Seeing Underwater

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Emily Morrison underwater photo shoot by Erena Shimoda

Emily Morrison underwater photo shoot by Erena Shimoda

One of the things I feel passionately about is using underwater portrait photography as a means to help someone emotionally heal. When you’re underwater, you have to relax and be honest and maybe face certain fears you have inside. When you see yourself in an underwater portrait, your perception of yourself changes, and you gain a sense of wonder, confidence, and pride.

Back in July and August, I ran an underwater healing project specifically to help cancer patients gain this sense of healing. My fundraising campaign, “Underwater Healer – About Face,” raised over $10,000 so that I could shoot 10 cancer survivors and donate money to, an online community where survivors, fighters and supporters of people with cancer can connect with one another and share their stories. I’m so grateful to all the contributors to this campaign because they made it possible for me to not only help cancer survivors locally, but to meet some extraordinary people across the nation as well., my partner for the campaign, flew me out to New York City to shoot their CEO and two members. One of those two members, Emily Morrison, made a particular impact on me during this trip. I was already a bit nervous since it was my first time doing an underwater photography session in New York, but I was particularly concerned because 25-year-old Emily is still receiving treatment for an inoperable brain tumor that is spreading to her optic nerve and causing her to go blind soon.

Erena Shimoda

Erena Shimoda

Even though Emily has gone through a lot of difficulty, I was totally blown away by her positive energy. Her amazing spirit motivated me, especially since she wrote, “Have Under Water photos taken” in her  “To-see list,” a wish list of all the things she wants to do before she loses her eyesight.

When Emily and I met, I could tell she was eager and ready to jump in the pool immediately. She thanked me for coming out there and told me how happy and excited she was to do the photo shoot with me. Because of Emily’s ongoing medication and treatment, I wanted to be careful and make sure she was feeling okay. But because we had a good connection from the start, my nervousness began to melt away. I was confident that this photo shoot would head in a good direction.

Emily wore a beautiful dusty lavender dress that she picked for this photo shoot especially. With a long pearl necklace and beautiful make-up, she looked gorgeous underwater. One of my favorite images of her looks like she was synchronized with the waves and melting into the water.

I was so happy to meet Emily in person and make one of her dreams come true. As much as underwater portrait sessions like this one help my clients heal, they also help me see the world in a whole new way. I’m thankful Emily enabled me to see and feel so much beauty and strength during our time together.


Erena Shimoda is an underwater portrait photographer based in San Francisco. She was born in Tokyo, Japan, is certified as a scuba Divemaster, and uses her background in New Media and Fine Art to create unique compositions in different media.


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