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'Took a long time': Canadian navy photographer takes remarkable underwater class photo

Esquimalt, B.C. -

Before the Royal Canadian Navy divers began their descent into the Pacific Ocean, Sailor 1st Class Valerie LeClair was already in the water preparing to capture it all on camera.

"It’s kind of a cool job," LeClair smiles. "I get to dive and take underwater imagery too."

LeClair was documenting how a group of aspiring clearance divers were striving to master vital skills, like how to find and neutralize explosives underwater, when they challenged her to shoot their course completion photo with a twist.

"We’re all underwater," says Sailor 1st Class Tajoniel Forbes, laughing at the concept.

Forbes, who was named the top student at the end of the competitive diving course, was one of 15 people who attempted to pose for the picture at the bottom of a pool.

"I did a smile in the photo," Forbes says. "Just to make it a little bit harder."

As if it wasn’t hard enough.

The goal was to make it look like every other class photo, except for it all being underwater.

They set up a large flag and antique diving helmet for decorations, and then attempted to line-up the sailors in full uniform in two rows. The hope was that they could stay down long enough to actually get a perfect picture.

"They’d float up [to the surface]," LeClair explains. "It was hard for them to sit in the chairs."

Although some of the outtake photos show people holding their colleagues in an attempt to keep them down, the participants ultimately ended up filling their pockets with eight pounds of weights.

"[They] helped us sink," Forbes says. "And stay at the bottom."

While the instructors had access to air while sitting in the front row – they had oxygen tanks hidden under their chairs – students attempting to stand in the back did not. They had to jump in and out of the pool to get a breath.

"By the time you’re in position, somebody’s almost out of breath already," Forbes says. "So you have five to 10 seconds to actually shoot the picture before somebody shot off [to the surface]."

After multiple failed attempts, and more than a dozen pictures where someone’s eyes were inevitably closed, LeClair finally got the shot.

"It was good," she says. "It was really funny."

Then LeClair went to work on her computer, removing the countless bubbles in the picture.

"Editing wasn’t the most fun," she laughs. "It took a long time!"

But it was worth it.

Because it's one thing to show a video of how physically and mentally challenging it is training for this specialized role, but it's another thing to capture — in just one picture — how rewarding it is to finally earn a place on such a distinguished team. Top Stories

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