One of the biggest challenges to using strobes is positioning. In this short post I’m going to cover the very basics of strobe positioning for wide angle photography.
The aim is to get you thinking about where you are putting your strobes and where the light is falling; AND to encourage you to try it for yourself – to play around and see what works for you (and your subject)! It’s the only way to learn…
In later posts I will cover different strobe positions for different subject matter and compositions.
I’m going to assume you have two strobes, with two arms mounted to two handles on either side of your housing and that you have a dome port or a compact with a fairly wide field of view. Either that, or reasonably long flex arms that you can bend quite a bit…
My go-to arm lengths are medium (21cm) attached to my handles, and then short (12cm) which attach to the other end of my medium arms and my strobe.
Are you ready?
Keep your strobes well back
The single most important thing to remember is to keep the front of your strobe well back. This prevents ‘hot spots’ from appearing on either edges of your photo. It also helps to eliminate backscatter. My rule of thumb is to keep the front of my strobes in line with (or slightly behind) the handles of my housing. I point them straight forward. Sometimes, if there is lots of sediment in the water, I turn them out ever so slightly (about 10 degrees outwards to the side).
An example of left hand strobe being too far forward.. 🙁
I really push up my power quite a lot. Sometimes to the max. Sometimes I need to drop the power so that my subject is not overexposed or blown out. This will depend on your camera settings (another post to come) and brightness (reflectiveness) of subject. For this exercise, you will need to use trial and error to see what power works best with your subject. I did say you’d need to experiment, didn’t I?!
I needed quite a bit of power to light this entire scene
Think about the beam that is coming out of your strobes. It is quite cone shaped – it starts off narrow and gets wider, the further away it travels from your strobes. To light up your subject, you want to be sure that those beams meet in the middle, only very slightly before where they hit your subject, or you will have a dark area in the centre of you photo. The rule of thumb here is the further you are from a subject, the further sideways (away from the handles) you need to move the strobes. In fact, the distance from your port to your subject should be equal to the distance your strobe is from the centre point of your housing. When lighting huge reef scenes, I use my really long arms (31cm) together with my medium arms so that I can really push out my strobes and it works incredibly well.
I was really close to this diver, so close I could almost touch the first sea fan on the left!
The reason we use a wide angle lense is to get as close to our subject as possible in order to light it well. This doesn’t mean trying to get an entire reef or wreck into the shot, but really so that you can get as close as possible without having to back up too much to get it all in. The closer you are to your subject, the better your lighting will be. If you are too far away, your beam will not reach your subject, no matter how much power you blast at it.
Don’t forget to try taking photos in portrait position!
The standard positioning for wide angle lighting is to have your strobes above the housing in the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock position. This is pretty useful for most scenarios, smaller subjects and divers.
Standard 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock positioning
Angle to your subject
For the best lighting, you need to hit your subject with enough light for it to be even throughout. The easiest way to do this is to choose a subject that is facing perpendicular (flat) towards your camera. If you are taking the photo with your camera horizontal (landscape), you will easily light up the entire subject without having to adjust the power of either of your strobes. Sadly, not many reefs are as thoughtful as this, and you may find you will need to push down the power of your strobe closer to the reef, or push up the power of your strobe that is further from the reef (do not push your strobe forwards!). Similarly, if you are taking a photo holding your camera vertically (portrait), you would need to drop the power of your strobe now at the bottom so that it does not give an unnatural looking upwards lighting effect.
Standard perpendicular reef scene for even lighting
So, there you have it – 6 very simple steps to improving your wide angle photography. Give it a go and let me know how you do!