Underwater Portrait Photography – A Therapy That Transforms Cancer Patients From Within


Being underwater is exciting, alright! But, what does it have to do with cancer treatment?

When it comes to diseases like cancer, we rarely pause to consider the treatment possibilities in Complementary Medicine and healing therapies. Underwater Portrait Therapy is a type of creative therapy that heals from within, says healer Erena Shimoda.

We think of water as a symbol of life. Some believe that water is symbolizes purity and promise. Erena Shimoda is an Underwater Healer who proves these beliefs true.

A Dive Master turned Underwater Healer, Erena works closely with her clients to heal their mind and body, and to help them get rid of their low self-esteem and boost confidence. She helps cancer patients rediscover their beauty through her relaxing underwater healing sessions.


Our Interview with Erena Shimoda helped us learn more about Underwater Portrait Photography as a healing technique.

Erena, please tell us about the photographer in you! 🙂

I LOVE capturing the magical moment.

I LOVE being in the water. It’s a space you can be yourself.

I LOVE sharing the story and inspiring people.

Being a professional photographer, how did you turn to underwater portrait photography which is an exciting new thing for many?

I have been scuba diving since 2003. I loved discovering the underwater world  and I decided to become a Dive Master to travel all over the world. When I took pictures of the marine life with my compact camera for the first time, I was hooked instantly! I upgraded my camera since then and switched the subject from underwater beings to humans from 2008. It was good fun working with people because we can communicate with them because fish won’t pose for me! Ha ha!

How did Underwater Portrait Photography evolve as a creative therapy?

I happened to be in a car accident once which caused fractures in my entire body, smashed my left lung and broke my shoulder. I also suffered from a major brain injury. I was taken to the hospital in a helicopter. I damaged my optic nerve that caused double vision for 8 months. I feared I was going blind and that was the scariest moment of my life. I saw death in front my eyes. Worst, I lost my father who was also in the car with me. He was a fearless man, who was dedicated to following his dreams and reaching his goals. He had inspired me so much. I was simply lucky to be alive after suffering so many fatal injuries. My family and friends reminded me that my father protected me. I survived for a reason.

I wanted to give back but I didn’t know how. It was then that I came across the program called ‘Look Good Feel Better’ from the American Cancer Society. It was a program meant for cancer patients to learn how to wear makeup and put wigs on. Cancer patients go through body image issues during their treatment. This was the place they could get together, support each other and have fun transforming. I felt I could do my part by volunteering. That way I could give back to the community. I was at St. Mary’s last year and I’m at UCSF this year. I realized that my regular clients for underwater portrait photography gain their confidence by taking on the new challenge and have fun transforming. Then I thought I can provide my service to cancer survivors/patients.

How does Underwater Portrait Photography help as a healing therapy? What are those good results that you get to see in your clients?

Those who have undergone the therapy tell me that they experience Healing, Freedom, Joy, Confidence, Beauty, Self Awareness and Self-Acceptance. From the testimonials, we get to hear about the psychological benefits from the underwater portrait sessions.

Who are your main clients?

– Anybody who wants to experience underwater transformation (beauty, maternity, engagement, family)

– Cancer survivors and patients

– Therapists

Is there a special client that you can’t seem to forget?

The mother of a breast cancer survivor from Boston told me with teary eyes:-

“My daughter had the biggest smile when she came out from the water. I don’t know what but something beautiful happened to her under the water.”

Her daughter is the voice in my documentary film. https://youtu.be/bl52QvnAEt4

What do you keep in mind when you deal with your subjects as a healer?

Before the session, I have a face-to-face Q & A with my clients. Either in person or on Video Chat. Seeing someone face-to-face helps us build trust and create a bond. And it’s important because many people are nervous to go underwater because they have never been there before and they don’t know what to expect. I make sure my clients are comfortable. I answer all the questions they have and tell them about the pool location, props, make up, water experience etc. My goals for the consultation are to make them feel excited as this is their project and I want them to be themselves.

During the session, I keep in mind that everybody reacts differently underwater. The most important thing is to remind them that they can smile underwater. It’s something that they tend to forget. I encourage them to relax and feel free. Anything is possible underwater. I wish to hear them laugh and have fun, and for them to gain confidence.

Relationship is really important. I keep in mind not to lose the connection above the water and under.

Awesome! Is there anything else you would like to convey to our readers about the underwater experience?

Submerging underwater blocks out all the sounds and problems you had in your mind.

Underwater is a space to relax, meditate, focus and let go of ugly things. I want everyone to experience this beautiful underwater transformation.

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. Erene is a Practitioner at Helpsy. See her Practitioner’s Page HERE!

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