Experiments with Underwater Flash Photography

I have been fascinated with the idea of using an external camera flash in and under the water so I finally pulled the trigger and bought one to test in the crystal clear water in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Gear used:

Below are some comparison shots of the flash fired (left) vs. not fired (right). Camera flash was on Manual fired anywhere between 1/4 – full power for these photographs.


Using a flash on a human subject gives it a whole different look and feel. I think there will be appropriate times for a *little* fill light but I think this was a little too dramatic for me.

Solo subjects in the middle of the ocean work a lot better than a just a spot in the reef.

The turtle didn’t seem to care whether I was there or not. I slowly swam down and approached her as she was eating seaweed. A few camera flashes didn’t seem to disturb her at all.

I’m sure if you’re super close up with a macro lens, it would look fine but from a distance it looks a little funky to see the dramatic drop-off of artificial light.

And here are some scenarios that the flash definitely did NOT work in, but I found interesting to see the difference of artificial light underwater vs. natural:

This was taken at another location in Kona, Hawaii under shore break during sunset.  The difference of flash fired vs. not fired is very dramatic, and gives a totally different mood to the image. I’m not sold on photographing subjects with a flash in this way.

All I can really say now is that I am looking forward to finding the “right” times to use an external flash above and below the surface, but I have a lot more experimenting to do.

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