A Unique Approach To Swim School Photography

It Started With Nirvana ‘Nevermind’




Maybe it did maybe it didn’t! I wasn’t photographing babies underwater when the Album cover was released in 1991, I do know though that over the last 15 years or so there has been a huge demand for swim schools to offer this style of underwater photography alongside their swim tuition. I was approached about 8 years ago by Carly Parton from Infant Aquatics to photograph their children underwater and having had scuba photography training I worked closely with a couple of local swim schools to offer a professional service that was both well lit but was also gentle with babies and in keeping with their swimming ethos.




Over the years my business grew and I photographed children underwater all over the country. The underwater photo shoot is quite often expected by parents booking a swim school and it is now commonplace to have regular underwater shoots at many swim schools. Over the years I have taken thousands of images and even had children smiling at me underwater!




At any underwater shoot while many babies seemed happy and content going underwater for their portrait, there were always one or two who didn’t like the experience. With a ‘gentle approach’ to teaching children to swim the swim instructors I worked with wondered whether the ‘traditional ‘underwater shoot which is so common place now, is really helping a child and giving him or her a positive experience of being underwater. I am not part of the swim school community but the swim instructors I worked with started to question whether the shoots were helping or hindering teaching swimming.



Of course children were never put underwater if they showed any signs of distress and only children who were water confident attended a shoot, but I started to wonder.  It started to concern me that if a child went underwater just once and they were not ready on a shoot, that one experience would have left them with a feeling of fear and that fear could then be associated with swimming.  I am not an expert on babies natural reflexes but the swim instructors I worked with started to question whether the babies body positions underwater were relaxed and natural, were the clenched fists a sign of distress, back arching or arms splayed to the side a sign of fright? I had a few meetings with Jo Wilson from Little Splashers (way more educated than I am in understanding babies natural reflexes!) and we started to look at the underwater images with a more critical eye. Babies appeared to be surfacing perfectly happy, but if they didn’t cry, did that mean they were not under stress? The truth is I didn’t know to be sure.


A couple of local swim schools took the decision to stop running the sessions. I have to be honest, I found it very hard to let go having built this side of my business up for many years and I continued working with other swim school around the country for another year. I found it increasingly difficult though and found it hard not to worry about whether the children really were happy. Every time a child became distressed at subsequent shoots I felt guilty and it got to the point where I felt I was not enjoying it any more. I sold my underwater equipment just under a year ago, which was a tough decision but I don’t regret it.

So this was a year ago but over the last year I have been testing something a little different and would love to know your views!




A Different Approach


So over the last couple of decades parents have come to expect professional swim school photography to look like the Nirvana shot. But perhaps it could be something different? I had lengthy discussions about alternatives with Carly Parton  and Mel Hammond from Infant Aquatics who has wanted to offer her swim school a much more gentle option for portraits than the traditional shoot. We tested a few ideas at swimming lessons, and organised a couple of test shoots. We wanted to give parents not just one image but a collection of images that document a child’s swimming journey. It is not as easy as you think! we wanted every parent who attended the shoot to have similar emotive shots showing specific elements of a child’s swimming experience: child and parent bonding, water play, and shots that illustrated that child’s specific level of ability and the shoots each had 6/8 parents attending so the shoots needed structure and planning as well as professional lighting of course.  So we ran a trial and the gallery below show the results.




Although not the ‘Nivarna’ shot of the traditional shoot, the shoot is designed to capture children enjoying the water, which is after all what a swimming lesson is all about!  It seems a little absurd that the underwater shoot has become such an expected part of attending a swim school, where the point is to teach children to enjoy the water and to gain water confidence through positive experience. As with anything new, I think it will be the parents that will need persuading or perhaps that is not the right word, perhaps re-educating…that this kind of natural photography better reflects their children’s experience of water than a shot that shows their child underwater. There were absolutely no tears on our test shoots!




Whilst this shoot has been tested locally I am looking for swim schools who would be interested in my new approach to swim school photography. It is market leading in it’s approach and product prices are cheaper as there is not set-up and strike time for me at the shoot and my insurance costs are lower, more children are also able to attend the sessions as there is no need for them to be underwater confident.


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If you are interested in finding out more please get in touch. I so have some space in early November but am mainly looking for bookings February/March time 2018.


Kyra. x