In this age of Facebook and the selfie, where everyone’s got a cellphone camera and an Instagram account, there comes an inevitable backlash from people who think we should unplug, put the camera down, and just stay in the moment. That’s as true for underwater photography as it is for those topside snaps–and some might say that the advent of the Go Pro and other affordable, easy-to-use action cameras is pushing us ever-closer to dive photo overload and further from the wonder of first-hand interaction with the ocean environment.
I understand the sentiment, but I couldn’t disagree more. While sometimes it is wonderful to shed all the gear and just get wet, for me any dive is a potential opportunity to create beautiful, powerful, memorable images. Whether they’re for my own enjoyment, or something I will later refine and post, I never feel fully equipped without a camera. I think it’s fantastic that recreational divers now have the ability to take photos of their adventures without having to invest thousands of dollars in a professional setup.
Another remarkable upshot of more divers with more cameras is that even if the images aren’t print quality, they can contain a veritable goldmine of data about a part of our environment that is difficult to reach and expensive to document. From coral bleaching to migration patterns, changing populations and fascinating animal behaviors, these biological photo bombs represent a populist archive that scholars of oceanography, marine biology, climate change and countless other related fields can access and use to learn more about the mysterious lives of our neighbors below. Besides, if it was good enough for Jacques Cousteau, it’s good enough for me.
To that end, I was thrilled when on my recent trip to Guam I had the opportunity to take some Light & Motion dive lights along. Specifically, I used the 2X GoBE+ 700 Wide and Action Camera Kit and the SOLA Nightsea fluorescent light.
For those that don’t know, Light & Motion is an industry leader in powerful, compact, rechargeable dive lights, and they’re constantly improving their technology. The Action Camera Kit comes with a tray, two Loc-Line arms for mounting your lights, two wrist lanyards in case you want to use the lights independently of the tray, and two GoBE 700 bodies with interchangeable light heads. I chose the 700 Wide and 700 Spot for my photo adventures, pairing the rig with my Canon Powershot digital camera in a waterproof housing.
The two GoBEs are compact and bright, with three power settings that can cast a total of up to 700 lumens each, and they can be aimed in any direction to fine-tune your lighting on the spot with simple tweaks of the flexible arms. The wide-angle heads provide a clean, broad wash of illumination with no hot spots ensuring that subjects show up in vibrant color and uniformly crisp detail. The 700 Spot is great for macro photography, concentrating an intense beam in a tight circle. Also available are the 500 Spot, Red Focus, Nightsea and the Search head.
Light and Motion’s SOLA Nightsea is the real sea-star of this tale, however. After exhaustive research into the different wavelengths of detectable light and how they interact with sea life, their research and development team honed in on the dramatic bio-fluorescent results yielded by the light from blue diodes. They packed the Nightsea chock full of them, along with the standard three power levels offered by all the lights in the SOLA Dive line.
The kit comes with a visor made of yellow acrylic that fits over your dive mask and filters out the blue light, leaving only a spectacular light show of illuminated corals, anemones and other biofluorescent critters. The endgame is akin to an underwater session of flashlight tag, with only trial and error to help determine which species will glow and which will not. Not a lot is known about which species fluoresce or why, and since fluorodiving is such a new twist on diving, there are comparatively few images available of the phenomenon. In an increasingly small world with ever fewer frontiers, there is something really exciting about checking out new dive sites with the Nightsea. Like having a secret decoder ring, it truly offers the opportunity to reveal things no one may ever have seen before. No one human, at least…
Some Tips On Enjoying Your Lights
1. Make sure to charge them before your dive every time. The Nightsea comes with an AC adapter so you can plug it right into the wall, but to charge the GoBEs, you’ll need to plug them into your computer using the provided USB docks. It’s relatively quick, but definitely a consideration when you’re traveling. With a USB car adapter kit I were even able to power up during surface intervals between shore dives.
2. Have the right tools for the job. The Nightsea features the standard SOLA lock system built right into the switch. You’ll need a coin or similar tool which fits into a groove on the back of the light to lock and unlock it. This helps ensure you won’t wreck airplanes or waste all your battery life illuminating the inside of your dive bag on the way to the boat.
Additionally, you’ll definitely be glad to have the Loc-Line pliers handy if you want to mount the lights on the Action tray arms. It’s a snap to assemble, but if you’re missing that crucial part, you’ll need to be or have someone with strong hands and lots of patience to put the pieces together.
Whether you’re using the GoBEs or the Nightsea, take along a backup light for navigation. The GoBEs are certainly bright enough and the Nightsea comes with a phosphor filter that turns the blue lights white so technically you can use them as primaries, but you don’t want to waste the battery life on navigation when you could be saving it for great photos and biofluorescent fun.
3. If you’re interested in taking photos of your fluorodiving experiences, I recommend getting a buddy (or a third hand!) and a second visor. The Nightsea comes with a ballistic hand mount, which makes it a little awkward to aim and hold steady while also managing a camera. There are adaptor mounts available if you’d like to put this on a Loc-Line arm on your tray, but having a friend to help spot the brightest glows and hold the light steady while you operate the camera really helps capture better quality shots.
You’ll also want to get the yellow camera filter to strap over your lens to screen out the blue light so you can enjoy the full effects of the natural light show. There’s a Flip 3 filter specifically for the Go Pro, or a larger one available that attaches to the front of your underwater housing with a stretchable cord. Take your photos on the fastest setting–the lower light makes it much more difficult to get crisp images so a quick shutter will help cut down on the blur factor, and on the highest setting the Nightsea has plenty of light for a quick snapshot. Don’t be discouraged if the initial pictures don’t turn up much. It’s really easy to adjust the exposure levels in post-production to a reveal weird and wonderful peek into the secret signals being sent under the waves. (If you don’t have any photo editing software yet, get a free 30-day trial of Vivid-Pix).
A word to the wise–go on a couple dives with just the light and visor if possible, before you begin taking photos. Wearing the visor over your mask takes a bit of getting used to, and managing that plus the new light and a camera is a lot of task-loading, so a bit of practice goes a long way. This is also a great time to scout out what kind of shots you might want to get when you do bring your camera down.
4. Finally, plan for a little extra consideration during travel. Since my journey took me through the airports of four countries complete with layovers and safety checkpoints, I chose to keep the lights in my carry-on luggage. While this will enable you to keep control over your sensitive instruments, it can a bit difficult to explain the specialty gear to airport officials in other languages as they may not be familiar with the technology. Budgeting in some extra time to explain and pouring on a little charm will keep things moving smoothly and reassure security that your dive lights aren’t dangerous. A GoBE brochure in one of the boxes turned out to be a great visual aid when words failed me!
So if you’re in the market for an affordable setup to illuminate your photos and stabilize your camera, check out the GoBE+ Action Camera Kit ($599 MSRP). If you’ve been really good this year, or if you just can’t resist the novelty of turning your night dives into fluorescent raves, treat yourself to the SOLA Nightsea ($699 MSRP) and go make some history!