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Kris Koster April 25th, 2011 09:07 AM

Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
Hi folks,

I'm shooting a music video this week and part of the shoot will be an abstract/surreal shot involving several people fully clothed underwater. I'm using an outdoor heated swimming pool that's 2.5 metres deep because the sea isn't warm enough yet to have talent in the water for hours.

There are two shots I need. One is with the camera below the subject and pointing up toward the surface. I need the sunlight through the surface to give a nice look to the model who I want to try and get partially sillhouette. But I need to feature the sun shining through the surface here... Not much of a problem using a swimming pool, since there's only the surface and model in frame.

However, the 2nd shot is pointing down into the "murky depths"... only there isn't any murky depths in a swimming pool, only bright blue tiles. Because the link shots are at a beach, I clearly need this NOT to look like a swimming pool.

My idea is to 'set dress' the bottom of the swimming pool with taupaulin or something else dark and go in wide and close to the clothed subjects underwater. I have a few good lenses, the Canon 14mm f2.8 L might be *too* wide on my FF 5D2. I also have a 17-40mm f4.

Has anyone else done anything like this before that could offer help?

My equipment is a 5D mark II and I'm going to buy the underwater housing for it tomorrow at MediaMart!
I also own a Hero GoPro, the full HD model that comes with waterproof housing. However, I'm reluctant to use that for a pro shoot as I can't see what I'm shooting.

Bryce Comer April 25th, 2011 09:36 AM

Re: Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
Hi Kris,
Maybe you could go with a green tarpaulin & effectively create a green screen, then just key out the green & pop in a murky backdrop that you could shoot separately. How well this would work is anyone's guess, but you could definitely try it before the shoot.

Sareesh Sudhakaran April 25th, 2011 10:39 PM

Re: Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
At 2.5 meters, tarpaulin might seem like tarpaulin on screen. I second what Bryce has suggested. Or: can you shoot them sideways to get more depth?

Kris Koster April 27th, 2011 02:52 PM

Re: Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
With all due respect, I don't think that green sheet idea will work.

I have a lot of experience with green screen work and I've been there on numerous projects for hours crying onto my keyboard as I curse myself for not having an evenly lit green background to the subjects.

The green background will 'spill' onto the clothing of the subjects via the waters refraction, it would be messy as hell I think.

I was wondering if I could just get away with pinning down a white sheet over the tiles on the bottom to give an impression of a sandy bottom... I think if I angle it right, and keep the subject up close, I may just get away with it.

Unless anyone else has any other ideas?

Andy Olson April 27th, 2011 04:29 PM

Re: Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
Hey Kris,

I worked on a film years ago where we needed a similar thing. We shot in a scuba training pool which was pretty much just a normal pool. The director wanted everything blacked out and the way we did it was by draping black visqueen plastic over the sides and some on the bottom. We used sandbags and other weights to weigh it down. You can usually find visqueen at most hardware or lawn/garden places or online. It's pretty much like thick trash bag material that you can buy in big sizes.

We didn't cover up the whole bottom of the pool though because the DP wanted light to bounce off the pool bottom and we didn't have any shots from above.It might work if you throw it out of focus a bit.

One thing is that we shoot indoors so we could control the light. You might run into the problem of having too much sunlight so the bottom will be too bright and you'll be able to see that it's not the ocean floor. I would suggest shooting at least when it's overcast or in the evening and actually using a powerful light out of the pool pointing in and some waterproof kinos in the pool for fill.

Another idea, since the talent are fully clothed, is to have them all wear wetsuits underneath their clothing and actually shoot in the ocean. I don't know how cold the water is there, but I always see surfers out in freezing water in wetsuit like it's no problem. This will probably be more difficult, but it will probably look better.

Hope this helps,

John Saunders April 27th, 2011 04:43 PM

Re: Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
1 Attachment(s)
I 2nd the black plastic it works great. I recently did a shoot were we used a pool but didn't want it to look like a pool. We didn't do the black plastic since we were focused pretty close up. We did it at night though and used lighting and leaves to give it a more natural look. You can see it here:

It's the opening and like 35 secs in.

here is a pic of the setup.

Hope it helps.

Kris Koster April 27th, 2011 04:57 PM

Re: Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
Thanks folks, for all the suggestions. I was wondering if black on the bottom might be too severe, but I guess, not covering portions that aren't in shot might give enough light to the talent.
Looked at the clip, John... That worked great for the surface stuff. Although we have to shoot this during the day due to availability issues.

Should be interesting. Although I'm a bit scared about taking my 5D2 two and a half meters under the water!!

I'll explore that idea about the black visqueen plastic.

Shooting in the ocean is not an option. We're under immense time pressure and have to shoot this in 3 hours. I don't think I'll get the shot if I try this in the ocean.

Although I live in a warm country, it's still not warm enough yet to have myself and talent in the sea for hours!

Kris Koster May 4th, 2011 03:47 AM

Re: Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
Black plastic works!! (Although a pain in the bum to lay out)

I only needed to set the talent a little way apart from the plastic to achieve effective darkness behind them.
I would also recommend you overlay some of the plastic with light, flimsy cloth drape (the kind they put on tables as tablecloths in cheap restaurants) and weight it down at the bottom... I had some of a brown colour. It creates a nice textured background instead of all just black.

X-Rated Supafly Inc. Official video - Frame Grab 06

Sareesh Sudhakaran May 4th, 2011 03:58 AM

Re: Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
Nice Kris! However, are the folds in the background meant to be seen (or invisible in the moving image)?

Kris Koster May 4th, 2011 01:37 PM

Re: Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
Yes it works on the video, the eye doesn't see them as folds.. I posted a bad example of the image, plus all those images are pre-processed. I will post the video when it's complete, in assembly right now...

Jonathan Shaw May 5th, 2011 12:14 AM

Re: Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
Black works well underwater, also another little trick is you make a mixture of chalk (maybe a slight green colour in your case) and water so that so can squirt a little in specific areas, it will stay for a while and really is good for highlighting suns rays etc. But don't over do it as the water will turn milky. Depending on the look you want and the amount of lighting you have you could also shoot at night and artificially light the set to get the desired look.

Charles Papert May 5th, 2011 01:20 AM

Re: Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
This doesn't help the main discussion of shooting down towards the bottom of the pool, but for the up-shots with the camera at the bottom, this may help as a discussion point:


For the girl floating in the water, we shot with a 5D in underwater housing handheld (to keep her in frame) at the bottom of a backyard pool, with a 20x20 greenscreen in a frame a couple of feet above the water. I had a single underwater Kino on the girl, and the ambient daylight sufficiently lit the green screen. We had to cover it with Visqueen to block sunlight patches leaking through from the back.

Kris Koster May 15th, 2011 05:16 AM

Re: Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
Thanks for that Charles, it looks superb, I love the way you lit her with the kino.

We had enough light bouncing off the bottom of the pool as we were shooting in sunlight, so didn't need underwater lights.

I did promise I would post our final result, so here it is. This is an alternative mix of the clip that's going out for broadcast. I've posted this one because it has a slightly longer underwater scene:

The sequence doesn't appear until 02:05 if you want to scrub forward.

Jonathan Shaw May 16th, 2011 05:13 PM

Re: Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
Good work, looks good.

What did you use in the end to black it out?

Kris Koster May 25th, 2011 07:10 PM

Re: Making a swimming pool not look like a swimming pool
Sorry for the delay! Working flat out on another one!

Black plastic as Andy and John suggested above, worked a treat. Picked up a huge 10m x 4m, more than enough from any gardening store (they use it to weather protect logs/outdoor stuff). Costs about 30 Euros.

The only thing I would add to what's been suggested already, is to use a corner of the pool, rather than just a side. With a corner, you get more scope and less chance of getting part of the pool wall in.

I would also suggest you use a lot of sandbags or heavy weights... I mean lots - That stuff floats and is a pain in the bum to lay it flat on the pool bottom.

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