Blue Earth
Glazer's Camera

Pete Saloutos: Underwater Ballet

While choreographing the swimmers' movements, such as doing laps, Saloutos resorted to hand signals underwater.© Peter Saloutos While choreographing the swimmers' movements, such as doing laps, Saloutos resorted to hand signals underwater.© Peter Saloutos
© Pete Saloutos

Water is the source of our being and the thread that ties all life together. What better medium, then, with which to illustrate a new life as it is beginning? For Puget Sound-area photographer Pete Saloutos, images of pregnancy and water were a natural fit.

"I had done a series of pregnant nudes, and I thought this might be an interesting thing to do," Saloutos says of his untitled underwater creation (top, right). A talent agency found a model who was heavily pregnant and willing to pose. "The other one was a friend she invited along for the shoot," he says.

Shot last summer, using natural outdoor light and some silver cards, the pregnant nude study was, for Saloutos, a relatively simple underwater setup. "I had a couple of assistants hold up the fabric flowing behind the models, but I was just down there with the camera and goggles," he says.

The photo is part of a recent series of images Saloutos has made in indoor and outdoor swimming pools near his home on Bainbridge Island, Wash., right across the water from Seattle. He became attracted to the design elements provided by the reflections under the surface of the water and the illusion of weightlessness in the subjects.

A prolific stock shooter, Saloutos has photographed for nearly every kind of genre over the last 35 years, including corporate portraiture, architecture, travel, fine art, landscapes and advertising. His specialty, however, is sports photography, and his appreciation for the beauty, power and grace of athletes shows clearly in these crystalline images.

The ongoing pool series marks a return to the water for Saloutos, who, after earning his history/fine-art degree at UCLA in 1969, became a commercial photographer and a certified scuba diver. After many years of experimenting with underwater photography, however, he was forced to hang up his wet suit in 1984 due to a mysterious onset of severe headaches whenever he went swimming. It was not until a few years ago that the headaches subsided and he began to return slowly to the pool.

Saloutos' joyful reacquaintance with swimming now allows him to apply to the watery world many of the studio techniques he honed for the last 20 years as a stock shooter on dry land. For his underwater shoots, he requires a Nikonos 5 underwater camera, Kodak E100VS film, several Ikelite strobes, and a lot of work from his crew and his athletic models.

The deceptively simple composition of "Female Diver" (right), for example, was made with Saloutos in full scuba gear; three other assistant divers, each holding a 200-watt strobe; and more strobes set up above the water, all synchronized precisely at the moment the diver's body penetrated a certain distance into the water.

Working with students on the Bainbridge High School girls' swim team, Saloutos had the diving coach send a succession of three or four girls into a series of difficult reverse dives off a 1-meter board ("We couldn't find a high-dive board anywhere," he says) to get the divers and crew into a rhythm. "It took six hours to get the right shot," he says.
Communication also was an issue. While choreographing the swimmers' movements, such as doing laps (below, right) or rising in unison to touch the surface (below, left), Saloutos resorted to hand signals underwater.

The work paid off, however. Last year, "Female Diver" won Portfolios.com's Gold Award for best image in the advertising category. "I can't count how many times it's been used by a bunch of different clients through stock agencies," he says. "All the swimmers' photos were being used for various ads and promotions for the Olympics last year."

For more information on Saloutos' extensive stock portfolio, visit petesaloutos.com.

Randy Woods
Story Author: Randy Woods

Randy Woods, editor of PhotoMedia, has been in the magazine publishing world for more than 20 years, covering such varied topics as photography, insurance, business startups, environmental issues and newspaper publishing. He is also associate editor for iSixSigma magazine and writes a job—search blog for The Seattle Times called “Hire Ground.”

E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it