Photos: Hamilton photographer breaks Guinness world record with underwater shoot

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Published August 21, 2023 at 12:36 pm

STEVE HAINING/CREATEOF. INC
STEVE HAINING/CREATEOF. INC

Wearing a 12-pound weight belt underneath her dress, Ciara Antoski was submerged in freezing water by the shipwreck for as long as 30 minutes.

With the dive instructor’s help, the model had a regulator and a dive mask that she removed to pose for the graceful, Titanic-like shots.

Antoski held her breath between 40 to 60 seconds to do the poses.

What started as a joke about the pandemic restrictions became a Guinness world record for photographer Steve Haining of Hamilton, Antoski and dive instructor Mareesha Klups. They made history for conducting the world’s deepest underwater portrait photo shoot at 6.4 metres (21 feet) in Tobermory, Ont., on June 26, 2021.

Haining said a year into the pandemic in early 2021, he and his team were joking that they should just walk around the studio in their scuba gear so they wouldn’t be in each others’ airspace.

“The joke turned into doing a series of portraits underwater in controlled environments like pools,” Haining said in an email to inthehammer.com.

Those portraits then led to a bigger ambition – a portrait shoot under freezing water at the base of shipwrecks.

After much planning, Haining and his team settled on the WL Wetmore shipwreck in  Tobermory, Ont., which is between 21 to 33 feet down in open water. Tobermory was on Haining’s bucket list of places to visit. 

“It’s a hidden gem to divers in Ontario with possibly the largest collection of well-preserved shipwrecks in the entire world,” he told inthehammer.com. There were some very unique well-maintained parts of that wreck which made it the ideal background subject in the final images.”

Since the spot was in a “controlled environment” in a shallow harbour, he said it would make the shoot easier to do.

“The most challenging part was simply that it was a technical project,” he said.

Once submerged in the water, Haining said the model lost most of her visibility so they had to create many safety precautions and develop underwater sign language beyond dive hand signals. The photographer, crew and safety divers all had scuba gear on.

For Haining, he said he hoped to create art again “at a time in history where artists weren’t really allowed to.”

“I didn’t really have a message to convey at the time but in hindsight I think that it comes down to that you can take any idea no matter how small or funny or insignificant it might be and if you put it in the hands of a group of people who are inspired then it can really turn into something beautiful,” he said.

Haining, who was born and raised in Hamilton, said since 2015, he has been living between Los Angeles and Hamilton depending on the time of year or projects. He still has a studio in Hamilton though he has relocated to Orlando.

In September, he plans to take everything they learned from this project back to Tobermory to do a new series of photos with a designer and a couple of companies supporting him and his crew. “This time significantly deeper at what is one of the more unique locations in the area,” he added.

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