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Water Spirit: Epic Underwater Photoshoot in Dominican Republic

50 Cakes: "Celebrate Yourself" Adult Birthday Photoshoot by Zorz Studios (1)
50 Cakes: “Celebrate Yourself” Adult Birthday Photoshoot
September 26, 2017
Water Spirit: Epic Underwater Photoshoot in Dominican Republic by Zorz Studios (1)

When you submerge the beauty, vigor, and determination of a young lady into the enigmatic caves of Dominican Republic, don’t screw a chance for an epic underwater photoshoot!

What comes to your mind when you hear about a Caribbean nation and Dominican Republic in particular? It reminds me of crystal clear waters and white-sand beaches which are ideal for diving and snorkeling. This tropical country is also a famous spot for destination weddings that are punctuated with adventurous experiences for all, such as a swamp-and-jungle photoshoot at a wedding last year.

Therefore, it was not a surprise when a guest from another Dominican Republic fairytale wedding requested her own separate photoshoot, taking advantage of a rare and favorable lineup of all the stars: location, time, and a creative photographer. Meet Alia from Louisiana, a scuba diver and a soul most liberated under the pristine blue waters. Being a close friend of the bride (and similarly knowing me back from my corporate life at Forest Laboratories), she decided to hire me for a full day of adventure of the deep waters luring us in and the sun shining brightly through them.

During the preparations stage, Alia’s immediate thoughts were about the seashore and a pool in her rented villa. I wanted more… way more. I wanted an epic underwater photoshoot! I did my research and discovered Dudu Lagoon (Lago Dudu, Laguna el Dudu) to set off her adventure. This lagoon is located outside Cabrera and is a natural cenote with crystal clear water contributing to its striking blue color.

Although I had only 3.5 hours of sleep after shooting Stephanie and Joshua’s wedding, I got up at 5 AM to be the first for opening. Dudu Lagoon is a small but very popular place with locals and tourists (swimming, scuba diving, zip line jumping, snorkeling) so it was prudent to start early to have clearer water and cleaner background. Whether because of the rain that morning or the early hour but when we arrived, the place was indeed empty and we had a full hour of shooting all to ourselves.

The lake is a natural preserve and presents a 25-meter (82 ft) deep opening into the labyrinth of underwater passages and caves. Professional scuba divers frequent it and Alia, being a diver for 10 years, scouted the location the day before. However, I practice natural diving without equipment for my underwater sessions (and not using anything but goggles) so we were limited to the easily accessible areas, primarily along the vertical-drop walls.

A few uncomfortable for me words of revelation which I disclose on the About page of my website… Since early childhood, when I was training for swimming, I developed a fear of depth. There’s a long childhood story related to the 5-meter deep (16.4 ft) pool with the walls and floor covered with a dark green mold, which I would nonetheless forced myself to reach at the bottom at age 7… Fast forward to Dudu Lagoon and a storm of sensations whirlpooled in me when I looked into the darkness of a 25-meter deep hole… But wasn’t it exactly what would help create an epic underwater photoshoot? And how would it sink with my Fearless Photographer title? In the end, my determination took over but know that the final images in such setups cost me a psychological mini trauma. 🙂

Alia, void of such fears, still had her share of a shock with another disappointing discovery. Experience with an assisted diving, when equipped with a tank of oxygen, swimsuit, life jacket, goggles, and fins, offers almost no help with the natural diving. Diver’s reliance and dependency on that constantly flowing oxygen may even do a disservice, weakening lungs potential. On top of that, she started in a cotton dress with a flowing skirt—a gorgeous and visually stunning effect for any epic underwater photoshoot but a heavy anchor and handcuffs on the legs. It was so heavy that it started to rip itself by kicking legs. She was ready to quit the dress idea after the very second dive but with some pushing and advice from me, we managed to get the shots. The unique landscape allowed me to go deeper and shoot upwards even when she dove deep. This was a spectacular observation, especially when I aligned her with the sun position. Unfortunately, the sun wasn’t too cooperating because of the stormy clouds. We were lucky to get brief bursts of light through the occasional openings. Just before we wrapped up the first set, a heavy shower came.

We needed to return to Castillo Del Mar for our newlyweds’ photo shoot. I worked with them on the beach to get a few artistic portraits skipped yesterday, and then again with Alia on her yoga poses on the beach to capture her meditation above the waters. The one in black and white stand out for me. They show a feminine spirit—liberated of all worries that are worldly—paying homage to nature.

We returned to the lagoon around lunch time and saw buses (!) on the parking lot… Approaching the lake confirmed the fears, there were lots of people already. See, the water gets murkier by us already, let alone all the other swimmers! We managed to finish some ideas adding to the allure of Alia who, given her devotion to yoga, was meditating courtesy of its calming influence, adding more definition of this epic underwater photoshoot.

Then I spotted some activity near the center of the lake. Swam there to scout and discovered something colossal in its visual impact… A huge tree that once fell into the lake from the cliff above and sank vertically. Its thick branches almost reached the surface, allowing people to stand on them. That’s when I tasked Alia with diving along the branches. I knew that it would add to the mystifying story.  I finished at Dudu Lagoon with photos of our water nymph looking up much like a mermaid planning her next dive and one where she is nonchalantly sitting like a queen without a throne.

As readers can see, our model is a soul devoid of inhibitions. She loves her body and is not afraid to show off the hard work she has invested in herself. Therefore, we concluded our adventurous day at the pool and took some beautiful shots of her body resembling a diva at the height of her physical appeal.  

We stopped at 5 PM, making it an 11-hr adventure that gave me something never seen before, making an honorable addition to my underwater portfolio, and earning a true status of the epic underwater photoshoot, some of my best. I flew back to NYC the same evening, exhausted but elated. Another job well done and another relationship made for life!

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The full backstage story of the entire trip is caringly put together for you in my regular travel journal on the PolarSteps platform. Below are some behind-the-scene shots and screenshots from my Instagram Story (@zorzstudios). As a special note, kudos are in order for the lagoon’s administration. I shot in similar places, e.g. underwater cenotes in Mexico, and we had to pay a significant amount there just because it’s professional photography. Do not remember exactly but something like $200. Here you pay $3 per person regardless of your intentions with photography. What’s more, we did not have to pay after leaving for a few hours… The location also offers a ton of other recreational activities and game fields, it is well maintained and groomed, so I highly recommend it to any type of visitors.

And here’s a cool teaser I posted while working on the shoot. It gives me chills…

Ed Hafizov
Ed Hafizov
Ed Hafizov is a creative director and lead photographer of Zorz Studios, Manhattan-based boutique photography studio, offering arousing and daring fashion, commercial, beauty, and wedding photography. Multiple Fearless Photographer™ award winner, named among the top 50 US wedding photographers, top 10 NY wedding photographers, winner of Adobe contests, featured by Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Elle et al, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week photographer, and a distinguished member of Grace Ormonde Wedding Style‘s Platinum List, he is eager to step out of his and willing clients' comfort zone to pursue original artwork with a lasting impression.