UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY |  Top Tips to Improve Your Skills

Using Video Lights to Shoot Macro Photos

 brent top tips title

Lighting is everything in underwater photo and video. Underwater photographers generally use two expensive strobes, while video shooters use powerful video lights. This gear adds up quickly for beginners, and many will opt for a single dive or video light as their first step towards building up a lighting system.

One of the great benefits here, aside from helping your wallet, is that you can shoot both photos and video with a single light. The technique is referred to as constant lighting.

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 A vivid red paddle-flap scorpionfish stands stoically on the sand in Anilao, Philippines. Canon G16 with constant light

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A chromodoris nudibranch crawls across a reef in Anilao, Philippines. Canon G16 with constant light

There are, of course, pros and cons to shooting still photos using a video light.


  1. You can add vibrant light to the scene with gear you may already have.
  2. Capitalize on your camera’s burst mode for capturing fast macro action (strobes are hindered by their flash recycle time).
  3. Easier shooting with the camera’s Auto modes.


  1. Constant light is not as powerful as a strobe flash. A flash will excel at freezing fast action, especially for wide-angle (such as fast-swimming sea lion).
  2. Best results will come from powerful video lights with a wide flood beam.


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Macro detail of a fish-eating anemone in Northern California. SeaLife DC-2000 with single Sea Dragon light

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A touch of colour is added to the Deep Pete wreckage in Lissenung, Papua New Guinea with constant light. Canon 5D Mk III

We’ve gathered some of the best tips to help bring home great photos lit with your dive or video light.

  1. Crank up the power! Setting your light to maximum power will help the camera produce the best colour and deliver the sharpest images at ideal settings.
  1. Get close to your subject. The closer your camera is to the subject, the less distance the light has to travel in the water, creating a brighter and more vivid image. Your macro goal should be to make the subject as large as possible in the camera LCD/viewfinder. Your wide-angle goal should be to get as close to the subject as you can while still seeing the other composition elements in the frame.
  1. Review each image in order to improve the shot, looking specifically at composition, exposure via the histogram, and angle of the light. You also want to be sure the shutter speed is faster than 1/60s in order to minimize blurring. On your housing, this button is labelled Review, Playback or uses the triangle-inside-square icon.
  1. Relax and keep the camera as still as possible. This will minimize blurring and create sharper images. For macro shots, try stabilizing yourself with a reef stick carefully placed on bare rock or in the sand.

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A bat star clings to a dark reef in Northern California, illuminated with a single Sea Dragon light. Shot on SeaLife DC-2000

• Brent Durand is an avid scuba diver, writer and photographer. He has led many intensive photo workshops around the world and is currently translating this knowledge into a popular series of Underwater Video Tutorials and another website helping divers Learn Underwater Photography. Check back soon for the next article in this series!




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