Underwater Strobe or Video Light?

Taken with a Go Pro Hero 3

I’ll never forget my first encounter with an underwater light, the day that it arrived in the box and I was absolutely petrified by the size and weight of it (an Ikelite DS-125 strobe) which felt about a million times larger than the size of my tiny Olympus 5050 compact camera.

So as promised, I’m running through some personal views on the two. Both strobes and video lights can produce incredible images, but sometimes it all depends on what kinds of subjects you want to take to choose which one to use, or buy. Whichever you choose to buy, an external light underwater will help to bring out the textures and features of your subject and pack some incredible colours and vibrancy into your resulting image. Once you get used to either of them, you won’t regret it.

First things first, when getting started in underwater photography, have a look around and ask to see what others are shooting with to start giving you some ideas as to which kind of light will be right for you. For example, if you are into close-up photography and capturing the best side of those cute little critters that we find and fall in love with underwater, then even just a small, humble dive light will give you a great result. However, please do remember that any kind of bright light shining in the eyes of some underwater creatures, can in fact harm them, or they may even turn away giving you a better view of their rear than their face!

Pgymy Seahorse captured with a compact camera on macro mode and one external strobe

So what are the key differences between the two? Essentially, a strobe fires a very sharp burst of light whereas a video light will give off a continuous light to light your subject. Therefore the battery life of a video light can be far less than a strobe, due to the fact that it is working constantly throughout your dive. That means that when your “subject of a million” comes along, your battery may be flat by then. A strobe can also capture faster moving subjects far better as the light it emits is a quick burst of light, whereas with a video light, you would need to make super sure that your ISO is fast enough to capture that same subject and freeze its’ movement, otherwise you may end up with some blur – BUT – again this can be a good thing.

Ambon Scorpionfish captured with a Compact Camera and a Dive Light

So how do strobes work? Firstly you will need a Fibre Optic Cable to trigger the strobe from your onboard flash on your compact camera. Make sure that the white part of your camera housing is blacked-out to avoid lighting water particles which are close to you. Make sure that you have your camera on Forced Flash in your camera menu, so that when you press your shutter button, the external flash automatically fires. There is a variety of strobe power options that you can choose but we will cover them another day.

Video or dive lights are a constant light source and specialised video lights travel further through the water which is great if your subject is further away, but any particles that are floating through the water will also be lit up too and highlighted as “blobs” in your image. Video lights have large beams of light that will light up a larger scene evenly in front of you which is great for video. You can also create wonderful shadows in your images by using video lights. They also work very well for your buddies to use when they are modelling for you underwater, adding interest to the overall image.

Underwater Photography.com Bronze Medal Winning Image – captured with a Compact Camera, Fisheye Lens & One Strobe

Finally, if you like adjusting your shutter speed to create a rich deep blue like I have done on the above image, then this is much easier to achieve with strobe light rather than video light.

So that’s it for today, I really hope this quick guide will help give you some ideas when deciding on one or the other. More guides on lighting techniques and equipment will be written very soon.

Happy Diving Everyone,

Maria, Your Underwater Compact Camera Coach

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