Whether you’re a new underwater photographer or a full-time pro, learning to properly light underwater subjects is a continuous process of improvement. With the right gear, knowledge, and a lot of practice, beautiful shots (like the one above) can be taken more consistently and create cover-quality photos. The word “photography” comes from the Greek words meaning “to write with light”, and underwater that light generally comes from two sources – natural light from the sun, and light provided by portable strobes.

Learning to effectively use strobes underwater is the key to taking great photos. Strobes are necessary to bringing out the beautiful colors we see in underwater photos – colors that are lost even at shallower depths due to the water filtering out the colors we’re able to see at the surface. Some divers prefer to use dual strobes, however beautiful shots can also be taken with a single strobe.

We asked Brent Durand of the Underwater Photography Guide to share with us some tips for shooting underwater with a single strobe, and he shared an article he wrote on how to get great results using this method. Here’s what he shared with us:

Single strobe used to illuminate the reef in this close-focus wide-angle composition.

Strobes are a light in the darkness for underwater photography – literally. We learn in open water scuba classes about light falloff (starting with red) as we descend in the water column. We also know that the water itself gets darker as we descend, especially when visibility is less than 30ft (10m), when clouds block the sun or (obviously) at night. Using a strobe will bring not only light, but also vivid color and contrast back into the scene.

There are a number of strobes and strobe manufacturers on the market, each with different pros and cons. The vast majority will attach to camera housings via fiber optic cables or sync cords. Both of these connections serve to relay the flash signal (via light or electric signal) that tells the strobe to fire.

Most new underwater photographers start with a single strobe. Shooting with a single strobe means less weight and bulk on the camera rig, less task loading during the dive and a much better opportunity to learn how to use a strobe before handling two of them.

Single Strobe Positioning

Before positioning a strobe, the diver must decide how he or she would like to compose the photo. This includes any background and mid-ground elements, direction of the ambient (sun) light, secondary subjects or simply eye contact with a macro subject. Once this has been determined, the diver should adjust camera settings and only then move in for the shot. Below are a few strobe positions and photos showing the effects of light and shadow.

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Single strobe used to highlight a yellow tube sponge under a sunball and boat.

Single strobe used to highlight a yellow tube sponge under a sunball and boat.

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, photographer and writer dedicated to capturing unique underwater, ocean lifestyle and adventure images. Brent is editor of the Underwater Photography Guide. Make sure to follow UWPG on Facebook for updates on everything underwater-photography.