In an effort to bring awareness to accidental drowning, photographer Seth Casteel published three books filled with underwater portraits. The first two books, Underwater Dogs and Underwater Puppies, featured underwater portraits of dogs. Casteel took the same approach with babies after learning drowning was the No. 1 cause of accidental deaths for infants.
"Water safety applies to every one, our furry friends and our human friends," he says.
Casteel shot portraits of 750 babies between the ages of 4 and 17 months over nine months for his book Underwater Babies. He traveled to 10 states and 14 swim schools to take photos of babies during their swim lessons, where Casteel participated by playing games and singing songs to make the babies feel more comfortable.
"You start to recognize this baby is more comfortable. You start to see who is more happy and excited," he says.
With his DSLR camera, an underwater rig and a few strobe lights, Casteel waited for the one to three seconds the babies were underwater and, click, a portrait was made. Instructors had complete control of the lessons, which Casteel admits was the hardest part of shooting.
"I had such a limited window," he says. "Sometimes I was only able to shoot three photos underwater."
Still, the portraits are filled with whimsy and personality. He says he is "super against" using the fear tactic to bring awareness. While the photos are about promoting water safety, Casteel's goal was to create a positive experience for viewers because he knew seeing pictures of babies underwater could be jolting for some.
"We take positive pictures," Casteel says. "Inspire people to be a part of something. Don't scare them."
Although getting their baby into the water may be a scary thought for parents, Casteel says it's better to "start your baby swimming sooner rather than later," encouraging parents to research which program is right for them. He hopes his photos inspire discussion on the importance of infant swimming lessons.
"Everybody knows water is dangerous, but I don't think they know how dangerous or the benefits of infant swimming lessons," he says. "I love if people see an image I take and laugh at it. That's a compliment. But if that image can save a baby's life, that's amazing."