The Healing Powers of Underwater Photography

underwater healer project

My favorite childhood memory includes floating in an inflatable pool, daydreaming about mermaids and singing a children’s song:

“海は広いな 大きいなー
The ocean is wide, the ocean is huge… “

Having lost my father to a traumatic car accident and suffering severe injuries personally, recovery was something that has always interested me. After having volunteered at the American Cancer Society’s Look Good Feel Better program, where patients support each other and learn about makeup and wigs, seeing cancer survivors marvel at their transformations deeply affected me.

I am a certified scuba Divemaster, and my affinity for the underwater world has been everpresent, even though I grew up in the city of Tokyo. I decided to combine my photography and underwater skills with recovery to help cancer survivors experience the transformative effects of water immersion and to encourage survivors to see themselves as beautiful through portraits.

Ever since, I have donated my time to work with survivors of cancer, domestic violence, people with PTSD and physical disabilities. I’ve been an underwater portrait photographer for over 10 years and I’m thrilled to recognize the powerful and transformative Underwater Portrait Sessions that help survivors rediscover their beauty, regain their confidence and self-esteem, and provide an experience of transcendence.

Here are some of the incredible women who have been featured in my work:

underwater healer project

Brittney Beadle

“My name is Brittney Beadle, I am 23-years-old and I grew up in Scranton Pennsylvania. I have metastatic breast cancer. I was diagnosed when I was 18-years-old. It had already spread to my bones, liver and brain. I have been on many different treatments for the last 4.5 years. Right now, I am living my life and thriving despite the cancer.

Water to me is very healing, so when I came across ​Erena’s Instagram page ​and saw photos of survivors, I thought it was so beautiful and wanted to try it! In the beginning, I was having trouble holding my breath and letting myself sink. As time went on I realized I needed to let go and let the water take control. Then it became easier and we ended up getting better shots! When I was finished I was feeling very light and happy. I was also very proud of myself. Water to me has always been super healing. Whether it is in a pool, a bathtub, or an ocean it always seems to calm my mind and that is why this experience will help survivors overcome trauma.”

Chiara D’Agostino

underwater healer project

“My name is Chiara D’Agostino, I’m 47-years-old and I was born of Italian immigrants in Montclair, New Jersey, where I grew up. I am living with stage 4 breast cancer, also known as metastatic breast cancer. The cancer has since spread to my liver, lungs, lymph nodes, bones, brain, skull, intestines and abdomen.

I wanted to be involved in this project because I welcomed the transformation – I am not a good swimmer, so I was a bit intimidated by the thought of coordinating a meaningful photo underwater. After the photoshoot, I felt exhilarated and a little tired, but in a good way. I really enjoyed the adventure and creative process. The water piques my curiosity – it can be very relaxing and soothing and also very dangerous. I know how to tread water and that’s about it. When I am stressed I often take a bath. I enjoy the sound of waves and often listen to water sounds for relaxation. That night my body was feeling a healthy tired. My limbs enjoyed moving so freely! Yes, I would go back to the water to do a photoshoot again!”

underwater healer project

Amber Rice

“My name is Amber Rice, and I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I’m 33-years-old. I’m a navy veteran and breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) and it was moving aggressively so I had to receive a mastectomy right away.

OMG the underwater transformative photo experience was so powerful. I just felt a whole lot of everything (anxiety/nervousness/frustration/pain) being released from my body…I felt so free! I’ve never been underwater for so long but it felt so natural. There were times where I could’ve stayed under for over a minute even after blowing out all my air. I wanted to stay in longer! Water is transparent and cleansing. Every time I’m in water I feel warm and refreshed and I will most definitely recommend this experience to anyone who’s experienced any type of trauma. It will make you feel instant gratification and release. I wish I could do this at LEAST once a week!”

The Underwater Healer Project gives survivors confidence as well as courage to face new challenges. They were able to feel free and let things go in the unique way that being underwater provides. These sessions help participants gain self-esteem and improve their self-images, almost serving as unofficial therapy sessions.

My dream is to reach out to people all over the world and help transform their mind and spirit with underwater portrait photography. I encourage everyone to jump in the water to gain the benefits of underwater transformation and reconnect with yourself.

Hope to see you underwater!

underwater healer project

Erena Shimoda was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. She received her Divemaster certificate in Venezuela in 2005, and began shooting underwater photographs in Thailand, Bonaire, Bahama, Corsica, Cozumel, Cancun, and Hawaii. She specializes in underwater portrait photography and uses her background in New Media and Fine Art to create unique compositions in different media. Erena conducts pool photography sessions in the San Francisco Bay Area and anywhere in the world.

A portion of the money raised from regular portrait sessions will go toward underwater healer project for survivors of cancer, domestic violence, people with PTSD and physical disabilities. Underwater transformative photography has psychological benefits for survivors to feel peace, tranquillity and freedom.

She’s been a guest lecturer at Google, Apple stores, City College of San Francisco Photography Department, and her underwater healing project has received widespread media attention, including coverage by NBC Bay Area, CBS News, USA Today, and the Huffington Post. Her work was also on display at a medical conference.

For more information, contact Erena Shimoda at

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