If you want to see colors, and colors and more colors, fire your strobe. It’s that simple. The ocean and its creatures are loaded with color, so why not enjoy it. If you have ever put a dive light on something in about 30 feet of water, you were probably amazed at the color you saw. A strobe accomplishes this. Even if that seems obvious to some, for others this will open up new worlds of photo opportunities. The distance of the strobe to the subject is as important as the camera distance to the subject. If you’re too close, the picture is over exposed. Too far, under exposed. How you aim the strobe affects your picture.
When shooting with film, the direction of your light source can add great drama and shadows that enhance the other shapes to achieve dynamic photos. Play around with the strobe. Experiment. In the picture of the juvenile clownfish, I held the strobe above and slightly in back of the fish to get the dramatic shadow coming towards the lense. When shooting coral, sometimes backlighting it can embellish opened up polyps, or, on something like fire coral, show off the hair-like triggers that fire off those little stinging harpoons. Makes for an interesting picture. Do not hesitate to experiment. With digital cameras, fire away to your heart’s content. With film, you have to be a little stingy. Advantage here to digital.
98% of my photos are strobe lit. ONLY on certain occasions, when I was looking for a certain affect or mood in the picture, did I shoot with available light. That is the case in the diver hovering over the machine gun on the wreak of the Sankisan Maru in Truk Lagoon. The mood is somber, just as a diver would see it and realize that the sailor manning the gun may have died fighting for his country. The feeling you get when you are on these wreaks is without definition. There are no words to describe it. I posted this picture on my Fine Art America site page and named it War at Peace. The other picture of the gun turret is lighted with a strobe. Comparing the two images, the lighted shot doesn’t pull off the affect. It is just another picture of wreckage in Truk Lagoon. In a basic panoramic photo, fire your strobe for what we call…flash fill. With available light dominating the image, a little bit of flash fill hitting a key are in the photo suddenly adds some points of interest in your picture. Try it! You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. When shooting with a wide angle (fish-eye) lens, you light the point of interest in the photo, leaving the rest to available light. There will be more to come in future posts on shooting wide angle pictures. What strobe should I buy? I will answer, “how much can your budget afford?” Key factors should be considered when purchasing one.
Here’s an interesting dilemma. A barracuda. A long silver fish in bright light conditions. Do you still fire the strobe? I did in this case and the flash is a bit hot in the center. This is an example of looking at what you did wrong and analyzing it to correct it. Going back, I should have, in one of my brackets, aimed the strobe to miss the “cuda” and light the reef in back of him. There still would have been some of the outer beam of light “dusting” the fish and lighting the reef. It looks like an available light picture…no color.
Power: The more powerful the strobe, the more consistent your lighting will become. I have a large Ikelite that has variable power settings on it so I can power down for doing macro. Shooting macro on a full power setting will over-expose your pictures. Re-cycle time: How quickly a strobe re-cycles to flash again is important in certain situations. You’re shooting that rare opportunity with a manta. As he’s cruising along, the more pictures you get can be determined by how fast the strobe re-cycles. Even the beam angles are important. The wider the beam, the more the light gets diffused. The narrower the beam, the more intense the beam. My term for it…”too hot”.
Charge times: The faster the recharge, the better. You are totally charged for the next dive after that short surface interval. The flash and recharge cycle use up a lot of power as well as time. How powerful is the battery inside of it? Is it an advantage to have one where you replace the batteries? Are you in the mood to carry all those extra batteries with you in your luggage? Before you purchase that strobe, do a little homework. Read customer reviews. Consider the author of the review. Some are obviously snorkelers just content with getting that accidental, good picture. A little research and advice from knowledgeable friends and sources can go a long way in helping you decide. Cathy Church (one heck of a good diver, photographer and teacher) once told me: “Good photographers make their good luck happen”.