October 18, 2022
Across the pristine surface of Oregon’s Clear Lake, paddleboarders share the water with sailing boats, fishermen, and cutthroat trout. Ringed by ancient firs of the Willamette National Forest, the lake stretches over 142 acres of the High Cascades mountain range, drawing its purified water from the slopes of Mount Washington through the basalt caverns. Caverns which also hint at its creation.
Around 3000 years ago, volcanic activity dammed a river to create the lake. Thanks to the glassy translucence of its titular waters, it’s possible to spot trees killed in the event, that are still preserved by its chilly waters. They’re even visible from just beneath the surface.
“That’s the sort of thing I love most about photographing on the waterline,” says Justin Myers. “It’s a point at which there’s this distinct contrast between worlds. The one we know and the one we don’t. But here at Clear Lake, it can also reveal a connection between the two. The trees above and those below. Alive and dead. Different, but the same.”
Working as a commercial advertising photographer – often specializing in adventure and outdoor subjects with major commercial clients – Justin has long incorporated water-level images. It’s something that gives his assignments an intimate connection to the environment and a genuine feeling of being there.
It’s a shift in style which opens up all sorts of possibilities for creative pros and clients who want a richer storytelling element, he says. Even if photographing from, or in, the water wasn’t originally in the plans. “As it’s something I know works really well, I’m able to introduce this avenue, and it quickly becomes clear that having a larger format system and water housing of this caliber opens up exciting ways of telling a story visually. It gives me and the client new angles, literally.”
At Clear Lake, the same rules applied. Using his GFX100S and a bespoke AquaTech EDGE Pro Water Housing, Justin created a range of images which beautifully combine the lakeland environment and those enjoying it. “How well a camera can record what’s below depends on a lot of things,” he continues. “There’s the light, the depth, the clarity… and although the waters of Clear Lake usually do as they promise, rain and run-off can all affect what’s visible. In some of the locations, we found great details just under the surface, and it let me compose with the paddleboarders as a kind of connecting thread between above and below.
“I often wanted to use the water level as a way of adding mystery – something to drive the viewer’s interest and draw them in,” Justin explains. “So, the feeling is that you’re in there, experiencing what they are, even if things are not always clear in the frame.”
Of course, what’s vital for this type of image is a great waterproof housing. “I’ve used AquaTech for many years, but the advancements they’ve made with the EDGE Pro Water Housing for GFX100S are awesome,” Justin says.
“As you’d expect, the layout is perfectly engineered for GFX100S, and there’s a host of controls,” he continues. “It’s very easy to change settings on the fly, but I like to set up the camera in quite a specific way at the start of each session – and stick to that for a while. For Clear Lake, I was using the camera in Shutter Priority to maintain a fast speed in the water and freeze the movement.
“While I have the option to change, dialling in settings and leaving them is a method that lets me concentrate more on the environment, my subject, and swimming. Then I’ll return to shore, remove the housing, add a new lens, dial in the settings, and go again. Because the housing now has only two clips, it’s much faster and simpler to load – great for that kind of approach.
“Something else I loved was the more tactile feel of the shutter button and pistol grip,” he continues. “There’s a lot more feedback, so I feel better connected to the process, which is especially important if you’re out there wearing gloves. The water at Clear Lake is only around 43ºF at best.”
The ease of the housing means Justin can make more images in the water, more often. And the power of GFX100S, with its varied selection of lenses, also provides inspiration. Using GF100mmF2 LM R WR, he created beautiful portrait images from just above the waterline, rather than with the water cutting through the frame. Here, the shallow depth-of-field turns the water in the foreground into a smooth blur, with the subject standing out. It’s something that’s possible without a housing, but not always advisable – with the risk of splashing and waves.
“I had visualized that image, with that lens, and was pleased with how it came out,” Justin says. “I was using GFX100S’s Wide Tracking AF Mode, with face-detection AF turned on. Everything came out fantastically sharp, and I think it shows all the benefits of a larger format body, a fast lens, and great AF.
“The ability to use GFX100S in a housing has been a revelation,” he says. “I worked with the camera as soon as it came out, and it’s been with me across a lot of campaigns since. I’ve used it for really low-light work and increasingly for action, like these images from Clear Lake. It’s an amazing camera – and the features it brings to a water setting, along with the housing, are revolutionary.”
“A big part of that is color,” Justin continues. “The way GFX100S renders these watery scenes is second to none. The blues and greens that the sensor reproduces in the water are amazing. I also find that with Film Simulations, you get so close to where you want to be, images may only need a little fine-tuning, or nothing at all. Other cameras take a lot longer in situations like this.
“I’ve swum with much larger cameras, and the fact that GFX100S and the EDGE housing are so small makes a big difference,” he concludes. “To have 100 megapixels and that larger format look available in the water is fantastic. From a professional perspective, it puts what I can offer on another level, letting me tell a story in a different way. But I also love being in the water, and this combination gives me the inspiration to get out there and swim with a camera more often, or have fun in the shallows. I think it’ll do the same for anyone who tries it.”
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