An Underwater Look at Senior Portraits | Interview With Cheryl Walsh of Alt-Senior
Looking for alternative ways to photograph seniors opened Cheryl Walsh up to the challenging world of underwater portrait photography. Cheryl began her career in photography by shooting a wide range of subjects – weddings, children, models, families, but discovered that photographing seniors made her the happiest. After an evening spent with the unconventional photographer, John Michael Cooper of altF, she was inspired to change everything she was doing and focus her efforts on doing alternative senior portraits and thus, Alt-Senior was born.
Now as an award winning photographer, Cheryl divides her time between high school senior photography and fine art underwater and portrait photography.
With Alt-Senior, Cheryl tries to capture the essence of of her young clients.
“I really don’t like the term ‘high school senior photographer’ but ultimately its what I do. Its a specialty and I treat it as such. The fact that they are graduating high school is secondary to my purpose. Graduating is just one thing that is happening in their lives, but it doesn’t define them. This is the only time in their lives when they aren’t children anymore yet aren’t quite adults yet either. Capturing who they are, not just what they look like, but the essence of who they are, is what I do. My heart and soul play as great a role in this process as my camera does.”
Cheryl explains how she deals with the challenges of underwater photography.
“I started shooting underwater 5 years ago as a challenge to myself and loved it right away. The season is very short, from June to Sept/Oct and I can only do two or three shoots a week, so it took a few years to discover how to capture exactly what I was trying to. The post processing work is just as important as the photography itself. I’m still experimenting, growing and learning. Having as much control over my environment as possible is key. I only shoot in my own pool. We have a special filter, minimal chlorine and its not very deep. The water has to be pristine – absolutely as clear as possible. My models have strict instructions regarding prepping for the shoot and the clothing has to be clean and dust free. Having comfortable gear is really important – the right weights, mask, clothing, underwater housing, backdrops, and all the little details that make a shoot go smoothly, or horribly wrong. What works for me may not work for anyone else, but it works really well for me. I’m easily overwhelmed, and even though there are many factors involved in an underwater shoot, its the quiet calm while sitting on the bottom of the pool that I find so appealing. There is such a graceful calmness under there.”
A variety of gear, costumes and creativity help Cheryl’s work stand apart from other photographers.
“I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III and a variety of L lenses. For underwater, I use the 16-35mm 2.8L and an EWA Marine underwater housing – I have two different models. I use Canon Speedlight flashes in underwater gear bags and SRS tiny triggers. Most of my costumes come from Pendragon Costumes – her costumes are stunningly beautiful and made really well. They never get ruined. My favorite wigs are from Epic Cosplay.
Recently I’ve been experimenting with a variety of lights during night shoots underwater. There are consistent themes in my work and those themes are applied to all my underwater shoots whether it be a super heroine from Victorian times, a ballerina, or a girl wrapped in trash bags. I try to capture their spirit of adventure and delicate femininity while flying underwater. Working with a variety costumes and wigs brings a different level of creativity to each shoot. This year I focused on outfits I made myself.”
In January, Cheryl is both “excited and petrified” to be teaching her first large group at the SPI Photography Convention in Florida. She hopes to share her gifts and knowledge to help fellow photographers as John Michael Cooper did for her.
You can see more of Cheryl Walsh’s work on her WEBSITE.
CREDITS: All images and interview excerpts have been provided by the artist. Photographs by Cheryl Walsh are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.