When shooting Slovenian swimmer Darko Duric's portrait and action shot, Canon Ambassador Samo Vidic wanted to convey Darko’s story immediately with each image – using high-speed flash photography to freeze moving water in his portrait, and underwater photography skills to capture his action shot in the pool. Despite having been born with no legs and just one arm, Darko has pushed himself to become a Paralympian, a double world champion and to break the world record in the 50m Butterfly S4 class. "Darko only has one arm, but the water gives him wings, somehow. That's what I wanted to show," says Samo.
The sports shoot took place at a pool in Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana, with Darko posing on a diving board for the portrait. Samo got two assistants to throw buckets of water at him from left and right, creating wing-like shapes with the water before it hit the ground. Samo froze the movement of the water with his studio flashes, having placed the main light three metres in front of the swimmer and a backlight five metres above him.
"I wanted a dark background [for the portrait, to highlight the water] but the location had white walls, which reflected everything," Samo says. "So I had to overpower the ambient lighting by switching off most of the artificial lights in the room and using my flashes on full power, thereby illuminating the subject but leaving the background dark."
The pool area was smaller than Samo expected, resulting in him standing in the changing room with the door open to get everything he wanted in frame, using his Canon EOS 6D Mark II and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens.
"I had planned on shooting the portrait from the water, but then I would have had to stand a metre and a half from the subject and use a wide-angle lens to get the subject in the frame, and I don't like to do that with portraits," Samo continues. "Besides, the white walls were about two metres from Darko, so they would have featured a lot more in a wide-angle shot and it would have been impossible to achieve the effect of the dark background while standing so close to him."
He did, however, use his Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM wide-angle lens for the second photo: an underwater shot of Darko swimming in the pool.
For the action shot, Samo faced the challenges of shooting underwater. As you dive, the light levels get progressively dimmer and the spectrum of light narrows as red light is diminished. To compensate for the changes in the colour spectrum, Samo set up two studio flashes beside the pool: he lit the subject from above and through a porthole in the pool, pointing at the subject from below the water's surface. Then he went underwater in his scuba diving gear to photograph Darko in action, swimming across the pool. The camera – this time the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV – was placed in a specialist water housing unit sealed with diving silicon to maintain a water-tight seal, and communicated with the lights via cables connected to a transmitter set up beside the pool.
Distortion caused by the mask and light refraction means that many cameras will not be able to focus in the same way underwater as they do above water, but Samo used the camera's AI Servo – tracking the subject as he moved – to get pin-sharp images. Samo also made use of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV's fast, continuous shooting mode to get 7 frames per second. "If you photograph a swimmer with two arms, you have more chances of a good shot, but because Darko only has one arm, I needed to make sure I maximised my opportunities to capture him in a striking position [with his right arm reaching forwards and face visible]," he explains.
"It was my first time shooting with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV underwater, and everything worked perfectly. The autofocus was great, and all the images are sharp, which is the most important thing."