Underwater Fashion Photography Gear Recommended by Cal Mero

NIKON D80, Nikkor 10-17, F4.8 @ 1/60. Manual Exposure, No Flash.

NIKON D80, Nikkor 10-17, F4.8 @ 1/60. Manual Exposure, No Flash.


Cal Mero’s beautiful underwater photographs are a result of his masterful talent with the slight help of some professional equipment. Though the eye of the photographer is, of course, the most important tool, in the following article Mero recommends the best gear to make the most of an image.


Underwater Fashion Photography Lighting Recommendation

Mero claims the greatest learning curve for photographers is the lighting. Having first used up to six underwater and above-water strobes to provide ultra-complicated lighting, after two years of trial and error, Mero has finally mastered the right combination of lighting gear. He now uses two strobes that are well-positioned with great exposure control, as well as relying heavily on natural light.

Mero typically uses two DS-125 strobes from Ikelite as well as two DS-51 strobes that are smaller and easier to travel with. For his off camera strobe, he uses a D-2000 strobe from Inon. According to Mero, “The Ikelite strobes have great output and the ability to run as optically fired strobes rather than hotshoe connections, which is great for complicated lighting setups”.

Underwater Fashion Photography Cameras and Lenses

Mero modestly claims, “my cameras are not particularly impressive, contrary to what people assume”. However, his equipment is not too shabby as he shoots mainly with a Nikon D90 and uses a D80 as a backup. He says, “Underwater photography is expensive as you need a housing specifically designed for your camera. A professional setup can easily exceed $20,000. I still use my Nikon D90 because it does the job perfectly for what I need and my accountant keeps reminding me that I really should get a few more years out of it before upgrading”.

Mero’s preferred lens is the Tokina 10-17mm, which is “brilliant for shooting models underwater as its huge field of view allows me to get close to my subject and therefore reduces the amount of water between us”. Even though the subject matter switches between underwater fashion and underwater reef wide-angle shots, he continues to use the same D90, Tokina 10-17mm setup because although the subject matter is different, the technique is the same. The 10-17mm Tokina is a fisheye lens but, underwater, the fisheye effect is reduced due to the optical properties of water and the fact that there are very few straight lines underwater.

When asked what cameras he would purchase given an unlimited budget, Mero answered “I would probably buy a nice, sharp, full-frame, rectilinear lens with a huge field of view. The body would be something with a high ISO capacity to facilitate easy underwater photography. So probably a D700 with a 12-24mm lens in a Nauticam housing”.

Underwater Fashion Photography Accessory Recommendations

On every shoot, Mero brings along a box of accessories that he or his model may need during this time. He recommends bringing along safety pins, clips, extra masks, umbrellas, lead weights, socks(to hold lead weights) and lots of carbohydrate rich food to keep everyone full and warmer in the water. Mero claims, “Many of the models I work with laugh at my jumbled box of assorted goods” but he always remembers to bring extra towels for them.

Underwater Fashion Photography Recommendations for Beginners

For beginners on a tight budget, Mero recommends checking the classifieds of sites like DivePhotoGuide and WetPixel. “They have great used housing and camera sales where you can save some serious money. Remember, underwater photography is expensive!”.

For those with a more liberal budget, he recommends speaking to the professionals at various underwater camera gear retailers. “You’ll be spending upwards of $10,000 so they’ll most likely cut you a deal if you buy it all from a single source”.

Mero’s gear recommendations are pretty straightforward. He knows what works, and he sticks with it. Though he recommends this equipment set up, his strongest advice is still “practice, practice, practice”.

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