The Amazing Grace of Underwater Portraits

Photographer Henrik Sorensen takes a fluid approach to the body in motion

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Henrik Sorensen / Getty Images

Buoyant Underwater Photography

Henrik Sorensen photographs
(Henrik Sorensen / Getty Images)

Henrik Sorensen specializes in underwater photography, but he doesn’t snap pictures of fish. He slips into pools with fully clothed dancers, soccer players, skateboarders and others to make portraits of people in a kind of suspended animation. Buoyancy allows for gravity-defying poses, while the water’s resistance, seen as ripples and bubbles, renders movement itself visible—a nifty feat for a “still” photo. The result feels timeless. “Everything is slow motion,” says Sorensen, who lives in Copenhagen. To limit excess bubbles that might spoil a scene, he doesn’t use a diving tank but instead holds his breath, like his subjects. Still, a little turbulence, he says, is “like a gift for the picture.”

Sorensen began his career as a documentary photographer, but left the field for commercial work that allowed him to pursue his passion for capturing bodies in motion. When a dancer suggested he try shooting his subjects underwater, he was hesitant at first, but realized immediately while submerged with his camera that he had found his calling. “I just felt at home down there, visually,” he says. “It’s very graceful, and I love that.”

This photo was taken in 2012 as part of a series called “Grace.”

Underwater Photography

Henrik Sorensen photographs
(Henrik Sorensen / Getty Images)

Sorensen’s initial underwater photographs featured athletes, such as soccer players and swimmers, in action poses. In his more recent work with dancers, he strives for a calmer, more subdued effect. “It’s me maturing in a way, getting a bit more confident in making some of my images a bit more relaxed and subtle,” he says. “That’s the big thing down there, in this environment. It’s silent, completely silent. It’s meditative. You can get away from it all.”

Underwater Photography

Henrik Sorensen photographs
(Henrik Sorensen / Getty Images)

“For every shoot I’m really focused on what I need to do,” Sorensen says. “I’ve got the image inside my head, so I just need to capture it real time.” His process involves setting up a large backdrop along a pool’s wall and hanging powerful studio lights above the surface that flash whenever he takes a picture. His camera is encased in a waterproof shell. “Everything is more difficult underwater. The environment’s not so controllable, so you waste a lot of shots. But the reward is so much bigger, when everything clicks,” he says.