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wide angle lens
artificial lighting
coral reefs
warm colors
All About Underwater Camera Lighting
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All About Underwater Camera Lighting

So you've been wanting to explore that shipwreck under the warm shallow waters in the bay of your hometown. This would be a great adventure to pull out your HD sports camera. Where does one get the kind of underwater camera lighting needed for use with today's mini sports cams? This is about such lighting systems, how they are basically made.

Many times, when we watch shows that feature Robert Ballard and Jacques Cousteau we think of the equipment being used as tremendously expensive and out of reach for the average person. Today, this is farthest from the truth.

There's no doubt that the lighting equipment used by Ballard and Cousteau are (or were) highly sophisticated, large, quite professional...and expensive.

Methods of Adding Lighting to Underwater Subjects

To eliminate the inherent problem of color loss under water when at lower depths becomes necessary, even at relatively shallow waters about coral reefs and other shadowed areas. Water filters out the warm colors of the sun's spectrum, making elements in the seascape blended and made redundant. There are ways to lessen or eliminate this problem with:

  • wide angle lenses
  • strobes
  • flashes
  • continuous luminosity (for video)

In some instances, simply having a wide angle lens (or a macro lens) on the HD sports camera is enough to do the trick. This effectively allows the photographer to come in closer to the subject, reducing the distance therefore the filtering effect of the water. For places where this doesn't work effectively, a luminous source is needed. The lighting, in most cases, is not for the provision of a light source, but to restore natural colors in the subject. However, in the case of dark areas, such as caves and shipwrecks, the artificial lighting is needed as a source.

The Anatomy of a Typical Underwater Camera Lighting Kit

There are quite a few companies that manufacture waterproof kits designed for flashes, strobes and illumination. Note that the best of these are those that project away from the focal point of the lens, reducing or eliminating the inherent problem of backscattering. The light from the flash reflects off microscopic organisms, such as plankton and produces glare, even in seemingly-clear water.

The remedy for this problem is to extend the lighting away from the focal point, thus the backscattering caused by the lights are not detected by the lens. They are usually mounted on either rigid or flexible arms. This effectively puts the lighting into an off angle, optimizing the imagery.

Some third-party underwater camera lighting kits are specially specified for particular brands and models of hd sports cameras. Today they are quite easy to use and are much better designed. Many scuba gear companies feature sports cams and the lighting kits.

Availability of Underwater Camera Lighting Fixtures for Sports Camcorders

Sports camera companies often make a line of cameras specially-suited for a specific form of action (such as watersports for example) and sometimes provide a lighting accessory for certain models. In other instances, (and in a couple known examples) scuba gear manufacturers make third party underwater lamps for particular cameras as noted above. These companies often fit these to the more popular.

Today everything needed for underwater photography is available for the average person to take to the coral reefs and other spectacular places in the sea. Lighten up your underwater adventures, however, use extreme caution when entering underwater caves, shipwrecks and other inherently dangerous places!


Street Talk

I've been wreck diving quite a few times, and one of my instructors said that he used some professional lighting for underwater filming. Do you have any stats on how far the lights project in pure darkness? In some places of the wreck it's basically black, and being able to light up a room vs a small area in front of you makes a huge difference. The Go Pro looks like it would be a lot more convenient that the setup he had - that was some serious movie-making gear, and they needed two divers just to get it down and into the wreck!

Reply
  about 6 years ago

You should never go into these wrecks without a buddy, no matter what. I don't have the specs on how far these lights will illuminate, but surely they will light up any cabin brightly. In places like into the compartments around the Grand Staircase and in corridors, the lights should illuminate pretty far in front of you, enough to see what's going on to safely navigate. Lighting is also dependent upon the quality of the water itself, whether clear or murky, it's going to have a big effect on any lighting system.

Reply
  about 6 years ago
Paul H  

Very interesting,i would love to go underwater and check things out,i have always been afraid to do that but i am willing to give it a try someday. Cheers Paul.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Thanks Paul. I would myself. I don't have the equipment besides my GoPro and basics for this. I, myself would take a trip like this with a guide who knows what he/she is doing. It may cost much more, but a life is priceless. Hope you get to go, and I myself, would love to explore the Titanic and her sister ships!

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Pretty cool info Daniel!

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Thank you Shawn. Sorry I'm just getting around to these replies :)

Reply
  about 6 years ago

You explained this so well. I didn't think the microscopic plankton would pose a problem with lighting, but how you explained it makes sense. Took underwater photos of sea turtles and was very disappointed w/ the results. I needed a few lessons like this, I guess.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

As long as you don't take shots head-on, you should be alright. This is why lighting systems are on poles that bring the light source out of tangent with the subject under water.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

This could come in handy finding those fish....and getting some awesome images thanks Daniel...

Reply
  about 6 years ago

I want to thank you for your recent help in WSS. I enjoyed talking with you and getting to know you better :) Sorry, but the lighting could also scare off some of your fish as well as attract others. Depends on the species would be my best guess.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Good article Daniel, you cover this tricky lighting problem well

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Thanks greatly Roger! Sorry I'm just getting to these. I simply didn't know all these replies were here and now getting to them. :)

Reply
  about 6 years ago
Dom Wells  

Not something that I had considered before, but lighting must be essential for underwater photography

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Yeah, they are great for those dark places and in shipwrecks. They also bring out living color of barrier reefs and flora found in seascapes.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

I have only been scuba diving a few times, but nothing as beautiful as that picture there. Was training in Lake Chelan, WA. Tons of fun. Underwater fun is very alluring for the adventurists like me. Good to know there is such great equipment out there to be able to record the experience.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

You know, that picture is one of the earliest computer wallpapers I ever got soon after getting on the WWW on my own computer in 1997. I am very fond of the picture, even though, at first, I thought it was artwork. Wow! it took awhile to realize this was an actual shot.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

I've always found underwater photography fascinating, and I'm a big fan of those mystery shows/movies that involve maritime tragedies (Titanic, Edmund Fitzgerald, etc.). However, I prefer to watch these underwater dramas from the comfort of my living room and leave the technical stuff to the pros. Great information, Daniel.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

I'd love to explore the vast network of caves under Florida. Albeit, these are very dangerous and it's easy to get lost in them. Not a place for the faint of heart. I'd go with a guide if I had the chance.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

I've always wanted to participate in underwater photography but could never afford it. Also lake Erie is not very conducive to underwater photography. Thanks for the information

Reply
  about 6 years ago

I bet there are some historic artifacts from the early 19th century down there though! May not have much as places like the Bahamas would have, but surely, there are treasures down there! Lighting would help locate these.

Reply
  about 6 years ago
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