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Taking the plunge: Shooting underwater with the EOS-1D C

Taking the plunge: Shooting underwater with the EOS-1D C

© Zena Holloway

July 2016

Zena Holloway’s pictures have adorned the pages of the most glamorous magazines defining the most flamboyant advertising campaigns. CPN writer Mark Alexander finds out how Canon’s 4K filmmaking DSLR has taken her photography to new depths.

Take a large body of water and a precise piece of kit like a camera, and you have the perfect recipe for disaster… or so you would think. But if you add the talents of Zena Holloway into the mix, you’re likely to end up with an extraordinary set of images that elegantly cross the boundaries between fashion and fantasy, sport and art.

Holloway’s skills are bountifully apparent in her entrancing work, which wanders the worlds of editorial, celebrity, sport, fashion and lifestyle. Her images are commercial and also abundantly beautiful in colour, texture and composition. The fact she does all her work totally submerged in water makes her images and her craft all the more extraordinary.

“The water brings the magic,” says the London-based photographer. “Life is too real, and when you go underwater somehow reality disappears and you are presented with something interesting.”

While Holloway may find creating magical images underwater plain sailing, growing her business has required hard work and tenacity. She first dreamt up the idea of taking her photography skills under the waves when she was 18 working as a scuba instructor in the Cayman Islands. It would take her five years to turn that fanciful idea into a reality.

© Zena Holloway

A behind the scenes look at styling and photographing an underwater fashion shoot.

“My first commercial shoot was very exciting,” she recalls. “I was commissioned by Fabergé to shoot a guy underwater. The image was to go inside a mirror that was to be part of someone else’s picture so when he looked in the mirror, he would see himself underwater, refreshed. It was a small part, but nevertheless it was an advertising campaign and I got paid handsomely at the time. That’s when I realised this could work. Don’t worry about the people saying you can’t do it. Keep going, it will come together in the end. That’s how it started.”

She continues: “It has taken a lot of hard work. I liken it to pushing a big ball up a hill. To get the ball to the top, you’ve got to get your head down and keep going.”

Today, her clients range from style-savvy, glossy magazines to celebrities looking for that special look. Her photography is immediately identifiable and much sought-after with her unique brand of fantasy showcasing fashions, beauty products, even milk.

To capture her beguiling images, Holloway uses Canon cameras and lenses. She made the switch to digital in 2005 when she enclosed her EOS-1Ds Mark II in a dedicated underwater case and promptly jumped in at the deep end. Since then she has worked diligently to develop an impressive body of work and attune herself with her camera, preferably inside the cocoon of the protective casing.

“I often can’t operate the camera when it’s out of the case because I never use it that way,” she admits. “I know where all the buttons are on the housing, but when I pull the camera out of the housing I have to think where the appropriate buttons are on the camera. And sometimes it’s not straightforward because you have leavers that go round the front that you operate from the back.”

Holloway is in her element when she’s in the water, and that comfort zone was recently extended with the introduction of the EOS-1D C, which brings 4K movies and advanced video functions in a DSLR body. Combining both stills and movie shooting, the EOS-1D C is a multimedia camera designed to impress, and it certainly made quite an impression on Holloway. “It was superb. I can’t believe the quality we got from it,” she says enthusiastically. “I understood the camera straight away - I knew where to find the functions. It was super easy.”

15 people on set

She continues: “I hadn’t seen any underwater 1D C footage, but I had read reviews online and researched it quite heavily. The first time I used it was on a live job, so it had to perform. And it did. When I reviewed the results, I was gobsmacked by the quality. For the size of the camera, I didn’t expect it to perform like that.”

Holloway used the EOS-1D C purely for video, utilizing the built-in Canon log gamma to deliver neutral image quality with a wide dynamic range (800%) for an array of post-production possibilities. With uncompressed HDMI output, a Clear View II 8.1cm (3.2”) LCD screen and EF as well as EF Cine lens compatibility, the EOS-1D C has a feature list to make film makers and photographers drool. But that’s not what caught Holloway’s eye.

© Zena Holloway
© Zena Holloway

Beautiful composition brings a fine-art quality to Zena Holloway’s work. Taken on an EOS-1D C with an EF24mm f/1.4L USM at 24mm, the exposure was 1/64 at f/2.8, ISO 320.

“The frame rate was interesting - it shoots 1080p at 60fps,” she says. “It’s quite nice to slow motion down. It makes it more fluid and makes it last longer. If you have someone diving in, they don’t hang around. If you can slow down the action and make it last longer, it makes it more useful. So speed was important to me.”

For her still imagery, the EOS-1D C directly replaced Holloway’s trusty EOS-1Ds Mark III, which she often coupled with her dependable EF35mm f/1.4L II USM lens. The natural perspective and low-light capabilities of the lens were ideal for the close-quarters shooting which Holloway favours. Latched onto the EOS-1D C with its 18.1 MP full-frame CMOS senor, the EF35mm has a new lease of life. “I think the files are technically superior,” she says.

Holloway’s first outing with the EOS-1D C gave her an early insight into what could be done with a chameleon-like camera that could switch between high-end stills and professional video. Her second assignment gave her an opportunity to further explore the benefits of using an all-in-one package during a six-hour submerged shoot.

“For me, the biggest thing is the EOS-1D C is a small little package, and yet it does so much. When you’re underwater, that is important. Everything you have under the water has to be enclosed in a case. The fact it is compact and is a stills and a movie camera, all in one and delivers really good quality, makes my life so easy. I don’t have to get out of the water to change kits over. It’s super brilliant. You can change from one function to the other without having to take it out of its case. It does two jobs in one. It’s very exciting.”

The significance of diving with one camera rather than two shouldn’t be underestimated. To get the highest quality, professional underwater photographers are duty bound to protect their gear in purpose-built cases that provide all the functionality of the camera while safeguarding it from the destructive effects of the surrounding water. What’s more, casings cannot be hired, making a two-camera set-up an expensive indulgence. Having one camera that can do it all has practical, as well as economic benefits.

Holloway’s abstract, ethereal images are joyous on a professional level and are clearly commercially successful judging by the impressive clientele she has amassed. They do however contradict her own assertion that her technical knowledge is somehow lacking.

“I’m not really technical and hate dealing with all the menus and things, but actually the EOS-1D C didn’t fox me for too long. I had a quick flick through the manual and that was it. I was off, which says a lot about the design of the camera rather than my skills.”

Those very special skills will be next on display in an exhibition of her works being organised in Busan, the second largest city in South Korea. Next year, Holloway will follow her Asian showcase with a trip to one of her old hunting grounds where she will teach others about the joys of underwater photography in the Bahamas. Whereever she travels, you get the feeling her new EOS-1D C will be with her, in its case.

“It is without a shadow of a doubt, the best camera I have ever had,” she says. “It’s small and compact and does what it should do. I’m really happy with it.”

Biografia: Zena Holloway

Zena Holloway

Born in Bahrain, Zena Holloway travelled the world working as a scuba instructor developing a passion for underwater photography as she went. Self-taught, Holloway creates images that are striking and instinctive, and have been exhibited in France, Canada and South Korea. They have appeared in the likes of Paris Match and The Sunday Times and have been used by clients such as Nike, English National Opera and Pepsi. By her own admission, she is known for her can-do attitude and lives on the outskirts of London with her husband and three young children in a converted MoD underground torpedo-testing centre.


A fantastical image of a dancer underwater. Taken on an EOS-1Ds Mark III with an EF24mm f/1.4L USM lens at 24mm; the exposure was 1/32sec at f/7.1, ISO 250.