There are so many reasons to hit up your go-to beach spots or favourite dam as the warm weather rolls in, but did you know that your mental health could be one of them? Enter Blue Mind Theory, the hypothesis that being in and around bodies of water actually reduces anxiety and levels of stimulation. If you’re feeling stressed out after the rollercoaster that has been 2021, there couldn’t be a better time or a more compelling motivation to be in, on or by the sea this summer.

Fascinated by this theory, photographer Justin Coomber set out to capture the almost spiritual sensation we experience when immersed in the ocean. His breathtaking photo-series, “Blue Mind”, is the result of this endeavour. We caught up with Justin to dig a bit deeper into his sources of inspiration, and to learn from the insights he garnered during the production of this collection of works.

You can check out Justin’s website to discover the full photo-series.

Tell us about the backstory for your photo-series, “Blue Mind”. What inspired this project and how did you go about creating these images?

I have always found inspiration from the ocean and have lived next to it my whole life. I had recently heard the term “Blue Mind” which essentially means “the mildly meditative state we fall into when near, in, on, or underwater.” It’s the antidote to what we refer to as “Red Mind,” which is the anxious, over-connected, over-stimulated state that defines the new normal of modern life. I could relate to this immensely and which made me want to do a photo-series to try and express that.

How does the location of the ocean and the beach inspire and inform your image-making process?

The ocean and beach are ever-changing and you can never predict with 100% accuracy how it will look. Just spending time in the water and near it I find I am always seeing a new angle or having new ideas pop into my head. The light changes, the stillness or roughness changes, the colour of the water changes as well as the locations change. So I find I am continuously influenced by it and its constant state of change.

What in your opinion are the compositional elements that come together to form an aesthetically pleasing ocean-themed image?

I don’t think there is a single recipe for this. It really depends on the idea you have. For some you might need that beautiful golden light and a still ocean such as for this project. For others, you might need moody skies and grey tones with a more rough ocean to portray something else. It really depends on the emotion, feeling or event you are wanting to portray. 

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What are your top 5 tips for shooting images like those in your series?

My top 5 tops would be:

  • Plan for the weather as best as you can. So always be looking for those calm and sunny days.
  • Keep it as minimalistic as possible. So for me, I tried to have absolutely nothing else in the frames except my subject and the water which can be tricky.
  • Get a bit dangerous with it. I was often shooting with my camera around 1cm above the water, oftentimes getting it wet. I would get in the water with the subjects and try from high angles to very low angles and close up detail shots to wider shots.
  • Communicate clearly with your subject about what you want and what you want them to do. Create mood boards and inform them as much as you can. If they understand you well and you can communicate to them clearly it will make it a lot easier. 
  • Have fun with it! Try as many ideas as possible, try different poses or splashing water, change the direction you are shooting in. Try use a reflector for some shots. Let your imagination run wild.
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How do you protect your gear from being damaged by the salt, sand and spray?

I am normally rather harsh on my gear so I got it wet a few times, luckily not to bad as I could wipe it off but after every shoot I would give it a good clean. I used a plastic bag over it once which seemed to help. 

blue mind

What gear do you recommend for shooting portraits in or close to bodies of water?

I would say you can use any camera really, but I only used one lens for this whole project and that was my trusty 50mm F1.4. It gave the images beautiful bokeh and really isolated the subject in the water. You could even try to use a water housing and try to shoot from under the water as well.

blue mind