened light and the reflection of the bright sky in the eyes of the models.

I love how this first set turned out; It looked amazing on set, the bright green and orange contrasted with the black background and Nadja's pale skin. It's like she was a flame in the water. Some of these final photos almost give me the feeling of having a fever dream. I mean that in a good way, haha.

I think we shot for about forty minutes, yup, Nadja was in the not entirely warm water for that long and she didn't complain once. Well done. Then we had some lunch and I started doing the makeup for Nadja's second look. By then Deliane showed up and I prepped her for her first look.

For this look, I used a dress of my own creation. One that I made last year and always wanted to use again, because I'm in love with the colour and the beading on the front. Deliane looked amazing, as usual, that girl can wear anything and make it look amazing. She was a bit more hesitant in the cool water, but pressed on and eventually made it her mission to go under water. Repeatedly. It didn't quite work - lying down and sinking below the surface, I mean, while still looking like a model, haha, but Deliane didn't let that hold her back. In the end, the second photo above is from in between going under water and I loved the "Ophelia Drowns" feeling it has.

After that while Tenna helped dress Nadja for the next set, I filled the pool with beautiful flowers. I was worried it would all look too artificial with them not being water plants, but the girls looked amazing floating around between them and I love what they bring to the photos.

Nadja's second look was the lace gown that she also wore in a shoot not too long ago. And then I let her choose the colour of the wig that we'd use. She said she wanted purple or blue hair, but went with the purple. Maybe someday you'll get to see her with blue hair. I am obsessed with how the second photo turned out. I love how the dress looks like the tail of a mermaid. She looks absolutely ethereal (in my humble opinion, haha). And something I found to be immensely interesting is how beautiful the water makes fabric and hair look. I mean, water can also distort a lot and some times ruin a photo, but it can also bring something absolutely mesmerising to it. I love it. And it was so much fun having two models on set for a change. I could tell they sort of pick up a few things from each other and it was just really interesting to see how they each dealt with this new form of modelling.

Of course there were a few challenges to work out, for example not being able to instruct your model once her ears are under water. Once I'd worked out the right angle and the best light, I pretty much just had to sit atop a ladder and take photos while Tenna and the model who wasn't in the water helped hold the diffuser and smoke machine, and put the flowers back into the photo as they drifted around a lot. But once the model had her ears in the water, I could really only communicate either by yelling (not preferred), hand signals (if she had her eyes open) or by having Tenna gently push the model back into frame if she drifted too far to one said, haha. All which is entirely doable, but all which will interrupt an otherwise nice flow.

And you may sit there and think how hard can it be to pose in the water. It is not as easy as one may think. I think Deliane and Nadja would agree to that. We even had a bucket they could help balance themselves on in the water - which worked but only if you didn't move around too much. And without the bucket = LOADS of drifting around, haha.

Anyways, after shooting Nadja in her second dress, we went on to the last look of the day:

I bought this dress so long ago and I have been so excited for the day that I could finally use it, because it is absolutely stunning. It's a dress Asos had in their Red Carpet collection at some point and I regretted not getting it after it sold out. I thought about it every now and then afterwards, because all of those crystals were imprinted on my mind. Finally one day I searched eBay for it and found it - and bought it. Yay. It's used here in the shoot without the underdress that it came with.

Deliane really came to life in this set; Unrestricted by long gowns, wigs and crowns. Almost naked amidst the flowers in my little pool, she turned into a mermaid and really enjoyed herself by what I could tell, haha.

I'm thrilled about how these photos turned out (yes, these as well, all of them, I'm so excited, haha) and even more delighted that two of them were published in my portfolio on Vogue.it.

All in all, it was a super fun day and an amazing experience. It felt so great to mix it up a little bit and step a bit out of my comfort zone. Now I know what to expect if I try something like this again, and what some of the challenges can be. I can also start thinking about what I'll try next time if I do a setup like this again, which I think I might do again next summer.

Of course I put some thought into colours and coordinating flowers and costumes, and I had a general feeling of what the final photos could end up looking like, but I didn't go into the shoot with a specific theme (apart from the sword) or feeling that I wanted the models to convey. They were free to do whatever they wanted for the entire length of the shoot and I love how that worked out. But it could be interesting to see what could come of a thematised shoot/a specific narrative and perhaps slightly larger set. We'll see, I guess :)

I put together a video from the day as well:

Oh, and when we did the final set with Deliane, the water was 25 degrees celcius ;)

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© Sabrina Nielsen Photography