Hollywood actress Keira Knightley floats ethereally against the backdrop of a full moon; presenter Kelly Brook becomes a winsome mermaid and model Lily Cole is an explosion of scarlet.

There’s no disputing that Candice Farmer has an eye for a good shot.

The Uckfield-based photographer who created these striking photographs spent years working for publications from GQ to Harpers & Queen where she honed her photographic skills and built up a bulging contacts book of A-list stars. Now she’s using that experience to promote her biggest passion, campaigning to bring clean water to people in the world’s poorest places.

Farmer spent years in the glamorous world of fashion photography where she was much sought after for her specialism in underwater photography. She had trained at Plymouth College of Art and Design – at the time the only college to teach underwater photography – where she quickly realised she was better at shooting people than the marine life her fellow students focused on.

A shoot in the Red Sea led to British Airways buying her entire graduation portfolio for its inflight magazine, High Life, and she spent the next few years jetting around the world creating cover photographs for the magazine before branching out and setting up her own photography company. She went on to win an Oscar for Best Commercial and Advertising Photography for an ad campaign she shot for HIV awareness.

But the plush hotels she would stay in for shoots in Africa and Asia were a world away from the living conditions of most of the local people and Farmer became increasingly concerned about the high levels of poverty that weren’t being documented. She was particularly troubled by the lack of access to clean water experienced by more than a billion people worldwide.

“On looking into the matter, I learnt that dirty water kills 5,000 children a day. To me, that’s just not acceptable. I think every person in the world has a right to clean water.”

She went on to found Fresh2o, a social enterprise that works with local NGO partners to build clean water infrastructure such as wells in locations including Madagascar and Uganda. The enterprise aims to provide “handups”

rather than hand-outs and local people must sign up to become involved in a project and play a role in its set-up from helping in the building of the wells to taking part in workshops on hygiene and sanitation.

“This is my mission in life now,” says Farmer.

“Dirty water is really the start of the poverty chain. With clean, easily accessible water, women and children are not spending four or five hours a day walking to get water. The mums can work and the children can study. They can learn about preventing diseases from HIV to Aids. It’s a huge problem and I think it’s important to tackle it at the root.”

Although there are other established organisations such as Water Aid working on the same issue, Farmer says increasing access to clean water is such a big problem that it needs as many hands on deck as possible.

The change of career has not been easy. Farmer says she has not paid herself a salary in three years – preferring to invest all profits back into Fresh2o – and has frequently been let down by corporate backing falling through at the last minute.

But the organisation has already helped create 115 wells and rain harvesting tanks and is currently working on a number of commercial collaborations intended to plough money into Fresh20.

As World Water Day approaches on March 22, Farmer hopes to raise the profile of the campaign with her stunning photography. Faces including actor Will Smith, swimmer Rebecca Adlington and model Kimberly Stewart have joined Knightley, Cole and Brook in lending their support to the campaign by appearing in Farmer’s photographs and Farmer will soon add snaps of Bruno Mars, Megan Fox and Zac Efron to her portfolio.

“It seems that when you tell people about the problem and what we’re trying to do to solve it, they immediately want to get involved.

Janet Jackson came to support us at the Grand Prix ball in Abu Dhabi and came up to me after my talk to say I’d taught her something she didn’t know and that she wanted to help.”

Every subject has been different, she says, but she particularly enjoyed working with Judge Jules on a shoot in Ibiza that involved photographing the world-famous DJ at the bottom of a swimming pool “spinning records”

while a crowd of clubbers kept the party going above the water. The resulting picture gives a clear indication of the day’s energy.

“The director was above water getting the crowds going and I was below it directing Judge Jules to get the perfect shot,” she says. Meanwhile, Keira Knightley’s serene pose was the result of the actress’s lesser-documented talent for holding her breath. “She could hold it forever,” marvels Farmer, “and, of course, she’s the consummate professional in everything she does.”

Shooting underwater is an acquired skill. “You need a good eye, an ability to think on your feet and a knack for understanding the way light works. Some shoots are easy – you’re in the sea with loads of space and lots of natural daylight. Others involve a big set at a studio like Pinewood, filling up a huge tank, loads of lights, teams of 30 people, divers…”

But posing is not as hard as one might think, she says.

After some initial training on dry land, most people prove to be naturals when they enter the water. “You get this feeling of mutual buoyancy. The water takes over and you feel quite relaxed and comfortable.”

In her home in Hadlow Down, where the quiet is broken only by the sound of her dogs barking, Farmer’s new life couldn’t be much further from her fast-paced, well-paid former career. But she’s delighted to have been able to combine her passion for photography with the strong cause of Fresh2o in this current project and has no regrets about making the change.

“I absolutely loved being a fashion photographer but I feel now that I’ve been there and done that. Fresh2o is all that matters now. It’s a challenge that’s going to take up the rest of my life.”

*Find out more and watch the promotional video at fresh2o.org.

Read more about Candice Farmer at candice.co.uk