Swimming with the Athletes: Meet Underwater Photographer Meg Ellery

February 10, 2022 by
Photo Credit: Athlete's Eye Photography
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The perfect shot: It’s what every photographer prepares and patiently waits for, and strives to execute. 

But photographer Meg Ellery doesn’t have this luxury. In fact, a lot of the time, Ellery can’t even see what she’s shooting. 

That’s because Ellery is an underwater photographer, who shoots CrossFit Games athletes during swim events, often battling the cold in a wetsuit, while athletes splash about, leaving her to rely on instincts and artistic abilities to produce that perfect shot. 

“You’re really not able to compose your shots underwater,” she said. “For the most part you’re blind shooting.”

But when it does come together, the reward is worth it.

“Photography itself is challenging. Then you get in the water and you have all these added elements to face,” she said. “It’s always a surprise when you get out of the water and import your photos…It’s almost like shooting on film. You don’t know what you have until you develop it. You look at the images, and it’s like, “Wow, I love that shot.’”

Becoming an Underwater Photographer

Although Ellery’s mother is a painter, she didn’t realize she had a passion for art until she was halfway through college.

“I remember going to the studio (with my mom) and painting a few things and it didn’t go so well,” Ellery said, laughing.

But shortly after she got into CrossFit seven years ago, she got her hands on a camera, brought it to her affiliate in Rhode Island, started shooting and fell in love with the action in the gym, quickly realizing: “I love making art.”

A few years into her photography journey, however, she fell into a rut.

“I think every photographer falls into a creative rut sometimes, where nothing you produce can satisfy what you want,” said Ellery, now a member of Paradiso CrossFit in Venice, CA.

To get herself out of the slump she was in, Ellery decided to try something new. Knowing nothing about it, she took the plunge and purchased an underwater housing unit for her camera and began dabbling with underwater photography in a pool.

Pretty soon, Ellery learned there was a market for underwater photography in CrossFit, one that led her to begin shooting the swim events at Wodapalooza in Miami, FL, which she has done four times now, and the CrossFit Games in 2017, 2020 and 2021.

The 2020 Games swim event in a pool with crystal clear water in California during the height of the pandemic was particularly special, Ellery said, as there were only 10 athletes to focus her attention on, which created a more personal experience.

“It was so cool. It was really intimate and I got to interact with the athletes a lot more and spend some time with them, even at their swim practice,” Ellery said.

But what she really loves about underwater photography is how challenging it can be. 

At the 2020 Games, the swim event included multiple 500-meter swims, paired with the Air Bike, GHD sit-ups and ball slams.

“So I’d watch the judge’s hands for the signal that the athlete only had five calories left on the bike, then I’d swim down to the bottom of the pool, holding my breath, and hoped they’d dive in soon. There was one time I definitely didn’t time it right. I remember swimming down and just waiting for what felt like hours. I ran out of air and ended up having to swim up and catch the athletes at the surface,” she said. 

Meanwhile, open water events, like in Miami at Wodapalooza, pose different kinds of challenges. 

“At Wodapalooza, the hardest part was keeping myself afloat and in a position to actually compose a shot. Then having to worry about staying out of the athletes’ way and not getting thrown up against the rocks,” Ellery said of her recent experience in January.

“The more challenging the event, the more rewarding the shots.”

Photo Credit: Ellery Photos

Above the Water

Today, Ellery is a full-time photographer who works as a contractor, with the large majority of her work coming from CrossFit LLC, but extends beyond just underwater endeavors.

Most recently, Ellery was involved in building the movement standard library for the upcoming 2022 CrossFit Open, and she’s also pursuing an ongoing project of her own called SKIN, which involves shooting athletes nude “in a classy way,” she explained, adding that her next SKIN shoot will be in Los Angeles this spring.

Photo Credit: Ellery Photos

“It’s all about loving the skin you’re in and being proud of your journey…it’s very empowering,” said Ellery of SKIN, a project that she said has given her life the balance she craves.

“I might be able to make a living off of CrossFit events, but I like to change things up. Shooting things like SKIN, and venturing to different places chasing life underwater keeps everything fresh and exciting for me. I’ll go a month shooting SKIN and then the following month I’ll be itching to shoot CrossFit, and vice versa.”

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