How Von Wong Captured An Amazing Portrait Deep Under Water

I had this grand idea: To recreate the iconic scene of a young Chinese cormorant fisherman hard at work on a bamboo raft – shot 30 meters underwater in a cenote just above a toxic layer of hydrogen sulfide. Traditional culture as a whole, is something that is inexorably fading with time. I wanted to create a piece that would immortalize a piece of my own culture – the iconic cormorant fisherman. By placing him directly above an underwater river, within this portal that was believed to lead to the Mayan underworld, seemed like the perfect way to bid farewell to a proud tradition. As a general rule, taking underwater portraits is extremely complicated. Simple tasks like breathing, communicating. posing and moving become a lot more complex whilst standard lighting rules and equipment requirements change completely. Transport that shoot 30m underwater and suddenly things become exponentially more complex. Ambient light levels and visibility plummet, dive time is reduced significantly while the safety risks from potential malfunction increase. Add onto that a toxic layer of opaque hydrogen sulfide and only five days in Mexico meant  we were really setting ourselves up for a challenge.

Last week I received a message from my buddy and talented photographer Ben Von Wong. We all know him for his incredible photos that mix practical effects as well as precisely-applied post production visuals. His recent photoshoot entitled “MAKING OF: BALLANTINE’S PRESENTS VON WONG’S UNDERWATER RIVER” is no exception. To make this all happen, Benjamin created a portrait shoot with a set his crew built aboveground and installed 30 meters underwater just feet above toxic hydrogen sulfide. Learn more about his shoot below.

If you want to learn more details about how this shoot was accomplished head on over to Von Wong’s blog:

I appreciate Von Wong because he is always trying to push his boundaries to the next level creatively and production-wise. I think this shoot came out great and like it even more now that I know how much setup went in to making it happen.

Commercial Photographer (mainly Phase One medium format digital) and filmmaker based out of NYC. Started a site called to spread stories about well-behaved and positive pitbulls. Love cars, 80s movies, dogs, and adventure. Free time is spent traveling, sleeping, adventuring, or working on my baby, a 1969 Mustang Mach 1.