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A Brantford model, Hamilton photographer and a master scuba diving trainer from Toronto had no idea their underwater photo shoot in June 2021 would set a Guinness World Record.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic when regulations scuttled most photo shoots, commercial photographer Steve Haining dreamed up the idea of ​​photographing a model underwater at shipwrecks in Tobermory.

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“I didn’t dive until about 2018,” said Haining, who obtained his Open Water dive certification. “I had done a couple of portraits in pools, but by no means was there any open water.”

As a full-time model, Ciara Antoski, 27, has traveled to 20 countries over the past 10 years, hired by photographers primarily for her artistic figure work.

Having previously worked with Antoski on several occasions, Haining pitched the concept to her.

“We’ve had this interesting, trusting relationship as far as photo shoots go for a long time,” the photographer noted. “And on top of all that, she is a diver herself. It gave me more comfort that she would probably be the only person who could do it.”

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Haining also hired Mareesha Klups-Klos, a master scuba diving trainer who has been teaching advanced open diving and fun diving in Tobermory for several years.

“I’m very familiar with the wrecks, and how to navigate them,” she explained. “When I found out what they wanted to do, I wanted it to be safe. We came up with a plan to support Ciara when she was underwater.”

Prior to the shipwreck photo shoot in Tobermory, Antoski’s preparation included doing breath work – eventually holding her breath for 2.5 minutes – and submersing himself in cold water for long periods of time.

“We started doing underwater portraits in a rented pool,” she recalled. “Then he had this grand scheme, and we had all this experience together built up, so it felt quite natural to do the Tobermory shoot.”

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Over three days in June 2021, the trio discovered the water temperature was much colder than anticipated, registering between 14 to 16 C.

While Haining and Klups-Klos wore wet suits, Antoski wore only a flowing dress, with a seven- to eight-pound weight belt beneath to help her remain in one spot.

“Because she was taking huge gasps of air – to be able to hold her breath for 30 seconds to a minute at a time – and had so much air in her body, that big breath would make her start to float up to the surface,” the photographer explained of the need for the weights.

Klups-Klos modified one of the two air regulators attached to her air tank with a longer hose, so she could stay close to watch for Antoski’s signal that she needed more water.

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The diver’s safety added that holding your breath in cold water is more challenging, as is keeping your heart rate down.

“I’d bring her down on SCUBA, she’d do a breath-up to bring down her heart rate, then she would hold her breath for 30 seconds or so while Steve took a couple of photos,” Klos explained. “Then I’d return to her to give her water underwater.”

Antoski noted that at one point they were beneath the surface for 25 to 30 minutes, and while the experience was both exciting and stressful, she gained more confidence with each dive.

“Another thing that was scary was as soon as I took off the mask, I was pretty much blind and all I could see was the lights of the camera, so I knew I had to face that way,” she shared. “The air I had trained for, the cold I had trained for, but I really didn’t expect not being able to see.”

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“We were focused on the shoot and not thinking that this was going to be a world record,” said Haining, which in the end set the record for the deepest underwater photoshoot. “Guinness approved the dive at 21 feet for 16 minutes.”

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In September when the water temperature will be warmer, Haining plans to return to Tobermory “for a very technical dive: a portrait shoot for 20 minutes at 100 feet” that would set a new world record.

“To do something like this safety is the first thing,” he emphasized.

Haining said that at that depth Klups-Klos would be the model, Antoski would teach her how to do the posing, and another safety diver would be employed.

“I always say Ciara is the real hero. The only reason the shoot was even possible is because she was willing to do it and had the strength and determination to make it happen.”

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