Diving into the deep blue is like stepping into a different universe, teeming with life and bursting with color. But capturing this beauty on video can be challenging, especially regarding lighting.
Whether you're a seasoned underwater videographer, or just starting with your trusty GoPro, we will guide you through the essentials of underwater video lighting.
So, ready your gear, and let's dive into lighting tips for shooting video underwater.
Understanding the Difference Between Underwater Video Lights and Photo Lights
When it comes to underwater imaging, there are two main types of lights: strobe lights and constant LED lights. While they both aim to illuminate your subject, they do so in different ways and serve different purposes.
Strobes emit a powerful, one-off flash of light when a picture is taken. They're designed to provide a high-intensity burst of light to highlight the colors and details in still photos. However, they're unsuitable for video recording because they only light up for a fraction of a second.
Photo by Leonardo Lamas
On the other hand, LED lights provide a constant output of light, which can be used for photography as well as continuous recording of video. These constant LED lights are designed to stay on and provide a steady source of illumination, which is crucial when capturing moving scenes underwater.
Understanding Underwater Video Light Strength (Lumens)
If you've ever read about lighting, you've probably heard the term lumens term thrown around. But what exactly are lumens?
Think of lumens as the language of light, a way to measure brightness. A lumen is a unit of luminous flux in the International System of Units, measuring the amount of light from a source. It's important to note that lumens are different from watts. While watts measure energy use, lumens measure light output.
How Many Lumens for Underwater Video Lights?
The general rule of thumb is: the brighter, the better. More lumens equate to brighter light. For underwater videography, 2,000 lumens is a good place to start. There are underwater lights with very high lumen output for shooting video, but they come at a cost and are often aluminum, which typically corrode over time. Plastic lights are much more durable and cost-effective.
Hard or Soft Edges?
Regarding the quality of light, you want your underwater video lights to have soft edges. This is because hard edges can give your footage an artificial look, while soft edges help achieve a more natural-looking shot.
Photo by Jeffry Surianto
Beam Angle for Underwater Video Lights
The beam angle is the spread of light that comes from your source, and it's a bit like the spotlight on a stage. It can dramatically change the whole scene, influencing the look and feel of your underwater images and videos.
Think of it this way: a narrow beam angle is like a spotlight on a solo performer, while a wide beam angle is like the house lights turned up at a concert. Both have their roles to play, and choosing the right one can make all the difference in your underwater videography.
Beam Angle for Underwater Video Lights
Generally, wide beams are preferred for underwater video lights. The most important aspect is that the beam angle covers the entire video frame you're shooting.
Beam Angle for Shooting Wide Videos
You'll need a floodlight type of underwater video light when shooting wide-angle videos, such as reefscapes, wrecks, and pelagic fish. The recommended beam angle for wide videos is 120 degrees. However, it's important to note that the wider the beam angle, the higher the lumens required. So, avoid a wide-angle light with low lumens!
Beam Angle for Shooting Macro Videos
Shooting macro videos requires a different type of underwater video light. While you can technically use wide-angle video lights for macro videography, doing so can defeat the purpose of macro videography, which is to focus on the subject. A wide beam will light up the whole scene and lose that focus.
For macro videos, a focused type of beam angle is used. The recommended beam angle for macro videos is 90 degrees. This narrower beam focuses only on the subject, putting it in the spotlight.
Photo by Jiří Mikoláš
Underwater Video Lighting Solutions
Capturing high-quality video under the sea calls for proper lighting equipment. At Underwater Kinetics, we've been developing versatile and durable dive lights designed for underwater exploration. For every need in your underwater video production, our Aqualite series presents the perfect fit.
For those seeking a diverse range of lighting options, the Aqualite Multi is an exceptional tool. It allows you to manipulate the intensity and color of the beam to adapt to various filming conditions underwater.
The Aqualite Multi offers the advantage of a red light mode, which is particularly valuable for discreetly positioning your camera without disturbing sensitive marine inhabitants. Once you've got the ideal shot, you can quickly transition to the white light and start recording your footage.
Credit to Youtube video: FILTERS FOR UNDERWATER VIDEOGRAPHY (Red Filter, Magenta Filter, Ambient Light Filter)
The device's ultraviolet mode can unveil the otherworldly fluorescence of certain underwater species, adding a mesmerizing touch to your videos. Coupled with a beam diffuser, the Aqualite Multi ensures even lighting across a broad field, making it a fantastic all-rounder for underwater photography and videography.
For videographers needing the utmost in brightness and concentrated light during their underwater shoots, the Aqualite Max should be the top contender.
With its significant light output, the Aqualite Max is built to deliver superb performance in conditions where light is minimal, such as deeper dives. This makes it ideal for illuminating intricate details during close-up video recording.
Like its counterpart in the Aqualite series, the Aqualite Max features a beam diffuser. This element guarantees that your videos will be lit evenly across a wide view.
Underwater Video Lights for Night Dives
There's a certain magic to descending into the inky darkness, your path illuminated only by the beam of your dive light. It's like stepping into a new world, where even the most familiar reefs take on a mysterious, almost alien quality.
But let's talk about lighting for these nocturnal adventures. You might think that the principles of underwater video lighting would change when the sun goes down, but they're largely the same. The underwater video lights used for night dives are the same as those used during the day, following the same principles we've discussed so far.
However, there's one little quirk that you might have noticed if you've done a few night dives. Regular LED lights attract swarms of tiny critters, which can be quite a nuisance. They buzz around your light, get in your way, and can completely ruin your footage.
This is why a red light is key. The red light doesn't attract these critters so that you can set up your shot in peace. Once you're ready to hit the record button, switch your light to 'normal', and voila! You've got a critter-free shot.
Number of Underwater Video Lights Needed
For beginners, starting with one light can be a good way to get your feet wet (pun intended). It's a more affordable option and can help you learn the basics of shooting underwater videos.
But as you get more comfortable and aim for more professional-looking footage, you'll likely find that two lights can offer a more balanced and evenly lit scene. This is especially true for wide-angle videos, where having light sources on both sides can help eliminate shadows and bring out more detail.
For macro videos, one light can often do the trick, focusing on your tiny subject. But again, having a second light can provide more depth and detail.
Placement of Underwater Video Lights
So, you've got your underwater video lights. You're ready to dive in and start filming. But wait! Before you do, let's discuss where to place those lights.
The best underwater video footage is often captured in shallow waters, less than 10 feet deep, where the sun is the primary light source. Here, artificial light usually can't compete with the sun's brightness. In contrast, under a ledge or overhang, the videographer must supply all the lighting.
Photo by Francisco Davids
The wide coverage of cameras like the GoPro can make it tricky to light the entire scene effectively. In such cases, positioning two lights widely apart can help minimize shadows and reduce contrast. Surprisingly, placing a single light directly above the camera can yield decent results for videos, even if the lighting appears somewhat flat.
Importance of Correct Light Placement
Correct light placement can help you avoid backscatter, bring out the vibrant colors of the underwater world, and add depth and dimension to your footage. Conversely, incorrect placement can result in flat, washed-out, or overly shadowed scenes. So, it's worth taking the time to get your light placement right.
Photo credit to: "The Zen of Underwater Strobe Placement" at backscatter.com
Guidelines for Light Placement for Wide-Angle Videos
When shooting wide-angle videos, you'll want to position your lights away from the camera, angled slightly outward. This helps to reduce backscatter and evenly light up a larger area. Remember, the goal is to mimic the natural light as much as possible, creating a well-lit, balanced scene.
Photo by Tom Fisk
Guidelines for Light Placement for Macro Videos
Some of the most captivating underwater videos are close-ups. These magnified views of corals, small fish, nudibranchs, octopuses, and more can unveil details easily missed during a typical dive. For these shots, ample lighting is crucial, not just for clarity but to make the camera use a smaller f-stop, yielding a greater depth of field. While a wide-angle light isn't necessary due to the smaller illumination area, bringing the light closer (within 12 inches) can enhance the shot. If using a single light source, front lighting is often a good starting point, especially in reflective environments.
Modern Cameras and Automatic Settings
Modern cameras like the GoPro can operate at high ISOs, capturing good images without the need for artificial light. Many settings on these devices are automatic, leaving the videographer with fewer choices. Interestingly, a bit of image motion blur is often required to make video footage appear realistic during playback. Too sharp images can seem odd. Most cameras default to 24 or 30 frames per second with a 1/30 second shutter speed. For fast-moving subjects like darting fish, shooting at 60 or 120 frames per second is ideal to slow down the action for viewers.
Post-Production Tips for Enhancing Underwater Footage
Alright, you've dived, you've got the footage, and now you're back on dry land. It's time to dive into the world of post-production. This is where the magic happens, where you can take your high-quality video, macro footage, and slow-motion experiments from good to great. So, grab a cup of coffee, fire up your editing software, and let's get started!
Color Correction Techniques
First things first, let's talk about color correction. Underwater, colors can get a bit wonky. Remember how we talked about the deeper you go, the more colors you lose? Well, this is where we can bring them back.
Most editing software has color correction tools that allow you to adjust the colors in your footage. You can bring back those vibrant reds and oranges, balance out the blues and greens, and make your footage look as close to the real thing as possible.
Enhancing Contrast and Brightness
Next up, let's enhance the contrast and brightness. Contrast is the difference between the light and dark areas in your footage. By increasing the contrast, you can make the colors pop and add depth to your footage.
Brightness, on the other hand, controls the overall light in your footage. Be careful with this one, though. While a little can brighten up a dark scene, too much can wash out your colors.
Reducing Noise and Grain
Finally, let's tackle noise and grain. These pesky little specks can make your footage look fuzzy or pixelated. Most editing software has noise reduction tools that can help smooth out your footage and make it look cleaner and sharper.
Post Production Example
Let's say you've filmed a beautiful coral reef at a depth of 60 feet. The raw footage appears blue and lacks the vibrant colors you saw during the dive. In post-production, you could use color correction techniques to restore the lost colors, bringing back the reds, oranges, and yellows of the coral and fish. Enhancing the contrast could help differentiate the various elements of the reef, making the scene appear more three-dimensional. If your footage has a grainy appearance due to low light conditions, noise reduction could help smooth out the image.
That's a wrap! We've dived deep into the world of underwater video lighting, surfacing with a treasure trove of tips and techniques to help you capture the underwater world in all its glory. We've covered everything from understanding lumens and beam angles to mastering the art of post-production.
Remember, the ocean is a vibrant, ever-changing stage; with the right lighting, you can bring its spectacular performances to life. So, grab your gear, dive in, and create your own underwater masterpieces. The ocean and its marine life are waiting; we can't wait to see what you'll capture!