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Underwater photos in the studio:the workshop with Manfred Zentsch

Unterwasserfotografie mit Manfred Zentsch

Underwater photography not only requires special (and usually very expensive) equipment, but also comprehensive expert know-how and many years of experience. Photo professional Manfred Zentsch, with a great deal of ingenuity and patience, has now found a way to professionally implement even impossible photo ideas directly in the studio with comparatively little expenditure of time and money. He opened his studio for an exclusive workshop for six curious readers of FOTOHITS magazine…

Manufacturers of swimwear, water sports and diving gear naturally like to present their latest creations in the element for which they were designed - in the water..

So far, however, professional underwater photo shoots have not even been possible in the water retention basin on the outskirts of the city, public swimming pools are becoming increasingly reluctant to respond to inquiries from photographers, which is understandable given the great effort and the occupancy of swimming and water sports clubs, which are now seamlessly merging.en.

The expensive alternative solution: to go to the tropics or to the warm, bright and calm sea water in the Caribbean. In view of the ever-shrinking marketing budgets, this option represents the word-case scenario of the company's internal controllers.

The photographer Manfred Zentsch

The Heidelberg professional photographer Manfred Zentsch has now found a cost and time-saving alternative. With an amazing willingness to experiment, a lot of patience and despite a number of setbacks, he finally managed to install a water tank in his studio, which solves a large number of previous photography problems in an extremely clever way. The results of his in-house underwater shooting impress even well-versed diving and photo professionals.

FOTOHITS magazine was able to persuade the experienced commercial and architectural photographer to hold a one-day workshop for interested readers. Rollei was also there because the mobileHS Freeze 6 cordless studio flashes played a significant role in the successful implementation of the unusual setting idea.

Unterwasserworkshop Teilnehmer

The very special studio

The experienced photo professional set up his studio on the site of the former Heidelberg slaughterhouse. Understandably, anyone who works with 9 cubic meters of water and 2 cm thick panes of special glass weighing 700 kg each cannot settle down in a normal office floor or in their own garage.en.

The building of the former teaching slaughterhouse still has a very efficient drainage infrastructure, which Manfred Zentsch involuntarily had to use when building the 1.0 version of the tank: within ten minutes the artificial basin drained completely and also flooded the remaining studio rooms at ground floor level..

At the second attempt, the technically skilled photographer was then able to implement the experience gained directly and comprehensively strengthen the original basic construction at the neuralgic points. In the meantime, only a few drops are leaving the tank in some places.According to the Heidelberg photographer, he can live very well with this result..

The water tank

In order to be able to move the tank if necessary, Manfred Zentsch bought a used forklift truck. Nevertheless, only the empty shell can be moved. Without water, the tank weighs only around 2 tons, filled with 9 cubic meters of water around 11 to 12 tons.. The side panels are made of professionally welded steel, the special glass panes were developed and manufactured by the GLAS-MAYER GROUP. The floor of the UW photo basin consists of 3 cm thick wooden ship's planks, so that inlets and valves can be installed without any problems.

But the special highlight is the background projection. Manfred Zentsch equipped a standard 6,500 lumen LCD projector with a wide-angle lens and a special shift lens in order to be able to project any desired motif in a cove behind the tank from a precisely defined position close to the ground with as little distortion as possible.n.

The photo professional had to solve a number of challenges so that the camera position, size and depth of the water tank and the background could finally be combined to form a harmonious whole.

Thanks to the very complex puzzle, Manfred Zentsch can now create the perfect underwater illusion. Even at second glance, it is not obvious from his pictures that they were not taken in the endless expanses of an ocean, but only a 70 cm wide wall of water prevents the perception of the deceives the viewer.t“.

Unterwasserworkshop Wassertank

The lighting

Three provide the right lightRollei HS Freeze 6 professional studio flashes, which were precisely positioned above, in front of and behind the tank.

The flash units, which have been highly praised by the trade press, are predestined for this very demanding application thanks to three properties: On the one hand, the three HS Freeze models can be easily attached to oneradio transmitter trigger absolutely synchronously and, depending on the camera model used, in creative flash modes such as HSS, freeze and stroboscopic mode in a completely uncomplicated manner from the desired distance.n.

Secondly, they needHS Freeze 6 less than a second to make the full luminosity available again after a release absolutely indispensable for the model shoot, since even the most experienced freedivers cannot stay under water indefinitely and can only use a very limited radius of movement - this is where the photographers have to hold it in burst mode.en“.

The third property, on the other hand, is really vital: Since, even with extremely careful preparation, it can never be completely ruled out that water gets on the flash units through a stupid coincidence or a careless movement of the model, no mains-operated devices with 220 volts may be used for safety reasons.

The batteries ofRollei professional flashes ensure approx. 500 releases even in continuous shooting mode.

Unterwasserfotografie Behind the Scenes

The schedule

Professional photographer Manfred Zentsch had a very stringent timetable in store for the six participants: After a brief briefing on the technical background of his solution (which you could already find out about in the first part of this blog article series), four runs were planned Model Katherina should be in Slip into four different costumes and handle several accessories in front of changing background motifs.en.

The six participants (five men and one woman) then assembled their camerasArca Swiss quick release plates on the one placed at a fixed distance and height close to the groundRollei Rock Solid tripod, stuck the radio transmitter for theHS Freeze 6 on the hot shoe and could then direct the model as desired and also select the respective background..

Since the distance to the subject (7 meters) was exactly fixed (the model could only move back and forth within a width of 70 cm, the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the tank were also precisely defined beforehand in the camera's viewfinder), the The respective photographers sharpened their lenses manually, chose an aperture of 8 and then worked with an effective focal length of approx. 80 mm.m.

However, this could vary in part, since one or the other dry UW photographer worked with a lens adapter.e.

Taucher Unterwasserfotografie

The first motif: mermaid

The exposure time was only between 1/60s and 1/80s, since the two or threeHS Freeze 6 ensure sufficient brightness in the subject. The background should deliberately remain a bit blurred in order to create the illusion of spatial depth. The focal length/aperture combination described is the result of numerous test series that Manfred Zentsch completed in advance..

For the first run, model Katherina (after all, a certified Level 2 freediver) wrapped herself in a very decorative mermaid costume and then followed the photographer's instructions with stoic calm. These were previously divided into camera brand groups in order not to have to constantly change the radio transmitter and receiver. The Sony owners were allowed to start in the first round, followed by the Nikon owners, and then it was the turn of the Canon enthusiasts. The sequence then changed several times.h.

The challenge for the participants, who understandably could not gain any comparable experience before, was the appropriate combination of the individual camera options. Manfred Zentsch personally recommended the slow continuous shooting mode and a completely manual focus, but some participants had to realize that their cameras (e.g. in live view mode) had problems capturing the movements of the model satisfactorily.n.

In the course of the afternoon (the workshop was scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.) everyone present found the settings and procedures that were perfectly suited to them and their cameras.

As a background, the participants mainly chose between an underwater scenario created by Manfred Zentsch himself and a more striking potpourri of air bubbles.

Unterwasserfotografie Meerjungfrau

The second motif: evening dress

The second costume that Katherina packed in her mermaid suitcase for the workshop - the enormously photogenic model, by the way, has been running her own mermaid school very successfully for quite some time - was a bright red evening dress.kleid.

In contrast to the mermaid costume, which is undoubtedly better suited to underwater use, Katherina had to put in a lot more effort to prevent the flowing fabric from living its own life in the interests of the photographers. However, they had already been able to familiarize themselves to some extent with the unknown framework conditions in the first run and increased the flash frequency accordingly in order to then capture the unique moments accordingly.

As a background, Manfred Zentsch alternated between a very abstract and geometric motif and the tried and tested bubbles.“.

The photographer used his two trainees to operate the bubble pump, two perforated tubes attached to the inside of the bottom of the tank and supplied with air by a compressor..

Unterwasserfotografie Setaufbau

The third motif: tunnel construction site

For the third season, Katherina jumped into the water in a bikini, donned an orange safety vest and picked up a massive pickaxe. The purpose of this costume was revealed to the participants by showing a historic tunnel construction site.e.

Water-loving Katherina then posed for the photographers with graceful and, given the sensitive glass, very controlled movements.n.

They repeatedly expressed their unreserved admiration for the black-haired freediver, although the water before the workshop was pre-heated to around 23 degrees, even the practiced mermaid struggled with the inevitable loss of body heat over the course of the hours..

The fourth motif: Backlight shooting

For the fourth series of shootings, the model took two strips of fabric into the tank to give the participants the opportunity to add a third Rollei HS Freeze 6 can be used as a backlight flash. This run was accompanied by a very special atmosphere, as studio owner Manfred Zentsch turned off most of the light in the room after each camera and photographer change.

The silhouettes of the surrounding participants, the triple stroboscopic light of the Rollei flash heads and the graceful movements of the UW model combined to create an enormously atmospheric flow. At the end of the backlit shoot, Manfred Zentsch handed each participant their own Sony camera so that they could take close-ups hands-free.n.

After an extremely varied and instructive practical part, Katherina finally climbed out of the tank after the last flash was fired to loud applause from those who stayed dry and wrapped herself in her warm bathrobe.l.

To get straight to the point: None of the participants planned to set up their own submarine shooting tank directly after their return home. The decisions to book this truly unique workshop in Heidelberg came from completely different motivations.

The majority of those present actually only found out about the indoor UW studio from the specialist magazine FOTOHITS and were on the one hand simply curious as to which stones professional photographer Manfred Zentsch had to clear away in order to realize his long-cherished dream, on the other hand they also expected an inspiring change from their normal photo practice and also wanted to find out what results they would achieve in the quite demanding live shoot in the studio with their own cameras.en.

After the various rounds with changing tasks, without exception, all participants were enthusiastic about the process and its results and also admired the stamina and equanimity of the UW model Katharina..

Between the sessions and of course also after the practical part, there were numerous opportunities to exchange ideas and to give and receive expert feedback..

All participants acted more and more routinely and proactively from session to session over the course of the workshop. While the photographers present were initially very busy finding and trying out the right camera settings, even in the final shooting, which took place in almost complete darkness, getting ready for action took much less time and feedback from Manfred Zentsch.

Conducting the model, which of course was only acoustically receptive during the relatively short breathing phase, became clearer and faster with increasing practice.r.

Unterwasserfotografie Frau mit Trompete

The opinions of the participants

The participants then used the breaks between their assignments very enthusiastically to shoot behind-the-scenes photos and during the shoot to exploit the potential of the Rollei radio remote controls for the threeHS Freeze 6 studio flashes to be exploited further and further.

Before the post-production phase, which then took place on the upper floor of Manfred Zentsch's Indigo studio, the participants had the time and leisure to review the previous hours, which everyone agreed had passed far too quickly. While the studio owner loaded the contents of all memory cards onto his central hard drive for subsequent viewing, statements such as It was already worth it and Great inspiration and thinking outside the box could be heard.hören.

Some of those present were also happy to finally be able to try out functions of their camera live and in color that simply could not be fully exploited up to now. Furthermore, the photographers, who mainly deal with portraits, wanted to know more about the mobile and powerful onesn Rollei HS Freeze professional studio flashes – and of course about the different onestripod- Families experienced..

Unterwasserfotografie Frau vor Rot

The post-processing

When all the photos were on Manfred Zentsch's editing server, several participants had taken several hundred pictures, and the necessary post-production began, for example. The focus was not on alienation or the addition of effects.d.

Due to the optical framework and the technical restrictions, there were a few measures on the to-do list that simply cannot be ignored with this very special set-up in order to be able to take satisfactory results home with you:

color correction

Since Manfred Zentsch used real glass to build the water tank, the light green tone of the otherwise highly transparent material had to be balanced. This minimal staining could only have been significantly reduced using significantly more expensive and thicker plexiglass. Since this green tinge can be corrected comparatively easily, the professional photographer understandably avoided unnecessary additional costs.

Optical Distortion

Due to its molecular structure, water causes the light rays to break, which deviates from the course of rays in normal air. The 70 cm wide water tank looks like an oversized magnifying glass and therefore needs a corresponding correction.ur.

contrast and sharpness

Due to the movement of the model and the optical characteristics of the tank, it makes sense to work with manual focus and a depth of field that roughly corresponds to the width of the tank. If, on the other hand, certain areas of the motif are to be placed more in the background or provided with more contrast, appropriate readjustments are of course also necessary.


Model Katharina wisely did not use the two very decorative panels until the end of the shoot. Natural textiles constantly lose material and naturally also shed under water. The fluff gradually makes the water cloudier and ensures that the flash is reflected by millions of tiny floating particles. In order to counteract this process, it is possible to slightly soften stressed regions.n an.

New layer background

The background projection then of course disappears a little due to the cloudiness of the water. Photographer Manfred Zentsch lays parts of the respective background image over the motif as a new layer in the image editing program, deletes it here and there or adjusts the transparency..

Unterwasserfotografie Frau mit Blättern

The conclusion

The six hours of Manfred Zentsch's UW studio workshop actually went by in a flash, leaving all participants with numerous new insights and exciting inspirations..

Those who were not behind the camera at the time also had numerous opportunities to exchange ideas with the experienced studio owner and the other participants.

The multifaceted impressions of this Saturday in Heidelberg will be remembered for a long time and will have a lasting influence on the daily photo practice of those present.

Unterwasserfotografie Frau mit Regenschirm

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