Rafał Makieła, 43, is a Polish photographer now based in Dubai. His photography began 10 years ago, the impulse of interest in this field of art was the birth of his daughter Maksymilianna. The desire to immortalize every day of her life led to his interest in photography. And so it became his passion. Slowly Rafał learned how to follow the best photographers and he was practicing constantly. Rafal Makiela is an award-winning photographer that specializes in underwater fashion photography, commercial advertising. He recently did a project with Leica – UAE and The Brand Avenue, highlighting the opportunities offered by the Leica X-U.
You’ve been doing underwater photography for some time now, what has been your biggest challenge and why?
The biggest challenge for me was an underwater shoot on Bali. it was my first session in the sea, and i wasn’t sure of what conditions will there be. It was a very difficult shoot, but the most challenging it was for a model. We’ve been fighting with changing currents, which were pulling the model in different directions, despite the fact that she was attached to the bottom with a line on her ankle. When the currents were getting stronger, they were bringing a lot of sand and small sea life, which caused lower visibility. Also the sun wasn’t helping, as it kept hiding behind the clouds and showing up again which caused big light changes. Salt water caused eye irritation for model, which forced us to take many breaks on the boat. Shooting took 2 days and despite all adversities, it went very well.
In the fashion industry, brands can go to any lengths in order to achieve their creative ideas. Do you think underwater advertisings and fashion books are becoming a trend?
When I started doing underwater photography 5 years ago, underwater fashion shots were quite rare. The time went by, access to underwater photography equipment got easier and the popularity kept growing. There are many great photographers who specialize in this field and they get more and more attention.
Underwater photography gives huge possibilities in the world of fashion shoots, they might not be very new, as those kind of shoots were conducted even at the analog photography times, but nowadays with digital cameras it gives us bigger possibilities.
What was the creative approach for this project? Who was the client and how was it conceived?
My wife and I had an idea of shooting jewelry under the water. We kept looking for new ideas to do an interesting underwater shoot. The project was created with two companies from Dubai – Leica UAE and The Brand Avenue. Al Barari Dubai helped us by allowing us to use their amazing pool. This project would not be as good without the help of many people.
It aims to promote Leica on the local market in a new and original way. The Brand Avenue planned a series of exhibitions with the pictures from the shoot, along with promotion of Leica in many exclusive places in Dubai. First event took place in The Address Dubai Mall. Next ones are still ahead.
This series was shot exclusively with the Leica X-U, please share your experience with the camera.
I’m surprised with the capabilities of this camera, as at the first glance it looks like a “vacation toy camera” rather than a professional camera because of its size. I’m not talking about design obviously, which is great as in every Leica camera. Despite the first impression the camera has big capabilities for someone who knows how to use them.
I was, of course, shooting in RAW files, to get everything from the picture in post production. The most interesting function is the “UW” button, which, put on the control panel allows us to automatically correct the white balance to fit the conditions under the water. It’s very convenient and makes the work faster.
The only flaw is the focus, which unfortunately, was not always able to keep up. It was sometimes sharpening on the air bubbles, rather than on the model, but the conditions under water are difficult for cameras so it was a minor flaw. My general feeling is very good, and for sure I will be happy to work with Leica cameras in the future.
When compared to other underwater equipment or housings, what do you make of the Leica X-U’s performance?
Leica is very light gear comparing to housings for other cameras. It’s very easy and intuitive to operate, which is very important underwater, it also has a very good screen to see the pictures while taking them.
Given the nature of underwater photography, and as you mention that there is almost no gravity, anything can happen. How do you balance your creative input with what actually comes out of a photo shoot?
The key is to have very good planning. Starting from choosing the right models, because this kind of shoot is very difficult and not every model can do it. I usually work with people I’ve worked with in the past. Then we can choose good outfits and accessories, which have to be made of proper fabrics that will behave nicely underwater. Also the pool is very important, it has to be deep and clean enough to shoot. However, about 50% of the final effect is achieved in post production, almost every pictures needs touch ups.
Surely, some of the subjects you shoot behave differently underwater than on the surface. How do you direct them so they feel at ease and comfortable during the shoots?
After over 100 underwater shoots I have done, it’s easier for me to predict it, with higher probability of knowing its outcome. I know that the colours will be deeper and darker, I know how to use the light – either sun or flashlight, to achieve what I want.
How do you see envision underwater photography in the future?
It sure has a big future. There are more and more camera companies who offer underwater equipment. The number of people who have access to this equipment rises, which causes more creative underwater shoots. I think it’s a very good direction.
Lastly, what other projects are you working on and is there anything else you’d like to add for our readers to know about?
We are currently talking with a few companies worldwide, we are preparing projects for them. We take not only pictures of fashion/jewelry, but also bathroom fittings, furniture, sports equipment, watches… The underwater world gives big possibilities of creation and we try to make the most of it.
However, every shoot means a lot of preparation and discussions with a client. Everything needs to be well prepared to avoid unpleasant surprises on the day of the shoot. It has to be very well coordinated to make it run smoothly and ensure the safety of every participant. And of course to make sure the client will be happy with the result 🙂
My message for the readers is – I really encourage you to try underwater photography, it will be something new and exciting, and for a start I recommend the Leica X-U.