How to take great underwater pictures using Compact Cameras with a Strobe

After learning the basics of how to take great underwater pictures from our previous article, I'm pretty sure you are craving for some more info to help develop your photography skills and take better pictures. Did you get a chance to practice your new skills yet? If not, don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time on all your future dives as a  underwater photographer. By now, you've probably already realised that some or most of your pictures did not meet your expectations. You now also know that the quality of the picture is influenced by several factors like light, depth and distance. Partnering your camera with an external strobe compensates the effects created by most of these influencing factors. This quick guide will help you make the most out of your compact camera while using an external strobe.

Effects of Strobes to Picture Quality

Strobes are very efficient in bringing back the absorbed colours into your pictures. Usually the strobes produce a very strong light which is just what you need when diving at depth. You’ll find that an external strobe will both work much better and give a much stronger light than your built-in flash. Unless you are shooting macro photos you’ll find that your built-in flash really is too weak to light properly and often does more harm than good. The adjustable arms of the strobes give you much more freedom to create the light you need. This really adds flexibility to your photography, and the change in position is the best way to avoid backscatter as the light can come from the sides instead of directly from the camera. bigstock-Underwater-Photographer-scuba--61180553

How to use the Strobe

To get the right pictures it doesn't help just having a strobe on your camera, you also need to learn how to use it. For beginners, a common mistake is to have the strobe directly above the camera and aimed at the subject. Then you’re basically using the strobe as you would use a flash on land (though typical photographers do not always do this, they bounce their flash off of ceilings or from different angles to achieve different outcomes - a flash is really quite versatile) It’s important to move the strobes away from the camera and point it at your object from an angle. This will have the light coming from the side and this way you effectively minimize the backscatter from the light hitting particles in the water and reflecting the light straight back into the lens, but you’ll still have good lighting on your subject. You can try pointing the strobes just away from your subject. Since most strobes emit wide angle beam, your subject will be illuminated from just the outer edges of the beam. This will also greatly minimize the reflection of suspended particles and reduces backscatter. Specifically for macro-photography, you can turn the strobes extremely inward almost pointing towards the casing. The outer edges of the beam will light your subject. This will result in a soft yet brightly coloured picture. One of the most important aspects of taking pictures with a strobe is remembering to actually use the strobe. In the beginning you’ll often take a picture where the strobe is pointing in a wrong direction because you forgot to pay attention to it. The results will be all dark pictures or lighting besides the subject.

How to set the External Strobes

External strobes are considered detachable accessories where you will need a strobe arm to mount both the camera and the strobe. Strobe arms may come in a single or double strobe attachment. Whichever you have, the camera is usually positioned at the centre. For compact cameras, you will need a strobe arm where you will attach your camera and the strobe. The length of where you will attach the strobe will depend on the brand and model. I would recommend a strobe arm length from 8 to 9 inches long where it can give you maximum flexibility for wide-angle and macro photography. There are 2 ways to connect your strobe to the camera. Again, depending on the brand and model, the most common is the use of an optical cable plugged in an o-ring sealed port plug. Some strobes also feature the slave mode where it remotely operates with the camera via the build-in flash, ie. when you press the button to take a photo, your built in flash will fire, which will then make your external strobe fire. As mentioned earlier, you can set-up your strobe in different positions to produce different effects. The easiest position is the front mounting. The light emitted from the strobe will emphasise the colour and vibrancy of your subject. You can also expect less shadow as they come in silhouette behind the subject. But sometimes this mounting position will not bring out the details of your subject. On the other hand, side mounting can emphasize details. By pointing your strobes to the side, you will enhance the shape and texture of the subject. You can also expect a high picture contrast where you can see deep shadows in the picture. Top mounting can mimic the effects of light coming from the sun. This is especially good for shooting macro subjects using a single strobe. Your picture will look like the subject is being lit directly on top but with a soft tone. The bottom line here is that there is no such thing as the correct strobe position. It all depends on what effect you want to have in your subject. So, are you ready to compliment your compact cameras with an external strobe? Since most strobes are expensive and require basic underwater photography skills, you should consider the following before making this upgrade:
  • You should be able to get good close-up pictures just by using your built-in flash.
  • Is your camera’s casing is partially blocking the built-in flash.
  • You are planning to get in to wide-angle photography and need more light to light up a larger area.
  • You want to try creative light photography where your pictures will be free from backscatter.
  bigstock-Underwater-Photographer-scuba--26727251 As our final word, shooting with external strobes is the same with other aspects of photography: You need to practice in order to refine your skill and enhance the quality of your picture. After all, your underwater pictures will be the only graphic memory of your underwater adventures. Have you tried photographing with an external strobe? What was the effect to your pictures? (Feel free to show us!) If you have any questions to photographing with or without a strobe I would love to help, leave your question in the comments below.

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