Photographer Spotlight #5

Synchronised swimmers for Schön! Magazine | Zena Holloway

Photographer: Zena Holloway

In the fifth instalment of our Photographer series, we speak to underwater portraiture photographer, Zena Holloway.

Underwater fashion editorial for Be Inspired Magazine | by Zena

How did you start in Photography and decide it was the career for you?

When I worked in Egypt after college. I was 18  became a diving instructor and then some years later I taught very simple underwater photography classes to tourists; just shooting fish. When I returned to London, a few years later, there weren’t too many fish around so I started taking pictures of people instead.

Sleeping Beauty, underwater womens fashion editorial for FT mag

What kind of photographer would you describe yourself as?

I would describe myself as an underwater photographer. It is where I am most comfortable. It is my medium.

I love a challenge and I never run away from hard work – especially when the results can be so rewarding. I am also lucky enough to have a naturally good breath hold so being underwater has always come easily to me.

Gintaré : singer, songwriter photographed underwater by Zena Ho

What cameras and equipment do you usually use?

My underwater housings are supplied by Seacam in Austria and I am sponsored by Canon. I made the switch to digital in 2005 and began using the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II which I enclosed in an underwater case whilst on shoots.  Now however, I use the EOS-1D C. The frame rate is interesting – it shoots 1080p at 60fps. 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 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 brilliant.

Underwater fashion editorial for FT, How to Spend it Magazine |

Which subject is your favourite to shoot?

I fell in love with the ocean. That was the start. The coral reefs and the exciting underwater marine life, lit by glistening rays of sunlight are hard not to love. It sounds horribly cliché but the sense of adventure and beauty was breathtaking. From there it was only natural to want to capture what I was seeing and feeling when I was in the water.

Sexy beast; adult female and shark | Zena Holloway

Which photographers have inspired you most?

I recently collaborated with a Korean company called Couronne. Their previous photographer, Alessio Bolzoni, manages to capture models in these really weightless and obscure moments. Weightlessness plays a big part in my photography and this concept sat well with the idea of ‘Another Space’ I wanted to show the models with their bags interacting in my space. The water is my space and the images reflect this mysterious and amazing place that I love to visit.

Couronne Fashion Campaign *Another Space* photography by Zena HoIs there a shoot or personal project you’ve been working on recently?

I recently made a behind the scenes film of an editorial shoot with sharks in the Bahamas. It was purely made from a single GoPro mounted on the bottom of the stills camera. I had 2 cameras on the shoot so sometimes in the heat of the moment one of the cameras was slung aside while I shot with the other. The GoPro is still recording the action from the camera but with a quirky angle. It proved really useful in the edit. You could call it luck?

underwater fashion shoot for How to spend it Magazine | photogra

Can you tell us some of the locations you have shot across the world, what was your favourite and why?

I’ve shot all over the world but perhaps the most visually exciting moment with people was photographing a crowd of freedivers off the coast in Sardinia. There were so many of them that they looked like tadpoles on the surface from below on the seabed. When they swam down I couldn’t shoot quickly enough. Everywhere I looked there was a magical image. It was one of those occasions when I wish I’d had a wider lens.

What’s been your most memorable moment on a shoot or during your career?

There have been countless amazing moments involving wildlife underwater but I remember onceI was diving solo, quite deep, in the Red Sea. I turned around to find a very large and inquisitive bull shark wondering what I was doing or perhaps attracted by the whine of the strobes recycling. It was quite unnerving.

There was also a time on a National Geographic shoot in Zanzibar we had to abandon ship as it sunk beneath us. I had to swim very fast to get out of the way of collapsing rigging (no I didn’t rig it!) and diving in the belly of a ship with no visibility and unexploded mines around.

Rita Ora : celebrity singer poses underwater for Sexy Fish | Zen

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work or process?

Sadly there’s rarely time to be patient with underwater photography. We visit the underwater world on borrowed time, restricted by our need to breathe. Instead the water gives us an opportunity to feel and see things differently. Capturing that perfect moment underwater is all luck. However, I am firm believer that we all make our own luck by manipulating the circumstances, subject and lighting, I can increase the chances of catching those moments of magic that the water presents.

Underwater beauty editorial for Collection Magazine | photograph

For more of Zena’s work, visit her website, here.