strobe lights

  • Diving in the Dark

    Goatfish in its night clothes. Goatfish in its night clothes.
    Lighting up the detail of the reef at night with an underwater light reveals everything in a full spectrum of vibrant colour that you would never see in daylight filtered blue as it passes through the water. At the same time, many creatures of the reef are nocturnal. They include predators such as white-tip reef sharks and moray eels that are active, hunting at night. Crinoids such as feather stars and basket stars creep from their daytime hiding places to feed on plankton.
    An Octopus hunting out on the sandy seabed at night. An Octopus hunting out on the sandy seabed at night.
    It's at this time that the coral polyps come to life, protruding out from their hard coral structure, waving their arms.
    A marble ray feeding in the sand at night in the Maldives A marble ray feeding in the sand at night in the Maldives and oblivious to the presence of divers.
    Strangely, many of the more timid animals seem less aware of the presence of divers at night and seem mesmerized by a diver’s light. Other creatures can take advantage of this to make their hunting easier. Some of the most commonly encountered animals include rays feeding and turtles browsing, goatfish probing for their supper in the sand and crabs and lobsters parading out in the open. It’s also at night that the fascinating octopus stalks its supper, a meal of shellfish. Some  animals are considered special quarries for divers. These include the flashlight fish of the Indo-Pacific region, the rosy-lipped batfish in the American Pacific, and Spanish dancers - huge nudibranchs that are usually coloured bright red or pink and carry shrimps on their backs. Mandarin fish too  are only seen in the dark when they break cover of the coral rubble for a moment to mate in open water.
    A Spanish dancer is a large nudibranch A Spanish dancer is a large nudibranch
    The problem with getting a glimpse of these last two night stars of the tropical marine environment is that any white light will scare them back into hiding. Nowadays, some dive lights and video lights come with alternative red beams that the fish don’t appear to see. A typical  example comes in the form of the i-Torch Pro6+ although there are many others to choose from.
    Mandarin fish photographed with the aid of a red aiming light. Mandarin fish photographed with the aid of a red aiming light.
    Of course, if you video any subject by the light of a red lamp it will record as red but if you are making still photographs you can line up a subject under a red aiming light and then capture their image with a pulse of white light from an underwater flashgun or strobe.
    Caribbean spiny lobster Caribbean spiny lobster
    What's the difference between an underwater video light and a diving light? The diving light will have a narrow beam which is not usually very even. It gives a hotspot of focused light and a peripheral beam that may be composed of concentric rings. It allows us to concentrate on one subject whilst being aware of what else might be going on around us. On the other hand a video light gives a wide and perfectly even beam in a colour-temperature range that is acceptable when viewing the footage later. If you used an ordinary diver’s light for video, the image would be unacceptably patchy. Equally, a video light does not punch its way far into the water and only a has a limited range. You'll see the weird and the wonderful at night. Animals such as this decorator crab, self covered with its adornment of sponges.
    Decorator crab Decorator crab disguised with a covering of sponges.
    Whether you want a light for diving or for underwater video-making, we hold a large selection at Ocean Leisure and Ocean Leisure Cameras. If it's a video light you need, you'll discover a choice from 1000 lumens output to a massive 6000 lumens. If you want a diving torch, we stock a wide selection of those too.

  • The Amazing Rhinopias

    _DSC8312 Rhinpoias Aphanes or Lacy Scorpionfish
    The Lacy Scorpion fish or Rhinopias Aphanes is found in the waters of Papua New Guinea and West Papua. Unlike a lot of colourful marine life, you don't need a macro set-up to get good pictures if you come across one because they can be up to 25cm in length. They are a benthic species in that they tend to rest on things rather than swim. However they often get about by hopping around on their pelvic and pectoral fins. Despite they fact that they appears to be very colourful in these photographs they are masters of disguise and although they often pose precociously atop sponges and coral heads, you can easily pass one by because under natural daylight they are quite hard to see. They were first brought to the attention of marine scientists by British/Australian diving pioneer Bob Halstead who after a career as a schoolmaster took to running scuba diving expeditions and later skippering his boat mv.Telita, taking divers on scuba diving charters around the waters of the Coral Sea, embarking his passengers at Port Moresby. Among other things, Bob Halstead has written several books on diving around PNG.
    Lacy Sorpionfish or Rhinopias Lacy Scorpionfish or Rhinopias Eschmeyeri
    After he started noticing these flamboyant fishes he sent some pictures that he'd taken to experts at the Natural History Museum in London who confirmed it was a previously undescribed species. In fact there are several sub-species. Bob is known for his insightful analysis of diving practises and also for his humour. One of his most well-remembered quotes is: "If you can't take a joke, don't take up underwater photography!" The first time I visited PNG I made it my business to photograph some examples of this keynote fish but after a lot of searching and no luck came back with an article for UK's Diver Magazine entitled 'The Rhinopias is Missing!' I kept my sense of humour. The next time I stayed at the Loloata, a resort on its own island in Bootless Bay run by Australian Dik Knight, the dive guides made it a matter of honour that they did not fail to find me an example to photograph. They took me to a reef called Dinah's Delight, named after Bob Halstead's first wife, also an accomplished scuba diver in her own right and it was if all the Rhinopias in various different sub-species had come out on parade. _DSC8421   To photograph these wonderful looking fish you need a a wide-angle lens so that you can get as close as possible and an underwater flashgun or strobe so that you can reveal them in their full spectrum of colour. The other things you will certainly ned is a pair of sharp eyes and a lot of patience whilst looking for them because in natural daylight they easily merge with their background.._DSC8406 One last point: Rhinopias are said to be the Holy Grail of marine aquarists who like nothing better than to keep one in an aquarium because these delicately coloured fishes are so pretty. Let's keep them in the ocean where they belong. (The pictures here were all taken with fish-eye lenses behind dome ports and with ancillary off-camera flashguns.)

  • Photographing Around Wrecks

    The oceans are full of the wreckage of vessels that have either come to grief through wars, storms or simply bad navigation and more and more unwanted vessels long past their sell-by-date are being scuttled to provide artificial reefs that form habitats for young fish thereby helping the world’s fishing industry or simply to protect an otherwise unprotected coastline from storm surge.

    Diving the Carnatic in the Red Sea Diving the ss.Carnatic in the Red Sea
    In all parts of the world where we go diving you will find examples of such wrecks and although you may not be fascinated simply by rusty metal, the marine life can itself be interesting enough. On the other hand, underwater photographers find the structures useful in getting interesting compositions because they usually offer vertical shapes, features that can otherwise be few and far between in the natural undersea landscape.
    Empty beer bottles stacked up inside the hull of the Rio de Janiero Maru in Truk Lagoon. Empty beer bottles stacked up inside the hull of the Rio de Janiero Maru in Truk Lagoon.
    You don’t need to go all the way to Truk Lagoon in far off Micronesia although it is famous among wreck divers because a Japanese merchant fleet was sunk there by the American USAAF in 1944. Nor do you need to travel all the way to Bikini Atol where a fleet of war-surpus vessels was sunk by an atomic bomb in 1946. You don’t need to include a view of the whole of the wrecked vessel in your picture although this makes for a great image if the visibility is good enough. Photographing such a large vessel means that the sort of lighting equipment the leisure diver has available will be inadequate so this means you'll need to use colour-correcting filters or shoot in RAW mode and correct for good colour later.
    Part of the Quarter Wreck in Grenada. Part of the Quarter Wreck in Grenada.
    Instead concentrate on smaller features and if your diving buddy is prepared to hang around to model for you, so much the better. A diver in the picture lends scale and if they are equipped with a lamp that they can point in the general direction of your lens, that will offer a point of interest that otherwise might be missing. Once the rusty metal is lit up by your underwater flashgun or strobe-light or even your video light, you'll be amazed at the colours of the sponges and hydroids that now cling to it and if you look closely you'll see all manner of minutia of marine life.
    p068Umbriacars Three Italian Fiats from 1940 still sat where they sank within the hull of the ss.Umbria in Port Sudan.
    Don't forget that it is often the cargo of a wreck that can be the key point of such a wreck dive. The wreck of the Italian liner the ss.Umbria has three Italian cars that were destined for Abyssinia before the vessels was apprehended by the Royal Navy at the beginning of World War II and the crew scuttled her on a reef in Port Sudan harbour. They have become among the most photographs artifacts on any wreck save for the war materiel (correct spelling!) that was carried on the ss.Thistlegorm sunk in Sha-ab Ali in the Egyptian part of the Red Sea. You'll need a good diver's light with a broad beam if you want to see everything. However, if you go off looking for the remains of these cars within the depths of the hull of the ship that now lies in a disorienting way on its side, be sure to take with you a winder reel and lay a line so that you can find your way out again. Divers have got lost inside this wreck and although nobody has lost their lives (yet) it can be a very unpleasant experience.
    Batfish schooling on a wreck at Puerto Galera in the Philippines. Batfish schooling on a wreck at Puerto Galera in the Philippines.
    Remember, you don't need to venture inside wrecks to get good pictures. If the wreck is in the open ocean rather than within a harbour or sunk in a lagoon, there will be plenty of marine life that has made it its home. All you need is good lighting in the form of strobes or a video light plus a little patience to get good pictures. Wrecks represent more than simply rusting metal.

  • It’s Not Rocket Science!

    Learning to drive a car takes time but it mainly revolves around controlling the machinery. That’s because we all grew up with traffic systems and although we may intentionally or unintentionally break the rules of the road at times, they come as no surprise to us. If we came from a planet from another Universe, things may be different. It might need explaining why having a head-on collision with an oncoming truck whilst attempting to turn across it path is a bad thing. It might come as a surprise that road users and pedestrians on Earth usually have segregated paths.

    Learning to scuba dive Learning to scuba dive
    Learning to scuba dive is a little like entering an alien world where some of the important rules that keep you alive may come as a bit of a surprise to you. That’s why it is essential to be properly trained. However, like driving a car, scuba diving becomes as much second nature once you have had enough practice. Diving, you can then enjoy a weightless world just like an astronaut – but it’s not rocket science. You will probably encounter alien life forms – but it’s not rocket science. Elderly? Even if you are old enough to have witnessed man’ first landing on the moon live on television, you can still learn to scuba dive. You don’t need to be supremely fit – and it’s not rocket science. Young? You may be young enough to anticipate working in a space station but if you are sensible and older than ten you can still learn to dive. It’s not rocket science. Scuba instructors get paid very little. They often do it for love of the sport. It can also keep an ego inflated so beware of those that dress up what they teach to appear more complicated than it really is. Although it is wise to do a proper core course with an internationally recognized agency, you can pay for a structured course on most sub-branches of scuba diving technique too but often a little kindly advice or some minimal supervision is all that is needed provided you put in the practice.
    Manta Ray in the Philippines Manta Ray in the Philippines
    It’s the same with underwater photography. There are aspects that might not have occurred to you. Taking pictures through water is very different to taking pictures in air because the light acts differently. Firstly, the light is selectively filtered. The deeper you go the fewer rays of red or green light penetrate from the surface. The effect is to make everything look bluer. You will need to learn how to white balance your pictures either when you shoot them or afterwards. In some cases filters that reduce the amount of blue light reaching the camera’s sensor can be the answer. This daylight is naturally always from the top and often lacks contrast. A solution to getting a more interesting lighting is to combine your pictures with light from a flashgun or powerful video light. A little practise with flash and camera settings will allow you to learn how to balance this foreground flash lighting with natural blue lighting behind. You’ll soon work out a combination of settings, which allow you to follow a successful personal formula.
    Great Hammerhead shark Great Hammerhead shark
      The second obstacle to good pictures underwater comes from the fact that natural water is full of tiny life forms. It’s a planktonic soup of tiny animals. That’s why we are often heard climbing out after diving, extolling the virtues of the visibility that might be at 30m horizontally. We call it “Gin clear”. If we had the same degree of visibility whilst driving, we’d call that a fog! The secret to sharp clear pictures is to get close to your subject and then get closer still. This means we are either reduced to taking extreme close-ups of the minutia of life found in the oceans or we need to use extra wide-angle lenses to get all of a larger subject included in the camera’s vision when we are close. It’s not rocket science.
    Porcelain crab in an anemone. Porcelain crab in an anemone.
    Experienced terrestrial photographers who take up diving often wish to apply the photography techniques they are familiar with. They are not used to crowding their subjects and often want to use longer focal-length lenses. However, standing off and zooming in merely magnifies the loss of contrast and sharpness effected by the plankton and detritus dissolved in the water. You would end up seeing through too much water with the consequent loss of quality. Other misconceptions often vocalized by would-be underwater photographers when they first investigate underwater photography is that they will be able to use slow shutter speeds because everything moves very slowly under water. This is far from the truth and thanks to swells and currents the photographer is often moving quickly too. You need to be able to handle you camera smoothly and use a fast shutter-speed for most subjects.
    Tiny shrimp on Coral frond Tiny shrimp on Coral frond
    The rules are the same whether you are recording live action with a GoPro or taking still photographs with an incredibly expensive top-of-the range DSLR. We are here at Ocean Leisure Cameras to ensure you go away with the kit most suitable for your needs. It’s not rocket science!

  • Our Colourful World Underwater

    If you read the last blog about the physics of underwater photography you will understand why everything can look monochromatic underwater, once you have moved away from the surface. This can be misleading and often the new diver’s first introduction to the colour of our underwater world is during his or her first night dive.

    Soft corals in the Maldives (Vilamendhoo).
    Without the blue of the daylight swamping the true colours of the reef, the diver’s underwater light illuminates everything in its true colours – and what a colourful world it is! It’s for this reason that experienced divers are often seen going into the water with powerful lights or torches even on the most brightly lit days. By taking a bright white light close to a subject, it’s revealed in its true kaleidoscope of tints. However, at night you’ll see the fishes in their night-clothes (so to speak) because often the colours they exhibit in daylight are different to those in the dark.
    Coral trout on a sponge encrusted wreck.
    It’s amazing how much marine animal life is actually bright red when you consider that red looks black to most marine life. Nobody can really explain the reasoning but it’s true. Often, fishes that may appear a dirty green colour by natural light are revealed to be bright scarlet in the beam of a lamp. Underwater photographers can take advantage of this phenomenon by lighting up their subjects with an underwater flashgun or strobe light while those shooting live action can employ powerful video lights to the same effect.
    Anemone fish in a purple anemone.
    Even the smallest subjects can be revealed in a startling vividness once they are subjected to a full spectrum of light. Sharks may be the guys in the grey suits, along with many other predatory pelagic species, but once you look closely at any territorial animal with the aid of your diver’s torch, you can appreciate the full range of hues that they wear.
    A wreckfish in the wreck of the Chikusen, BVI.
    Big grouper suddenly appear to be much prettier than their otherwise brutish look might signify.
    Green turtle feeding on seagrass (Egyptian Red Sea)
    Even green turtles can be revealed as more colourful than you would expect. You would not contemplate entering a dark wreck without a lamp to guide your way (and possibly a second one stowed about your person as a back-up should the battery in your primary lamp inexplicably fail). That may seem obvious but even rusty shipwrecks and their cargoes can be quite colourful beyond the range of the oxidising metal because they get encrusted with tiny sponges and hydroids that give them colour. It's a colourful world.
    Inside the Rio de Janeiro Maru, Truk Lagoon.
    As for soft corals, these colonies of animals blossom in a strong current and display themselves in a wide range of reds, oranges, yellows, purples and blues. Going diving on a tropical coral reef without the aid of a lamp is rather like turning down the colour on your television set and watching everything in black-and-white.
    The wreck of the Bianca C in Grenada.
    Get yourself a good diving lamp and a back-up if you are diving at night or in wrecks and if you are shooting pictures, the people in Ocean Leisure Cameras, the store within the store, can fix you up with the appropriate lighting array. Come in and discuss it with them. The store is open seven days each week. Take a suitable light with you when scuba diving  and reveal the colourful underwater world. If you've enjoyed reading these blogs, you will enjoy reading Amazing Diving Stories by the same author.

  • The Physics of Underwater Photography

    _FFF8337 The rules of physics apply to all underwater photographers. Get close!
    When it comes to water everyone realises that to get your camera wet spells disaster. It’s either got to be designed to be waterproof or it must be enclosed in a waterproof housing. Water pressure is such that at only ten-metres deep it’s twice air pressure at the surface and much more as you go deeper so designers of housings take that into account. However, there is much more to underwater photography than simply keeping the camera dry and the same rules apply even if you have the very best kit. Photography is all about light and light acts in a different way in water to the way it does in air. For a start, water is never as clear as air. If you had 30-metres of visibility under water it would seem gin-clear yet the same visibility on a motorway would see you driving very slowly. It’s all about turbidity. Water is full of detritus and tiny life-forms. The secret to getting clear sharp pictures is to reduce the amount of water between your camera and your subject, to get as close as possible.
    Daylight is naturally filtered blue by the water.
    Water also absorbs light but it absorbs light selectively. The longer wavelengths of light, the reds and the greens, get filtered out within only a few metres from the surface so that the brightest daylight looks blue under water. You can make the most of what red and green light gets through by filtering out some of the blue with a reddish filter or by repeatedly white-balancing your camera as you find yourself at different depths. You can take some portable white light with you in the form of an underwater flashgun (or strobe light) for stills or a bright video light for movies. However, remember that the light from these is affected in the same way and the range of such accessories is limited, possibly to less than two metres, so you still need to get close to your subject.
    LibertyWreck An independent flashgun or video light will give good colour to closer subjects.
    At the same time you need to position these lights well away from the camera’s lens axis or they will simply light up all that detritus in the water and give you a very messy result. We call it ‘backscatter’. Mounting a flash or light on the end of an accessory arm does the trick but for convenience sake we normally have this attached to the camera housing via a suitable tray and manipulate the light via a series of one-inch ball joints and clamps. Ocean Leisure Cameras stocks a vast array of these to solve every mounting problem whether it be for a GoPro, for a top-of-the-range DSLR camera rig, or for something in between. Light is refracted when it passes from water into air through a flat glass camera front so that things appear at least one-third closer. It effectively makes your standard camera lens slightly telephoto. So having got close to our subject, we might find that we cannot include all of it in the shot. This is where a wide-angle lens comes into play. Under water, wide-angle lenses are used differently to the way they are used on land. They allow the camera to come close to the subject with the minimum of water between them, while at the same time restoring the image size.
    Bantin62-63-2 A wide-angle lens enables close positioning to larger subjects.
    A dome port combined with a wide-angle lens or a compact camera’s zoom lens at its widest setting will restore the angle of view by reducing the amount of light refraction. These are available to fit some compact camera housings as well as housings for cameras with interchangeable lenses.
    _DSC3408 Macro photography is a good place to start,
    Many underwater photographers start off by concentrating on macro subjects. A macro lens allows you to get very close indeed to the smallest of subjects and by using a flashgun on a mounting-arm, you take in with you your own ready-made mini studio set-up. Good results are assured because as your lens gets very close there is so little water to contend with. Flat housing ports help in this case because the refraction of light helps you stand off from your subject so that you can light it more easily. In summary, you need to prevent water ingress to your camera, you need to make the most of the full spectrum of natural light that penetrates the water, you need to avoid lighting up the turbidity of the water and, by getting as close as possible to your subject, you can reduce the effects of the poor optical quality of the water. The people working at Ocean Leisure Cameras can provide you with everything you need to achieve that. You just need to perfect your diving skills so that they become second nature while you take pictures or record video.

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