Lighting is everything

Photography by definition means "capturing durable images using light". Lighting truly is everything in ALL forms of photography regardless of wildlife, studio, landscape or any of the other million styles of shooting, if your lighting is flat, the end result will be flat as well, no matter what your subject is.

In my career i've learned to experiment heavily with lighting, mainly as a way of challenging myself to try something different, not just to be different but to actually make something that is unique in both style and technique. To tempt the outcome of an image by taking it to the extreme, then pulling back slightly. If you've ever been in one of my workshops then you know that i tend to wax on about the ability of our cameras. The cameras of today are incredibly powerful instruments that can control light in way's that allows the shooter to push the envelope further than we ever could using film. Having the simple ability to shoot hundreds of photos on a single dive (just sayin') and being able to review them instantly, has certainly shortened the learning curve.

Managing light can be done in several ways underwater. Strobe flash, strobe angle, beam pattern, using torches, snoots, off camera lighting, color gels and more. Understanding light also means understanding water quality and sunlight and both of their effects on image making. Couple all of that with our cameras technical abilities and what we have is an unlimited supply of creative prowess right at our fingertips. 

Its no secret that im a fan of snoots. Ive been using snoots in my photography for years and have gained alot of insight on the various ways to use them. One of my favorite methods for snoot lighting is to use it off camera. Thats right, by removing it from my camera and hand holding it. By doing this, i can concentrate on composition and adjust the lighting very quickly, almost like painting. 

Blenny-Rim lighting using Subsea Fiber optic snoot

Rim lighting and backlighting are relative to creating a silhouette. My mentor, Joe Liburdi was a master of rim lighting using off camera pop flash, a true master. For me, i feel this style engages the viewer in a way that invites them into the image by thinking about it. Rim lighting can be a bit tricky so selecting the right subjects is half of the battle. I look for subjects that have strong shape recognition and are calm enough to work with. 

Rim lit Ambon scorpionfish- Sea and Sea strobe | Subsea fiber optic snoot

Once you've located a subject that will allow you to work with it, think about the shot and stay with it. For effective rim or backlighting there are several components that must come together,

  1. The angle of the light should rake across the subject gently.
  2. The flash beam needs to be controlled- No sloppy lighting!
  3. Push your ISO up to allow for the highlights to pop through
  4. Increasing your F-stop to darken the foreground 

Hairy Shrimp- Backlit using the Subsea fiber optic snoot

In the image above, you can see the snoot tip and its proximity to the subject. One of the issues that i discovered by this style of shooting is the shadow casted by strong directional lighting. This isn't always a bad thing except when it effects critical areas in an image. For me, this image receives a fail, although it is a fun facebook post and a good talking point. I also liked the way the snoot tip played into this image so i decided to keep it in. Sometimes mistakes can lead to fun image making.

Miamira alleni- 1 YSD2-J strobe

Not every subject makes for good backlighting either, trust me i've tried everything including rocks. Ive found, subjects that are compressed or slightly translucent make excellent subjects for x-ray style backlighting. 

Smoky the frog- Backlighting and snoot with the Retra LSD

Teaching myself how to rim light subjects led me to learn how to be a sharp shooter using a snoot. I began lighting subjects with what i like to call "The Works". Which is basically using more than one light source to give a subject dimension. Using a torch to backlight my subject, basically creating a silhouette then filling in the shadow in the foreground.

One of the best subject's to begin this path of lighting on is a sea horse, due to its shape and compressed body type. Seahorses can be shy but for me, they are actually tough to shoot. When i say tough to shoot, i don't mean snapping off a photo and swimming away. I mean to shoot them in way that is artistic and compelling.

Backlit seahorse- Kraken snoot torch V2

  Angle the torch and position yourself in a way that allows you to benefit from the light while avoiding the direct beam. And remember not to cook the little guy while your attempting to backlight 'em!

Taking it to the extreme- Backlighting with color gels. Kraken Snoot torch V2

This image was inspired by a winning shot made by a shooter at a local photo contest in Anilao. It took me a while to circle back on this but am happy i did.  The idea of allowing enough light from the rear torch through your lens while stopping down on the light in the foreground. In other words, your making a silhouette with colored light.

Backlighting and snoot with the Retra LSD

These are just a few examples of what we can do with our camera and some unorthodox lighting methods. Its important to remember that failure is the birth place for the drive to succeed. So get out there and make some great photos already!

Gear used:
NIkon D500
Nikon D850
Lenses 60mm & 105mm
Lighting: Sea and Sea Strobes, YSD1, YSD2 and YSD2-J
Snoots-Retra LSD, Subsea Fiber optic snoot
Torches: Kraken Snoot torch V2

Special thanks to Crystal Blue Resort, 

All of these techniques and more are taught during our regular course of subject material during our workshops. New schedules will be posted soon so check back