When the Royal Canadian Navy's newest class of clearance divers completed their year-long training, they were looking for a special way to commemorate the event. That's when the idea of an underwater class photo was born. Luckily, Sailor 1st Class Valerie LeClair—who also acts as an official photographer for the Navy—was up to the challenge.
Everyone—both instructors and students—jumped into the pool and filed into two rows. In front, an antique diving bell adds a bit of decor, while a flag behind the group is a standard of any graduation photo. But, of course, the underwater twist made this group photo all the more challenging. “They’d float up [to the surface],” LeClair shares. “It was hard for them to sit in the chairs.”
To combat the buoyancy, everyone put 8-pound weights into their pockets and friendly neighbors would help push down any classmates who were floating away. But that wasn't the only issue. Only the instructors in the front row had oxygen tanks under their chairs. The students in the back had to hold their breath while trying to pose.
As you can imagine, getting the final shot took a lot of trial and error. “By the time you’re in position, somebody’s almost out of breath already,” says Sailor 1st Class Tajoniel Forbes, who appears in the back row. “So you have five to 10 seconds to actually shoot the picture before somebody shot off.”
Eventually, after a lot of outtakes and about a dozen photos where someone's eyes were closed, LeClair got the photo she was after. But while the work was over for the sailors in the photo, LeClair had many hours ahead of her before the photo was perfect. She spent a long time on post-production, meticulously removing all the bubbles that were in the photo.
In the end, all the effort was worth it. These talented divers, who train to learn skills like finding and neutralizing explosives underwater, were immortalized in a class photo worthy of their skills.