By Aaron Schmidt
Over the past fall and winter I was fortunate to test two different waterproof video lighting setups. My main goal was to see if these lights, originally designed for video work, could be utilized for still photography as well. Overall, I was impressed with the results.
Watershot i600 imaging torch-lights
The first system I tested was a pair of the affordable i600 imaging torch-lights. The folks at Watershot were helpful in creating a custom mount on top of my Aquatech housing for a Nikon D700 SLR. The lights were mounted on flex arms away from the camera and each produced 600 lumens of light output in an even, wide-beam pattern.
After testing the lights on a kayak fishing trip in Washington State I found that they do work for illuminating underwater subjects for still photography, albeit with some limitations. As you can see in these photos, the lights work best in darker underwater conditions. My attempts at adding fill to shadows in sunny conditions didn’t go as well. If you need to fill shadows under bright sunlight, regular strobes are still your best bet. These lights shine with a 75-degree even flood beam pattern and can be dialed down to control the intensity of the light output, reducing the spot-light affect when subjects are brought in close.
In general though, these lights are definitely handy, and are super easy to use.
Watch out for short arms that limit the angle of lighting and create the potential for backscatter. Backscatter happens when the underwater particles right in front of the lens are illuminated. Watershot offers multiple lengths for arms and if you anticipate mostly shooting underwater, it pays to get the longer ones. The lights use two CR123 or one 18650 (rechargeable) battery with a 2.6hr Burn Time on Max Brightness. These lights retail for $170 each, mounting and arms not included.
Watershot STRYKR 900V kit
While these lights are acceptable for some shooting conditions, I preferred the much brighter STRYKR 900V kit. Again, these lights were extremely easy to use and generated an incredible amount of light. While designed with the underwater videographer in mind, I found that these lights also could help create quality still photos when used in the appropriate conditions.
Notice how the lights work well in lower light. Like the previously tested lights, strobes are still a better bet for use in bright sunlight.
This image was made using a GoPro Hero 3 Black+ at a depth of about 70 ft.
We even had some fun out at the Trestles surf break in near darkness. Today's SLRs can handle making cool images with higher ISOs and a little help from these video lights. One concern is that this lighting rig is bulky and with a heavy battery makes my normally floating water housing sink - sort of concerning when swimming into the surf.
This image were made during a cave exploration in Belize. When used out of the water the lights quickly heat up. Take care to keep them cool by submerging them often in the water.
The STRYKR modular system is built around an extended lift lithium-ion battery rated to a depth of 150 meters. This kit includes dual light heads featuring a high lumen output that can be adjusted to one of three power levels or constantly flashed in strobe mode. The light heads produce an even 75 degree beam pattern from each light head. Resulting burn times are up to 12 hours of continuous light and 30 hours of strobe light with the supplied rechargeable battery. This kit retails for $1,200 plus the cost of support arms and mounting.
If you're looking into getting a lighting kit for both still and video work, this system from Watershot is a great bet. Today's cameras can produce great results when shooting at higher ISOs, allowing these lights to provide a nice fill to your subjects both above and below the water. For those wanting to provide fill or key light in all ambient lighting environments, strobes are still a better bet. But if you're looking to provide illumination for your underwater video work as well as take still photos with the same equipment, then this system is an excellent compromise.
–Read our tips for paddling photography with explorer and award winning photographer Daniel Fox.