Underwater photography is one of the most beautiful forms of art. However, mastering the craft of strobe placement takes some skill and much practice. Gathered here are five simple strategies to help dive photographers conquer strobe lighting placement.
Staying within a few feet of your subject is the best way to get the most light, contrast and color when using strobes. After about five feet away, the contrast and color will start to drop, even in the most perfect visibility. If using two strobes, remember to push them out wider the further away you go from your subject. Most importantly, always keep your strobes pointed forward and not inward.
Generally speaking, strobes have an angle of about 90 degrees or more, while your subjects will usually be at 30 degrees or less. Much like firing a shotgun, you can aim strobes in a general direction and still hit the target. If you find that one strobe is significantly closer than the other, try turning down the intensity of the closer light to avoid blowing out the exposure.
When using a single strobe, place it on top of the camera. With a pair, you can have one on top of the camera and one on the side. This allows for the switching from a vertical composition to horizontal, while still having a light on the top and one on the side.
Natural light comes from above. Light from below is unusual and can be alarming, which is why having a flashlight under your chin is spooky when telling ghost stories. Unless you are going for a creepy underwater look, keeping your strobes above the level of your camera lens is essential to avoid spooky lighting. If shooting using the macro setting, generally, a single strobe works well. Adding a second light will fill shadows created by the first.
When shooting a wide angle shot, lighting position is key, and a pair of strobes is highly recommended. Your strobe placement becomes extremely critical the wider you go with your lens. The distance between your strobe to the housing should be equal to the distance you have from the lens to the subject. This avoids creating a “dark zone”, which lights up all the tiny particles in the water, also known as “backscatter”. If while reviewing your photo, you notice backscatter, push the strobes out wider on the next shot.
Next time you are diving in the deep, practice these tips. Soon enough you’ll master the craft of strobe placement for underwater photography.