Mingling with sharks on an abandoned sunken ship is just one part of a Houston-area photographer and his wife’s day job.
While the sharks and other ocean predators seen in League City resident Ken Kiefer’s photos look terrifying to some, for he and his wife, Kimber, who often models in his underwater photo shoots, they are just misunderstood wonders of the ocean
“It’s really ethereal being underwater [with the sharks] and that’s how I try to portray my images,” Kiefer said. “When people get bit by a shark, it’s usually an accident. The more you can be around them, you learn their tendencies and how to be safe.”
Kiefer doesn’t just shoot marine wildlife, though. He takes his shots to the next level and creates an underwater fantasy world where models interact with the wildlife predators, namely sharks and crocodiles.
“Most of the contests we have won are people interacting with large predators,” Kiefer said. “That captures people’s attention; they are not used to people not being scared of sharks.”
Kiefer’s background as a scuba instructor and a lifeguard for 20 years, coupled with his love for sharks, lead him to his dream job. A self-taught photographer, Kiefer said he started his business a little over 10 years ago shooting weddings and sports but felt that something was missing.
“It wasn’t my passion, I didn’t feel the love for it,” Kiefer said. “But when I started moving underwater that really changed things. I found a way to make money for passion, how can you beat that?”
Kiefer said he mostly travels to the Bahamas, Mexico and the Caribbean for his marine wildlife shoots. His wife, Kimber, is his business partner and is featured in many of his photos. Kiefer said Kimber wears multiple hats, from gracefully walking among sharks and crocodiles to helping clients learn how to pose underwater for their own shoots.
“She helps people keep a relaxed face and a relaxed posture,” Kiefer said. “[It’s challenging] looking beautiful when you are not comfortable.”
When he is not travelling the country or deep-diving into the ocean, Kiefer works as the manager for Williams Indoor Pool in Webster. He still does his underwater photography when he is in Houston, he just brings the clients to him. And instead of shooting in the ocean, he shoots in a pool.
“We specialize in anything underwater. Everything from maternity, swim teams, jewelry and watches, even cosplay,” Kiefer said.
Kiefer said one of his most successful shoots was for a Spider-Man cosplay that gained national attention when it was featured in a Canadian magazine.
Another shoot that sticks out in Kiefer’s mind is when he helped film a portion of Travis Scott’s music video for “Sicko Mode.” After some of his underwater images grabbed the attention of a Los Angeles production company he was asked to help shoot the underwater pool scenes featured in the video.
He also works with families to shoot their holiday cards and engagement announcements. He said he is willing to shoot anything underwater; the bigger the challenge, the better.
“The people who put more into the shoot, get more out of it,” Kiefer said. “People that have crazy unique ideas, we definitely give [them] huge discounts. We are just invested in it as them and we like to help them out with the deal.”
Kiefer said shoots can take at minimum three to four hours, and for 10-15 photos clients can expect a price tag around $1500. His advice for anyone interested in shooting under the surface: practice in your bathtub and get ready to put in the time it takes to make a masterpiece.
“Acclimate your mind to being underwater [and] practice opening your eyes so you don’t look like your in pain,” Kiefer said. “I really want the best and I don’t care how long it takes. I want to get the best for me and for them, so I will stay in as long as they will.”