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Behind the scene work of the underwater photo shoot.
Model Nor Hasni with various poses underwater.

Adrenaline junkie and avid photographer Napie Moksin tells Izwan Ismail that he goes underwater for his best shots

AT a rocky riverbank near Templer Park, Napie Moksin stands in shoulder-deep water, armed with his photography equipment. He is ready for an underwater photo shoot.

With him is model Nor Hasni Hassan (known as Siti Murni Red Palatino in modelling circles), all dressed up in a blue peplum outfit.

Napie, whose real name is Khanafi Mohd Moksin, gives the thumbs up to Nor Hasni, who takes a long deep breath and then jumps into the calm river.

Completely submerged, she follows instructions that Napie gives via hand gestures on the posing styles that he wants. The underwater photo shoot goes for about an hour before Napie calls it a wrap.

DIFFERENT NATURE

Napie, 34, didn’t jump into underwater photography straight away when he started seven years ago. In fact, he wasn’t even a full time photographer back then.

“I started taking flora and fauna pictures and, as I acquired new skills, I expanded into other areas of photography like landscape, portrait and events,” says Napie, who has an IT background and used to work in the aviation services industry before he decided to go full time into underwater model photography.

To him, it’s a combination of what he loves to do as he is both a water sport fan and a photography enthusiast.

“Nevertheless, I never thought that I would, one day, end up as a professional shooter with a special niche,” he says.

HOW IT STARTED

When he ventured into photography seven years ago, Napie also did some studies on the photography trends in Malaysia and abroad.

“In Malaysia, almost everybody does the same thing and there’s no differentiation or uniqueness,” says.

While trying to find his own “niche”, Napie got the idea to “go off land” and into water. He found it a challenge.

“It’s something different and there’s hardly anyone doing this type of photography, what more involving models,” he says.

Being adventurous by nature, he says what he is doing has given him great satisfaction.

THE SKILLS

“I feel that underwater photography is the niche I’ve been looking for. It requires a different kind of approach,” says Napie.

Taking pictures of models underwater requires not just photography skills, but also skills in swimming and diving.

“I have the basic skills in diving and swimming from my adventure sports activities and a few of my friends, who are professional divers, have taught me how to use oxygen regulator, fins, pressure gauge and other diving equipment,” says Napie. “With the knowledge and practice, I’m able to do photo shoots in both shallow and deep water.”

He has acquired much of his underwater photography knowledge from the Internet and from reading about work done by top photographers like Rafal Makiela, Elena Kalis, Zena Holloway, Ric Frazier, Michael Harris and Mallory Morrison.

On the practical side, he picks up tips from friends who are in the same line but learns mainly through trial and error.

THE CHALLENGES

Underwater photography is full of challenges and has that touch of the magical at the same time.

“It’s something you can do by just reading or watching videos. In every session, there are new challenges to overcome and lessons to be learned,” says Napie.

For him, one of the main challenges is controlling body buoyancy.

“To get good buoyancy, one needs to at least do more than 30 dives. In the water, it’s not easy to control the body as it will wobble. Imagine trying to focus on camera settings when your body wobbles. At the same time, there is obstructed vision due to the bubbles released by the regulator,” says Napie.

Another challenge is communicating with the model when inside the water.

“Although hand gestures are used, the model often cannot really see as she’s not using goggles, so her vision may be blurry. Sometimes, what I do is to go back to the surface to give the model instructions before continuing,” he says.

Other challenges include how long the model can hold her breath. Normally this can be just a few seconds.

“Even when the pose is good, there is the danger of the model’s face being covered by hair or clothing. Dirt from the river or pool may also cloud the water. All these will affect the shooting session and the quality of the pictures,” explains Napie.

RIGHT EQUIPMENT

Having the right equipment is imperative for an underwater photo shoot. Napie uses Ikelite underwater housing for his Nikon D300, but for depths of less than 1.6m, he just uses a bag housing as this is easy to carry and can fit various types of cameras and lenses. The type of lens will also have an effect on the pictures.

Besides equipment, water quality and light are also important. And the models need to be trained for one or two weeks.

“She will be trained on how to use the regulator so that she won’t need to go to the surface regularly for air which is tiresome,” says Napie, whose assistant will also be in the water to help the model.

“This training is necessary if we are going to do a photo shoot at two metres deep or more,” he adds.

Another important aspect is make-up which has to last for at least 60 minutes in the water. For this, Napie works with Busana Rias which has experience in underwater make-up.

The outfits that the models wear must also be able to release air. Trapped air will cause some parts of the dress to bulge.

“Not only will this not look nice but it may also result in the model becoming wobbly in the water,” says Napie.

As a precaution, he will give guidance and make sketches of the poses that he wants before any photo shoot.

BIG PLANS

Napie would like to see underwater photography grow locally in the next 10 to 15 years. In the long run, he plans to have his own fully-equipped underwater studio and to organise photography classes to share his knowledge.

“Just like in other areas of photography, I’d like to see more local photographers establish their names locally and internationally as underwater photographers,” he says.

Napie also does wedding and baby pictures as well as of people looking for pictures of a different kind. Such photo shoots can also be done in swimming pools.

Details of his work and services at www.napiemoksin.com.

Challenge of a different kind

FOR model Nor Hasni Hassan, underwater modeling has given her a new kind of experience in her modeling career.

“It’s a niche area that not many would like to do,” she says.

Nor Hasni says she was attracted to this kind of photo shoot after seeing some photos of model posing underwater fully dressed and with make-up on, on the Internet.

Although difficult in the beginning, added by the fact she doesn’t know how to swim, proper guidance and training from experienced underwater photographer like Napie Moksin sees her through the challenge.

“Of course, there were lots of mistakes in the beginning because I tend to panic. There were also times when I was swept away by the currents, stuck between the big rocks or swallowed lots of water, but it’s part of learning. But after a while, things got better. “ says Nor Hasni, who is also into cycling when she’s not modeling.

“What I like about underwater photography is that it can be relaxing, once you master the technique. In fact, my body feels lighter in the water, hence making it easier for me to pose in various positions. And seeing the photos gives me some measure of satisfaction,” she says.”

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