Stunning Underwater Portrait Photography w/Studio Flash

Underwater Portrait Photography

I’ve been thinking about how to add more control to the lighting I use for my underwater photography. Initially, my lighting was all on camera, generally with two Ikelite DS-160 strobes attached to my underwater housing, often with dome diffusers on them. While I can adjust the angles of each light, the amount of creative lighting control is rather limited. My next step was to put a light on a stand and rest the stand on the bottom of the pool. This gives me a chance to take advantage of the benefits of off camera lighting. The primary light in most of my shoots is the sun, where it enters the water and then where it reflects from the bottom and to a lesser degree, the sides of the pool.

I met with colleague, Rod Klein in his pool studio in Venice, CA last summer. He showed me how he was using remote flash and had studio lights outside of his pool, in addition to his underwater strobes. There are a few ways to set something like this up. The main technical hurdle is that radio signals don’t travel well underwater and thus need to be relayed to the surface before being transmitted. One product that aims to solve this is the Aquatica Water Wizard (reviewed by colleague Jennifer Tallerico in fstoppers) which seems like a good solution but is limited to working with a specific model of Pocketwizard and then only with PocketWizards. The cost is $329 and that doesn’t include the PocketWizard itself! I didn’t like these constraints so I decided to build my own solution. I purchased the an Ikelite bulkhead connector to be able to connect my housing to the waterproof case, ordered a case and then built the solution. See the video below to get a sense of what the results look like:

In the photo that follows you can see the light streaming in from above. The light streaming in comes entirely from a Profoto Flash sitting above the pool.

Underwater Portrait that benefits from a synchronized studio light shining into the pool

Underwater Portrait that benefits from a synchronized studio light shining into the pool

I like the way this works and have one problem left to solve, namely that this solution doesn’t support TTL flash while my on camera setup only supports TTL flash. The problem is that the light coming from the poolside flashes can cause the camera to think it’s gotten enough light on the scene and lower the power of the in-water strobes. This resulted in a lot of underexposed images. In my next posting I’ll show a diagram of how the lights were set up for this shoot and will describe how I’m going to solve this underexposure problem.

See more on my Halbright Photography website

and more underwater work at

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