Snorkeling Photographer Captures Underwater Lightsaber Battle

Photographer Daan Verhoeven worked with two professional freedivers to create a Star Wars-themed underwater photo shoot to celebrate May 4th.

Verhoeven, originally from the Netherlands but currently living in the UK, has also been a freediver since 2004. He has been deeply involved in the freediving community and has not only entered competitions but photographed them as well. He has photographed almost every AIDA Freediving World Championship since 2012 and has personally witnessed and documented the setting of several world records.

Take Star Wars under the waves

His latest project was born from an idea with friend, professional freediver and big Star Wars fan, Matthieu Duvault.

“Matt is a professional Canadian freediver and a huge Star Wars fan. His son’s name is Kylo,” says Verhoeven. PetaPixel.

“I was about to go visit him in Mexico and we were talking about doing a Star Wars themed shoot and how we could set up lightsabers. Matt came up with an ingenious way to to make in a way that they could not only work underwater, but also have different colored lights, he wanted to portray the dark side, so it made sense for him to have the red saber, and his wife Kiki is the nicest person you could ever meet, so obviously she would be wielding the green saber.

Underwater May 4

The shoot combined the three’s passions by bringing photography and a love of Star Wars under the waves where all three are experienced freedivers.

“Snorkeling makes more sense for this shoot for several reasons,” Verhoeven explains. “It mainly helps with logistics, because you don’t have to lug heavy tanks through the jungle, and you can get some fresh air and discuss your next shot together.

Underwater May 4

“Also you avoid having bubbles in the photo – I think bubbles would have broken the spell a bit. And it’s easier for me to move and position myself without diving equipment – you have to be very careful in these cenotes, because they are limestone rocks and contain very precious and delicate stalactites.

Make the idea a reality

For Verhoeven, the hardest part of filming wasn’t the diving, but getting to the chosen location.

“The biggest challenge was the cenote itself. These natural sinkholes are often in the middle of the jungle, so getting there was a tricky hike, then making sure we didn’t hit the stalactites was a top priority. You can see how beautiful they are in the background – it took thousands of years to form,” he explains.

Underwater May 4

“The other challenge was the sun; we wanted those beautiful skylights but it was a cloudy day so we had to wait for the sun to break through. Besides, the depth was quite deep, so there wasn’t much light there – apart from the saber – and we both needed safety divers to watch us. Fortunately, our two women are not only excellent models, but also very good freedivers, so we were in good hands.

Underwater May 4

The time between each shot was fast.

“Once we found a good place where Matt and Kiki could stand, first I would dive and get into position, then they would dive, get into position and strike a few poses, then they would surface and I would come after them.”

Verhoeven explains that some of the photos were captured as shallow as between seven and 15 feet underwater. But they ventured deeper, down to about 90 feet.

“I don’t think any of [the shallower] the dives lasted more than a minute and a half, max. The deeper ones took longer, as you had to swim all the way out and back up, so it was about two minutes.

Underwater May 4

Underwater May 4

Underwater May 4

To take the photos, Verhoeven relied on a Canon R5, a Sigma 14mm f/1.8, and a Nauticam underwater housing. He says he loves this particular underwater case because of the grip and haptic feedback it gives it, and has never had any issues with leaks.

“I chose the Canon R5 because at the time it was the only camera that could take high resolution images and good quality video. I’m hired for both photography and film, sometimes for the same job, so I need a camera that can do both. My previous camera was the Sony Alpha 7R II and I loved that sensor, but it was a bit too slow for sports like freediving, and the video was only 8-bit, so I switched” , he said.

“Of course, almost immediately after that, Sony announced the Alpha 1, which doesn’t seem to have any of the overheating issues that plague the R5, but I still like the camera. I’ve used it in combination with the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 to f/2.2; this lens from my Canon sometimes gets too unreliable for wide aperture focusing, so I’ve discontinued it a bit,” he adds.

Underwater May 4

“I also used a relatively slow shutter speed of 1/60th, to reduce the iso as much as possible – the Canon isn’t as good as the Sony at handling high ISOs, you can really see that when you start editing the files.”

For more from Verhoeven, be sure to check out his YouTube, Instagram, Behance, and website.

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