As the summer approaches and warm weather starts to touch our skin, photographer Julia Lehman transitions her business below sea level to focus on her specialty, underwater photography. From May to September, Julia’s days are spent in her suburban Philadelphia pool, where she hosts an array of photoshoots with talent of all kinds.
I do a bit of everything underwater with stills and video including: professional athletes, musicians (music videos), dancers, business rebranding, babies/children (post InfantSwimRescue training), pregnant mothers, families, and prosthetic companies. So it’s always interesting!
Julia kicked off this year’s season with an exciting project for the Philadelphia Union soccer team as they showcased their limited edition Adidas PrimeBlue jersey’s made from 50% recycled plastic. For Julia — who is also a scuba diver, environmentalist, and breathwork healer — the project’s focus on ocean conservation was a strong element that aligned with her own work and activism.
For those who have doubts about the importance of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), Julia’s experience proves just how valuable it can be. This project came about through a simple organic google search for “Underwater photographer Philadelphia” and her site was the first to populate. The client immediately resonated with Julia’s artistry, and Allie Gentile, a rep from the Union, reached out about collaborating on a project with one of the team’s senior players, Sergio Santos.
Working with Wonderful Machine Executive Producer, Craig Oppenheimer, Julia was awarded the contract and set the shoot for the second weekend in May to meet the client’s May 25th deadline. Yet the east coast isn’t as predictable when it comes to spring weather, and shooting in an outdoor pool surrounded by trees could become messy if not hazardous!
With the weather, I’m at the mercy of all the elements, and typically May is very cold and rainy… and, as you can imagine, being in the water when it’s cold is brutal for everybody involved. Thankfully it ended up being a really beautiful day!
Teaching someone how to pose underwater can be difficult, and even the most experienced models and athletes have to transition their knowledge to this new type of setting. While some might be physically adept, there are certain positions and facial expressions that simply won’t work when submerged. On any shoot, Julia, and assistant Sarah Brower, coach the talent on how to hold their breath, keep their eyes open and smile — all the things people aren’t used to doing when actually swimming.
They’re not thinking about how their face looks underwater, and when holding their breath, a lot of people also puff out their cheeks and squint their eyes.
Yet Sergio proved to be a natural, instantly exploring a playfulness in the pool that Julia often sees in those she works with. Wearing his cleats, gear, and the PrimeBlue jersey, the soccer star was flipping, jumping, kicking, and dancing, and seemed to find the water a great outlet for his vibrant energy.
Sergio was great! He could do a bunch of things and was very well aware. Most of the time when I work with someone who is a professional athlete or dancer it is a big advantage.
To provide Sergio with the opportunity to show his skills, Julia requested that Union bring a soccer ball filled with water so that it wouldn’t immediately float to the top of the pool. Although she found the easiest solution was to photograph the ball independently and add it in post-production, there were still many shots where Sergio was able to dribble the ball underwater. Since she had limited time with the athlete, Julia focused her attention on Sergio’s movement and poses, and any minor details or blemishes could be cleaned up in photoshop.
Along with the two assistants Julia employed, Sarah Brower and Kaia McTigue, the client also brought their two internal videographers to accompany Julia in her pool in order to create content for their social media campaign. While the videographers were a great asset, they did require some basic coaching on how to shoot underwater and Julia instructed them on how to stabilize using weight belts in the pool.
Energetically I’m usually working 1-on-1 with people so I was concerned about there being too many people in the pool, but everyone stayed in their lane, and the one-hour shoot went really well.
This unexpectedly beautiful Saturday in May proved to be a fun shoot for all involved (just listen to the crew all laughing in the video above!). Although it was Julia’s first shoot of the season, her years of experience and expertise guided all crew and talent through the nuances of shooting in the deep end.
Thank you again so much for everything, we are so appreciative and overjoyed with how the shoot turned out. – Allie Gentile
Director of Community Relations: Allie Gentile
Executive Producer: Craig Oppenheimer
Talent: Sergios Santos
Underwater Videographer: Michael Verdecchio
BTS Videographer: Tyler Beaumont
BTS Photographer: Kim Ahrens
Assistants: Sarah Brower, Kaia McTigue
See more of Julia’s work on her Instagram.