Underwater Strobe Positioning Tutorial


Brent Durand: Hi everybody. Welcome to my tutorials for Underwater Photography. Today we’re going to talk about strobe positioning,
which is probably one of the most popular topics and asked about online through social
media and actually in workshops in general. So let’s dive right in. Strobe positioning is so important because
it allows us to light our foreground subject which creates a lot of vibrant color, pop,
contrast and a lot of the really compelling elements of the image without creating backscatter. And what we’re going to do is talk about backscatter
first and what it is and how to minimize backscatter, and then we’ll talk about specific strobe
positions for macro and Wide-Angle. Brent Durand: What is backscatter? Backscatter is basically light reflecting
off particles in the water. This is why when you’re in a nice tropic destination
with a hundred foot visibility, it’s easier to shoot images without getting any backscatter
and why, when you’re diving in pea soup with five feet of visibility, you might have a
lot of backscatter. So, think of it, like when you’re on a boat,
and you’re looking down through the water, you’ve got great vertical visibility, the
sun is high overhead, the sun is going right through those particles. You’re not seeing any backscatter, as soon
as you get into the water. Now you’re looking horizontally through the
water, you see a lot of backscatter, a lot of particulate, that’s because the sun is
hitting those particles at, maybe a 90 hundred and 20 degree beam angle and coming back at
you and you can see everything in there. Brent Durand: The same principle is with our
strobes. If there’s particles between the strobe the
subject and the dome port or the macro part of our camera and we eliminate them, the light
is going to reflect off that particle and come back into the camera and create all those
white spots that are backscatter that we don’t like because backscatter is our biggest enemy
in underwater photography. We don’t notice it as much shooting video
because all those particles are flying through the scene and nothing static. But in a still photo, we have one frame and
one chance to get it right. Brent Durand: Basically our goal is to light
the subject but not light any extra water in the scene, we want the strobe light or
the video light to hit that subject to create that vibrant pop and that color and that contrast
and those shadows but not light the water in front of the subject, on top of the subject,
behind the subject or on the sides. We really want to light the pieces of the
scene that need the artificial light but nothing else, because as we light more of the scene
and shed extra light into the water, that’s where backscatter lives, and it’s going to
create a lot more backscatter for us. Naturally, we need light to hit the subject,
so in very bad conditions, there’s nothing you can do. Both right strobe position, we’re going to
target our light so it hits a subject but nothing else. Brent Durand: And with strobes and video lights,
you have a beam angle and the light is coming out of the light head from 100 to 130 degrees,
it depends on the type of strobe or the light. And what we’re going to do is use the edge
of that cone of light to light up the subject. So this way we’re using that that sharp light
fall off to get the subject and then we’ll not be lighting any of that extra water above,
behind, to the sides in front of the subject. So that’s a principle with all of these strobe
positions. And it’s the same effect for macro and Wide-Angle. In Wide-Angle, we just have a bigger piece
of real estate to work with, we’ve got more space to deal with. Whereas, macro has many of the same effects. However, everything is much smaller and much
more miniature. Brent Durand: Let’s dive in. Let’s start talking about strobe positions. The one important thing to keep in mind is
that these are just starting points. So like our camera settings, this is what
we want to set up for, for specific shots and specific scenes and subjects. But depending on that exact shooting situation,
we’re going to make tweaks to these positions. So these are great starting points. But by no means don’t lock it down and leave
it there all day. Adjust experiment off of these starting points. We’ll start with Wide-Angle with dual strobe
position, and then single strobe positioning and then we’ll jump into some macro strobe
positions, both for double strobes and then for single strobes. Brent Durand: Basic Wide-Angle strobe positioning,
so this is my default swim setting when I’m shooting Wide-Angle, and that can be with
the fisheye lens, direct linear Wide-Angle lens. It can be with the DLSR, it can be with a
mirrorless, or even a compact camera as long as you’re not using a macro diopter. If you’re using just the camera itself or
the camera with a Wide-Angle wetlands. This basic Wide-Angle strobe positioning is
the default. It’s how I set up every time from when I start
the dive until I end the dive, of course, there are adjustments to be made. But there’s two main things to keep in mind. Brent Durand: The first is to keep your strobes
behind the plane of the dome port or behind the plane of the front housing port. Wherever that front glass or acrylic element
is those strobes or the video lights should be behind that. If they’re in front of that, you run the risk
of getting some glare on that dome port. And that’s what we want to avoid. We definitely do not want that glare hitting
that. When the strobes are behind that dome port,
then we have a higher probability of getting less backscatter in the frame. Brent Durand: The second thing is that because
our strobes have that beam angle of 100 to 130 degrees, depending on the make and the
model we want to angle strobe slightly out, and I like to keep my strobes, maybe about
12 inches or foot out from the dome port as a very basic position. So I’ll angle the strobes out, maybe 20 to
30 degrees because that’s a nice beam angle for a subject that several feet in front of
the camera. One keep the strobes back behind the front
plane of the dome port, and two, angle them out slightly as a basic Wide-Angle strobe
position. What I also like to do is keep the strobe
slightly above the dome port and you can think of this in terms of shadows because the other
side of the light is shadow when you hit something with a light source from one end, you’re going
to have a shadow on the other end. Brent Durand: We’re used to seeing objects
and people with shadows from above from the sun. So because of that, I generally put the strobes
up a little higher. And what that does is it creates a subtlest
hint of shadow on the underside of an image. If your strobes are down low below the camera
port, you’re going to light the subject from underneath slightly, and that might create
shadows on top and just an effect that you might not see right away but just won’t feel
quite right. And of course, there’s always exceptions to
that. Let’s say you’re shooting sharks in open blue
water. Maybe you do want to have the strobes coming
lower because you’ve got nice ambient sunlight on top and the bottom is black in the shadow
so that lower light will light the bottom of the shark. But in general, I like to keep these above,
into the side, and slightly pointed out. Brent Durand: Big animal Wide-Angle strobe
positioning or reef scapes. This is very similar to the basic position
except we’re trying to illuminate a bigger scene. Maybe it’s a huge manta ray or a huge reefscape. So there’s two things, one, we’ll pull the
strobes out further away because we want to eliminate the whole scene. And now because the strobes are further, we’re
going to have more dispersed light across everything in front of us. And two, because the strobes are so far away,
we don’t necessarily need to have them pointed as aggressively out as in close to the housing. Notice when I have the strobes enclosed here
for close focus I’ll slowly rotate the strobes slightly forward. So they’re still pointed out, but it’s not
as aggressive as when the strobes are in close to the housing. We want to make sure that the strobes are
behind the front plane of the port, out wide and pointed out slightly for these large subjects
to disperse the light. Brent Durand: Close focus Wide-Angle. And we touched on this before but, when we
have a subject very close to the front dome port, we want the strobes in very close and
pointed a lot further out so they’ll have a much more extreme angle away from the subject
because we have much less water between the front of the dome port and the subject. So strobes enclosed and strobes pointed very
far out. Again, behind the front plane of the dome
port, we never want to get in front of that because of nasty reflections on the dome port. If, for instance, we are shooting sunburst
or something, we want to have the strobes in very close as well, because we’ve stopped
down our settings, there’s not much light coming into the camera. So we’ll put the strobes in very, very close. Brent Durand: White Sand strobe positioning. So this is a tricky one, because if we use
our regular strobe position, then we will be lighting up a lot more of the sand in front
of the subject before we hit the subject and have the light come back to us. The scene that’s just in front of camera is
going to have a lot less distance for the light to travel and it’s going to be brighter
and most likely overexposed because we’re on white sand. So the trick for shooting on white sand is
to move the strobes up very high above the camera. So you’re almost like some sort of extraterrestrial
animal like this with long antenna. But what you’re doing is you’re lighting that
sand in front of the camera dome port and the subject more evenly than if you’re lighting
it from this perspective and creating a hot spot right in front. So as you lift the strobes up, again, they
can be angled slightly out, so we’re only using the cone of light but we’re lighting
the sand between the dome and the subject evenly which should eliminate or minimize
those hotspots. Brent Durand: Portrait orientation so all
we have to do to shoot a portrait is flip the camera 90 degrees sideways. And the thing to remember is oftentimes we’ll
flip the camera 90 degrees sideways and you’ve got one strobe way up high, one strobe down
low. And like we mentioned before, we don’t want
those nasty Halloween shadows coming from underneath the subject. So real simple all we do move the strobes
to be roughly on the side. Even though we’re shooting in portrait orientation,
we’ve got our basic strobe positioning with the strobes on the side. Notice they’re behind the front plane of the
dome port, and their angle slightly out to use just that cone of light. These can be different positions. Maybe you want to have one strobe above into
the side like this per portrait. Maybe you want to try and reverse it have
one strobe above here and this one over to this side. There’s really no right or wrong with that. You can adjust the strobes as needed, depending
on the type of subject. Brent Durand: Single strobe positioning. So if you’re working with a single strobe,
we’re using all the same principles we’re still using just that the corner of the beam
of light of the strobe or the video light but what we’re doing is we’re positioning
this more above the camera. You can have this position very straightforward
for Wide-Angle above or what I like to do is generally move it to one o’clock or 11
o’clock. You still have this upward angle, the light
is coming mostly from above with your subject, but you are creating a little bit of hint
of shadow on either side of the subject. Depending what direction the subject is facing,
you might want to pick a different side for this general up position. Brent Durand: If you’re shooting with the
subject specifically on the left, like let’s say a see fan here, and then you’ve got open
blue water, a dive buddy or something in the background. Maybe you want to bring the strobe back over
here. So now you’re lighting just that see fan again,
none of the extra water or anything. We’ve got the strobe behind the front plane
of the dome port where you’re lighting the fan and nothing else on the left. If it’s on the right side, move it over and
I like to put the strobe on the left so that I use my right hand to shoot and hold the
camera and the left can move the strobe very easily. Brent Durand: If you’re shooting something
big, like let’s say it’s a manta ray swimming by. I always like to put the strobe on the side
that has the face of the shark, the ray whatever it is, so if it’s swimming from right to left
through the frame, the left side of the frame is where the subject’s face is going to be. So I’ll put my strobe out, pretty wide here
on the left side. And that way the artificial light is going
to eliminate the face of the subject. If they swim from left to right through the
frame, I’m going to grab the strobe, I’m going to put it over here. So now I’m lighting the front of the subject,
the face as it’s swimming left to right through the frame. So I’m constantly thinking about where to
position this single light source to make the most of the image and really illuminate
the most important part of the frame. Brent Durand: Basic macro strobe positioning. So the principles for macro are pretty much
the same as Wide-Angle just on a smaller scale. We want to light the subject of the image
with the light using the cone of the beam of light, but also not light the space between
the front of the dome port and the subject, the water on the sides above, or behind the
subject. So we’re finally controlling that light through
our strobe positioning to minimize backscatter while lighting the subject. So as a general macro swim setting, if we’re
swimming around the reef, maybe following a guide, we’re not sure what we’re going to
see, I will actually use a very similar position to the basic Wide-Angle position. Brent Durand: The strobes are behind the front
plane of the macro port, just because it’ll help us to reduce backscatter and the strobes
will be angled slightly out. Again, because the beam of light that cone
is going to want to light the subject but not the space between the port and the subject. So with the strobe positioning, I’m ready
for anything, something really quick could happen. Maybe you’re swimming looking at a nudibranch,
saying “Hey, should I shoot a photo of this?” And a guy tugs your fin and goes woo, woo,
woo, woo, woo … And there’s blurring octopus mating. You just don’t know. So you want to be ready for anything. Something could be swimming by you at any
point. So this is my go-to setting for macro. And then if you do get that whale that swims
by and you want to shoot the whale alive because you’re with a macro lens instead of Wide-Angle
lens. At least you have a chance. Brent Durand: Close macro strobe positioning. Now this is a really interesting technique
and it really helps us control light and minimize backscatter, especially if you’re trying to
shoot black backgrounds. So instead of shooting with my strobes out
like this where I’m illuminating, this much of the frame, what I’m going to do is take
the strobes, pull them in close and turn them in and now what I’m doing is I’m shining most
of the strobe light on the housing port itself. And I’m not talking about taking the strobe
and facing it back and shooting into the lens, and no, it’s not pointing completely 180 degrees
back towards me, because the light is not going to hit the subject. But they are pointed a little more than 90
degrees. So they’re facing the camera port, and they
are lighting that port and the housing and what we’re going to see is that the edge of
this cone of light is lighting that subject that’s really close in front of the port while
not lighting anything else. So that gives us our black background and
finally controlled light when we have the subject really close. Brent Durand: Sometimes I’ll have mine on
the side. And sometimes I’ll position them slightly
above the housing like this so that the strobes are angled down and in and what that does
is it just really controls the light above the subject. It points it all down, and the light is coming
from the side to the subject. So you’re going to light that and keep that
nice, crisp black background above the subject. Those are my main positions for that. Brent Durand: Supermacro strobe positioning. Now we’ve got our diopter on the front of
the camera port, and this is when we’re going to work with the same macro principles for
backscatter and strobe positioning, but on an even smaller scale. What I’m going to do is use the close strobe
positioning and I’ll have the strobes pointed in back towards the camera port and the diopter
in front but they’re going to be even closer and the amount of beam angle going in front
is going to be even less, because now we’re shooting with such a small working distance
on the diopter that, it’s a couple inches a few centimeters right here, that it’s a
small scale. So the strobes are really pointing very much
back towards the diopter as you can see, and that is illuminating just the subject but
none of the water behind it or on top of it on a very, very small supermacro scale. Brent Durand: White sand strobe positioning. This is very similar to the white sands strobe
position we used for Wide-Angle because the same principle applies. When we’re shooting from the side of the camera,
we’re going to eliminate all the white sand immediately in front of the port while trying
to illuminate the subject and create hotspots. We’ll probably even burn out all of that sand
there. It’s going to be just white with no data in
the image and our image will be ruined because of that white sand. The light will be a lot more intense here
than it is back here. So what we want to do is try, and make the
light hit all that sand surface evenly by bringing the strobes up above the macro port. So when they’re up like this, we’re lighting
that sand evenly from the front of the port to the subject. And we have the same position here, the strobes
are pointed slightly out, so that again, we’re lighting just the amount of the subject that
we need without any extra water space. Brent Durand: Macro portrait orientation. This is very similar to a Wide-Angle portrait
orientation. When you flip the camera 90 degrees, flip
those strobes back 90 degrees, so that the light is again coming from the side and you
can use the basic macro strobe positioning, or you can use the close macro strobe positioning
where your subject is closer to the port and the strobes are turned inward. So you can experiment, and same thing with
Wide-Angle you can have one strobe to the side and one on top, or you could do it the
opposite way, one strobe on this side and the other strobe on top. It really depends where your subject is and
which way they’re facing but by going portrait, you should use all the same lighting principles. Brent Durand: And for cracks and holes in
the rock and things like that. We talk about angling our strobes out so that
we don’t create backscatter, but this is an exception to that rule because if you have
a moray eel in a crack, maybe what you do is you put the strobe directly overhead and
just shine it right in. So it’s sort of like our single strobe position. You’ll have the light up top and slightly
angled to the right or slightly to the left and shoot into that crack just like that. Brent Durand: And finally, single strobe macro
position, similar to Wide-Angle. Yet again, we’re going to put the strobe over
the top of the housing and we’ll have it roughly in the center. Again, I like to shoot at either one o’clock
or 11 o’clock because that’s going to create a little hint of shadow on one side or the
other. Generally I’m move the strobe to the side
that has a subject’s face on it, so that I’m illuminating more of the face, and any shadows
will fall behind the face towards the back of the subject. So I’ll be here, generally with the strobe
painting facing forward. You can try with the back position, the close
macro position, just turn that strobe back and that cone of light is still going to hit
right here. So you’re still good to go. Brent Durand: If you have a subject that’s
very much on the side, experiment, move it far down here. But just remember that you’re going to have
shadows on this side, or move it over to the other side and shoot from this side, maybe
at a 45 degree angle here, pull the strobe back. So really just experiment, it’s going to depend
on the exact orientation of the subject and the effect you’re looking for. Where do you want that light to come from,
and where you want the shadow to fall. The nice thing about macro and supermacro
with a single strobe, is that the subject is so small. So because you’ve got such a wide light source
and you’ve got maybe a new nudibranch that’s a half centimeter across, you’re going to
do a great job just lighting the whole thing with one light source, whether it’s your strobe
or your video light. Brent Durand: There we have it, strobe positioning
for underwater photography. The thing to keep in mind is that these are
just frames of reference. So they’re guides, but not the end all, because
each shooting situation is going to take different tweaks for all these positions. They’re basic guidelines. When I’m shooting, I’ll use these positions,
but I’ll be constantly adjusting and moving the strobes to either side of the housing
back and forth because that’s what it calls for in those shooting situations. So keep this in mind, be very conscious of
where your strobes are positioned, where backscatter could be created, where it’s being created
when you’re reviewing your images and how to correct that. Brent Durand: Always be thinking about that
balance between lighting the subject from the right angles, and backscatter, and you’re
going to be well on your way to creating your own strobe positions, and really creating
excellent images with that vibrancy, that pop, that color, that contrast that works
really well. Thanks for watching. As always, please feel free to reach out with
any questions at [email protected] and enjoy the rest of video tutorial series. Thanks.

44 thoughts on “Underwater Strobe Positioning Tutorial

  1. This video was so much work to produce – it's really great that you're providing it for free. And the information is really on point and extremely helpful.

  2. Great video. I don't know why but most videos on YouTube with regards to underwater photography are really outdated, poorly produced and generally bad. This is a breath of fresh air! I'll be sending all the newbies on my scuba chat this way 👌🏾

  3. Thanks Brent. This was just what I was looking for. Beautifully succinct and to the point yet full of interesting and useable information. Love your manner too; knowledgable and sure without be condescending in the slightest. Top work.

  4. What camera and housing do you recommend? It looks like you are using a Sony full frame mirror less with a Nauticam housing. Thank you very much for the video, it was a great help!

  5. Thank you so much for putting this awesome video together! You covered the most important stuff plus some more, love it!

  6. Thanks Brent. What a wonderful video. All the useful tips and tricks for a advanced strobe handling. I have never seen before a video about strobe handling which explains the different light situations so reproducible. I will definitly try some of the tricks next time.

  7. This has by far been one of the most informative videos I've seen, with practical examples. Thank you Brent for thinking of those with one strobe 🙂 !

  8. Excellent video and easy to understand info. Would you please suggest how to choose right size of arms for strobes.

  9. Such a great video! Thank you! I’ve had my scuba cert for a while now and have been working in the film/photography fields and am now trying to figure out how to combine the two. Thanks for this info!

  10. Amazing Video! I have alot better understanding of how to use my underwater strobes. Could you make a video about using 1 strobe and everything that you can do with only 1 strobe?

  11. Well done. This old dog actually learned a few things🤯😂
    Lots of new things i'm looking forward to try👍👍
    Thanks!

  12. Thanks for this, great video and very goos tips. Ill look for your webpage!!

  13. Brent what do you think of the new Globe type diffusers for UW use. They are great above water

  14. Great Video! The info in this video has me ready to graduate from my GoPro with video lights to my new Panasonic LX10 w Nauticam housing. I just purchased a pair of Sea&Sea YS-D2J strobes and i'm diving with them in 3wks!

  15. just such a perfect inroduction, you really covered a lot. thank you very much!

  16. Wow! After watching your 21 min video I improved my underwater Macro and genrral shots by 100% in just 2 Dives. Amazing difference with the right inspiration and guidance.
    I use a Huawei P20 Pro and weefine Pro Housing with 2 x 8000Lumen lights. That's right no flash. Amazing results after just 1 video👍👍👍

  17. I have a canon 5d and wanting to purchase a seafrogs underwater housing for it. How will I setup a flash / strobe to it (cheapest possible) as a lot of videos online show the built in camera flash triggers the strobe, but obviously the 5d doesn't have one! Any advice would be great as I know nothing about underwater photography but really want to learn. Many thanks.

  18. Brent, I can't tell you how many times I have watched this strobe video and I learn something each time I watch. When to use S&S diffusers and when not to? What are your thoughts on using diffusers or do you just leave them in your room? Thank for all of your videos, I am a subscriber. Jack

  19. I wished you showed us the 5 minute end connector to ur camera strobe?

  20. You definitely should have more followers or subscribers. Great videos, this very special. I also looked at a few others of you and I have to say, you are one of the few that I have discovered on Youtube that explain their theme very well and also in great detail. After "Behind the Mask" you are my top online instructor. Thumbs up and keep goin with that👌

  21. Brent – how would placement differ if you were using one video light (2500 lumen) and 1 strobe?

  22. Thanks a lot for creating this video, really helpful, nice and simply presented 🤙🏼

  23. Which Strobe Position from the video do you want to try on your next dives?

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