Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Michigan photographers shoot photos underwater

Fremont, Mich. (AP) — For Jeff Blanzy, shooting the Fremont High School swim team picture underwater was a swim in the park compared to his previous career as a commercial diver pulling maintenance on nuclear power plants.
But after years as a commercial diver, and later dipping his toes into the corporate world, Blanzy, 53, decided to combine decades of diving experience with his love of photography into the Fremont photography studio Treasured Images by Jeffrey.
Fremont diver/photographer Jeff Blanzy photographs Fremont High School junior Logan Essebaggers, 16, underwater in his baseball uniform in the Fremont High School swimming pool in March.  Blanzy and his wife, Lisa, own and operate Treasured Images by Jeffrey and offer underwater portraiture as an option for customers.
From athletes and students to brides and models, the photography business owned by Blanzy and his wife, Lisa, captures moments in a unique way — underwater portraits.
"I used to be a commercial diver and I've been taking pictures all my life," Blanzy said. "Basically, we turned a hobby into a business when we started doing this about a year ago." The studio also does photos in traditional settings.
More than 20 years ago, Blanzy, a recreational diver, began diving commercially for an Ann Arbor-based company that specialized in nuclear diving.
Using commercial scuba equipment, Blanzy would perform mechanical inspections, repairs and fuel transfers on nuclear reactors diving in 95- to 120-degree radioactive water. The dives usually lasted about 20 to 30 minutes.
"We were wired from our toes all the way up to check for radiation levels and body temperature," Blanzy said. "We wore an ice vest under our suit. It was only 15 minutes sometimes, and that vest would be completely melted."
Diving in nuclear power plants is an exacting science. Equipment is carefully checked so nothing is left behind, which cause damage to the fuel rods.
"Everything is documented — down to a piece of tape — because everything has to be checked off when you leave. The equipment never leaves the site."
Blanzy said the commercial diving job was like "being a professional athlete" because of the traveling required.
"It gets old living out of a hotel all the time," Blanzy said. "I could be gone from home for six months easy, and you don't know your schedule ahead of time."
After 15 years as a commercial diver, he decided to take an office job as a marketing sales manager. But after six years in the corporate world, he decided it was time for another change.
"As a commercial diver, I picked up things like underwater photography, video and documentation. I wanted to do something that incorporated all my skills," Blanzy said. "I wanted to take the last part of my career to do something I really enjoy. I also wanted to do something different from what everybody else was doing."

Fremont diver/photographer Jeff Blanzy and his wife, Lisa Blanzy own and operate Treasured Images by Jeffrey. 
 Blanzy said he and his wife were at an art gallery in South Beach, Fla., which had a number of photos taken underwater on display. "They were just absolutely beautiful, and that kind of piqued our interest."
The husband and wife team work together to execute the underwater shoots, with Lisa Blanzy staying dry while her husband's in the pool.
"Lisa works on the surface, coordinating activities, because there is a lot of topside stuff, like changing backdrops, adjusting lighting, holding the train of a wedding dress and helping models," Blanzy said. "The water is not over their heads, so at any time they can stand up. When it's all said and done, we have a lot of fun, but they have to love the water."
Recently, this challenging twist on portraits was made even more difficult when the entire Fremont High School Men's Swim and Dive Team was photographed as a team and individually.
"I had never done a shoot with 24 people under water, and we didn't know what we were going to get ourselves into," Blanzy said. "But it was a lot of fun and everyone had a blast. The swim team was very polite and helpful. We're looking forward to doing it again."
The couple uses the Fremont High School pool for their underwater photo shoots because they need a controlled environment for lighting, weather and temperatures. However, they will travel anywhere in West Michigan that has a public pool available to rent.
"The pool becomes our studio," Lisa Blanzy said. "We've had brides underwater, a model. And maternity photos are very beautiful under water. This was our first team shot so it was a lot more difficult to organize."
The duo volunteered to photograph the swim team in order to help get the word out about the unique product they offer.
"As a swim team, we're always in the water, so it's what we do," said Mary Pekel, Fremont High School teacher and varsity swim coach. "I wasn't sure how (the photos) would turn out, but they are really interesting.
"We're going to show a DVD of the photos at our banquet. The guys loved it. They loved doing the pictures, and they really liked the end result," Pekel said.
Lisa Blanzy said the response has been phenomenal.
"The parents that I've personally talked to love the photos, and the boys had a blast," she said. "We didn't charge them. It was just for fun, and we put the photos up on the website for them to buy if they want. We're trying to offer something different and neat."

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