Pictured above is my current underwater photography rig. Much of the time I don’t use both lights, when I have customers it’s much too bulky and I remove the entire left hand side of the system, making for a much more dive friendly rig that is easily stowed when helping other divers. Many of my photos are taken with a single Venom 50, but I definitely enjoy having two, it really lets me experiment with my settings and get quality shots of fast moving critters!
The rig consists of
Camera: Sony RX100 I
Case: Recsea Sony RX100 I
Light 1: iTorch Venom 50 – 5,000 lumens
Light 2: iTorch Venom 50 – 5,000 lumens
Red Filter: Not sure of brand name
Macro Lens: Pictured Below
How Are You Doing Macro?
When you enter the macro arena, you are faced with buying expensive optical lenses for DSLR’s or less but still expensive diopters (Wet Lenses). Many of the leading underwater photography manufacturers sell these wet lenses, at prices ranging from 50 – 250$ per diopter.
Now when I started wanting to do macro, the price of the wet lenses for my current camera housing were 100+, so I decided to research the problem and found that a wet lens for Macro photography is simply a convex lens (piece of glass), and that most photographers already doing macro were doing so with a relative magnification of between +10 & +20. If you like me want a cheap option for macro, read below and I will show you how to avoid the extortion of the UW manufacturers.
For around 20$ you can purchase these close up lens from Ebay. If the thread on your housing is not 52mm, you can find them in any of the standard sizes, 55, 58, 67 etc etc. Also I personally buy 2 or 3 kits at a time, because.
For super macro, you need to stack the lens’ & put two +10’s together, one on top the other. To do this though you have to create spacing between the two lens, they are much to convex to stack by screwing one on top the other. Thankfully because you listened to me and ordered 2 kits, you have a bunch of useless +1 & +2 lens. You simply remove the glass lens from the +1, by using a small screw driver to unscrew the meal rim holding it inside the thread, and throw away the glass, using the outer rim as the spacer between the two +10’s allowing them to easily stack up.
Here are a couple photos of mine to help you out.
Macro close up lenses
Macro close up lenses
Stacked Macro close up lenses
Stacked Macro close up lenses
You can see I actually use three spacers, I do this for a variety of reasons, I won’t go into it here. Don’t fall for the 200$ macro lens, use these, achieve the same results for 10% of the price.
Where Are Your Strobes?
I’ll put this simply, ‘strobes can go to hell’, I truly hate working with them. I decided a long time ago I would do my photography using strong video lighting so I didn’t have to use strobes, here are some of my reasons.
I’ve seen Hundreds of flooded strobes, but never a flooded video light :: When I was working on the liveaboards I saw all sorts of beautiful strobe set-ups, up and into the 30k range on magnificent DSLR’s, down to single YS-01’s on simple Canon S120’s. It didn’t seem to matter who was wielding them, but without doubt every single trip, somebody flooded a strobe. Total trip let down for the person who just lost an expensive piece of equipment. Never ever did I see one of the Sola, iTorch, Big Blue or Tec diving video lights have a flooding issue. I decided then that investing in underwater photography equipment that didn’t flood was pretty dam important, hence my iTorches.
Strobes do one thing, video lights are versatile and multi-functional :: If you spend 1,000$ on a strobe, you get a strobe. Spend the same on a video light and you also get, a magnificently powerful torch, red lights, UV lights, spot lights, photo light, video light. So there you go, next wreck or cave you go into, light up the whole structure and be coveted by any diver that has not been blinded by your stupidly powerful torch.
Strobes are common in photography, video lighting photography is new and exciting :: Ok, so again, gonna go out on a limb and say there are not many photographers doing what I’m doing, I haven’t seen any come my way yet anyway. Everyone else immediately goes to strobes, this is not because strobes are better, it is because people are not willing to try anything different and will follow the established rules. Screw that, I’m making it up as I go, so I can have my own style in a crowded space.
Too much tinkering with strobes not enough picture taking :: Don’t know how many times I’ve seen strobers hanging in mid water dicking about with their arms, clamps, camera settings and strobe settings, long gone is their intended subject, that is why so many strobies just take the same tired old photos of corals. Trust me I’ve seen 100,000 photos on my travels from my customers and it’s always a fan coral back-lit by the sun, or a bommey with glass fish on it. This strongly leads me to summarize that strobes are to much $%^&ing about, when I find something I want to photograph it is literally a 3 second process to switch on my lights, and camera, get into place and get the shot and keep getting them without constant tinkering with my equipment settings.
Strobe syncing without a DSLR is a nightmare :: This sort of ties in with above, if you don’t sync your strobes correctly, you won’t get light into your photos and they will suck. DSLR’s make life easy with ports for strobes allowing correct syncing to the camera, but if you are poor and stubborn like me and don’t want to use a DSLR, you use something like a Sony RX100, then you have to rely on sub-standard flash syncing. It doesn’t always work correctly, in fact it’s horrible, I never want to deal with it again.
Constant lighting is awesome :: As you should know, Strobes provide a very powerful flash of light, it doesn’t last very long and this means getting the right shot the first time is pretty much impossible. It’s take one photo, adjust settings, take another photo re-adjust, rinse and repeat. With video lighting photography you simply turn on your lights, wait for your subject to do what you want and take the shot, you can basically see exactly how the shot will look because one, you have eyes, two the viewfinder with powerful lighting is a much truer representation of what it will record. This allows you to get all your settings like aperture, ISO and shutter speed correct long before you try to get that photo of a Sea Horse, which you know is going to move as soon as you light it up, if you are only going to get 1 shot at a subject, you can’t beat video lights.
Disadvantages Of Video Lights
They are still not as powerful as strobes :: I’ll be honest you can’t do wide angle photography with video lights yet, they simply don’t throw enough light into the surrounding water the way that strobes do. Your photography will be limited to Macro and Mid range subjects. With the rig above, i.e. two Venom 50’s which adds up to 10,000 Lumens, my max range is about 2 Meters before the light drops off so suddenly it’s almost not there. Strobes will get you much further ranges if that is your thing.
Back-scatter is a royal PITA :: If you have any sort of particulate mater in the water when taking your photo, the video lights are going to light it up and it will reflect in your photos, you get the same problem with strobes but, over the years people have developed many ways of eliminating the problems. I do quite a bit of post processing on my photos to clear up back-scatter, so there is an extra time cost sometimes if current is making your subject a nasty mess of sand and algae.
Burn times :: Torches like mine only last for an hour on full, that being said I don’t leave them on, I turn them on as needed and most days I do three dives without charging in between dives. Good strobes can last for much longer than three dives, but again everything is relative, depends how you use them.
Dispelling Some More Myths
One is better than the other :: It’s personal preference, I hate strobes so I use video lights, I’m not saying one is better, I just find it far more fun and enjoyable to do this type of photography when I dive.
One is cheaper than the other :: I got both my torches for about 1,500$, two good strobes will easily set you back that much, in fact at the time I bought my torches they were best in the field, if you purchase best in field strobes I can guarantee you will spend more than I did. Again it comes down to bargain hunting, deals and personal preference, I like the fact that for my money I also got two powerful torches I can use when I do wreck and cave diving!
Strobes will always be more powerful :: Not for long, video lighting is a revolution and it is gaining momentum, my lights are 5,000 lumens, newer lights are coming into play that are up to 30,000 lumens, just imagine dual mounting those, I personally believe with the advancements underwater lighting is making, strobes will be a thing of the past and we can really start to light up our photos with constant lighting, say like they do in professional photo shoots!
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