underwater photography Light touch: Using a strobe

The photos chosen here are noticeably bright and colourful. The deeper a diver goes underwater, the less natural light that filters through, with some colours being absorbed completely. Reds are the first to go and blues are the last.  

By adding artificial white light from a strobe, it lights up the subject, revealing the vibrance of its true colours. 


There are a few options you have when using the strobe: If you have a basic point-and-shoot with underwater housing, you will probably be using the on-camera, direct flash. This flash tends to not be very strong, so the best bet is to use this on macro setting and get close. Getting close will not only make for better composition, but it will also cut down on the chances of getting ‘back scatter’ – where the flash lights up the little particles in the water and it looks like there is snow falling.  

The other option you have with a strobe is getting an off-camera strobe mounted on an arm. You can either get just one, or two. If you have the money to invest in this, even the simplest off- camera strobe can change your underwater photos, and the nice thing is that most strobes can be attached to most cameras, including basic point-and-shoots. The arm is fantastic for easy adjustment, so you can have the light coming from any direction you want. This again cuts down on the chances of back scatter and it also can add a very dramatic effect. 


Using a strobe is challenging, however. First, you need to balance the exposure and the intensity of the strobe. This is a camera versus strobe game and it takes a bit of time to find the right settings for the particular camera and strobe. Sometimes you may prefer to have the background completely black – as seen with the jellyfish – other times it is nice to get that blue of the water in the background, as seen with the photo of the parrot fish.  

Once the flash and camera are communicating correctly, the next challenge is getting a good subject to practice on. When starting out it is always easiest to photograph stationary objects like coral. This way you can play around with the exposure and angle of the lights until you get it just right. Once you get the hang of your set up and know your settings in advance, you can start trying to capture the many moving subjects down there. 


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