Whats Inside

by Arthur H. Bleich

Dan Escobarby

November 01, 2010 — This image could easily be composited today in a few hours from a simple studio setup and stock photos, but when Dan Escobar shot it in early 2002 for a Monterey Bay Aquarium ad promoting its “Jellies: Living Art” exhibit, the agency was thinking “on location.”

“We decided we’d shoot it underwater to capture all the nuances and subtleties of the look we needed,” Escobar says. After considering using an actual aquarium—or even the ocean—both were rejected because neither would allow them enough control over the key aspects of the shoot: lighting, models and prop placement. “We ended up using the San Jose State University pool,” he explains, “because it was very deep and very large, and had the feel of a fairly large bay from underwater.”

Escobar hired a crew, some of whom were divers, and also a dive master to assure safety. This image was one of three they had to shoot that day; a major challenge was getting the picture frames—made of wood and foam—aligned. “We pulled them into place, weighting them with sandbags at the end of ropes, but lining them up was more difficult than we thought, and we ended up placing the sandbags along a long pole at the bottom of the pool to position them,” Escobar says.

With his tripod resting on the pool floor, Escobar first used a Canon EOS D30 digital camera to do test shots, which he and art director Steve Mapp studied while they were underwater. “It was the first time in an underwater situation that we could conduct ourselves as if we were in a studio; take a ‘Polaroid,’ look at the composition, make adjustments, and then switch to a film camera to take the shot—digital quality at 3.1 megapixels wasn’t good enough then.”

The “artist” was seated on a 300-pound bench with a small air tank hidden from view, from which he could breathe when needed. He could neither see very well, nor hear at all, so direction had to be given before he dove down. “The shoot took 15-20 minutes from the time we got him into place,” Escobar remembers. The image was shot with natural light at an exposure of 1/60th of a second at f/5.6, using a Canon EOS-1 loaded with Kodak ISO 400 color negative film.

After the shoot Mapp used Photoshop 6 to integrate coral and sea floor details from stock shots with the Jellyfish from scanned transparencies supplied by the Aquarium. Escobar says that after seeing the resulting composite, he got turned on to the power of imaging. “Still,” he says, “if I had to do it all over again today I think I would do it just the same way. Why not? It’s real and more fun, too!”


Arthur H. Bleich (arthur@dpcorner.com) is a photographer, writer and educator who lives in Miami. He does assignments for major publications both in the U.S. and abroad and conducts digital photography workshop cruises. Visit his Digital PhotoCorner at www.dpcorner.com and also www.dpcorner.com/cruise for information about an April 2011 workshop cruise from Tahiti to the Islands of the South Pacific.

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