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How to Use an Inflatable Pool as a Dramatic Backdrop for Portraits

Photo of kiddie pool backdrop

Here’s a clever do-it-yourself photography project to try out this summer. In the below video, photographer Irene Rudnyk shows you how she set up an inflatable kiddie pool in her backyard and used it as a dramatic backdrop for a portrait/fashion session.

“I actually tried doing this concept in my living room this winter, which was honestly quite a disaster,” Rudnyk admits. “It was my first time attempting something like this, so I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned and decided to try it again outside.”

We’re glad she did. With the temperatures warming up and COVID restrictions lifting, now’s a great time to experiment with different photographic looks to help catch the eyes of potential clients.

“I know this might seem pretty simple but there’s a lot to it,” Rudnyk says about her backyard swimming pool set-up. “The first thing is preparation: I inflated and filled the pool with the water early during the day to give it time to warm up for the evening shoot. Then I decided to cover the bottom and the sides of the pool with the fabric backdrop.”

The next step, she says, is “super important.” It’s adding a mixture of green and blue colors to the water using watercolor paints. “If you don’t do this, your water won’t look deep. It will look like a kiddie pool and that’s not what we are going for.”

To further enhance the oceanic illusion, Rudnyk climbs a step ladder set up next to the pool to shoot down on her two models, Sara Donnelly and Khadija Ghashghaei, who each take turns lying on their backs in the pool for the photo session. Rudnyk then adds fake flowers and artificial greenery in the water to provide texture. A white circular bounce is positioned on a light stand to the upper right of the pool to add some natural light pop.

“It’s all totally worth it because this looks insane,” Rudnyk tells her model when everything is in place. “This looks so good.”

Follow along in the video below as Rudnyk explains and demonstrates all the steps she took to make this head-turning watery backdrop for her shoot. Then try it yourself this weekend with whatever personal tweaks you’d like to make to the setup. All it takes is a trip to the dollar store, a few pieces of photo gear, and an open mind to, possibly, getting wet.



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Behind the Scenes of This Incredible Inflatable Pool Backyard Portrait Shoot

Behind the Scenes of This Incredible Inflatable Pool Backyard Portrait Shoot

You’ll often hear photographers claim that a lot can be achieved with very little, and for the most part it’s true. However, that tidbit doesn’t offer a great deal of actionable information. In this behind-the-scenes video, you will see just how far creativity can take you.

Irene Rudnyk is a superb portrait photographer and she has some superb equipment in her arsenal, but what makes this shoot special is it isn’t the camera or the strobe light that makes it possible, it’s her creativity. These types of shoots are not uncommon; portraits of people lying in pools that are made to look like ponds of oceans for an aquatic fantasy aesthetic. However, you could be fooled into thinking they require vast bodies of water, lots of lights, and a ton of setting up to achieve. That is not the case.

Rudnyk uses an inflatable children’s paddling pool for this, masked in two ways: the first is water coloring and the second is a close crop. The water coloring sets the whole mood and can hide the ugliness of a cheap pool’s linings, which would break the spell being created in the final image. The close crop does much the same thing, ensuring the viewer doesn’t detect that the image wasn’t in fact taken in some mystical, watery wonderland. A final tip that is admittedly more difficult is styling. If you can rope in a great stylist for this sort of shoot and get them to tie in hair, make-up, and accessories to fit the color of the water, you are setting up the basis of a fantastic image.

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