Some images stand out more than others. I often asked myself why, and to be sure, there are lots of distinctive reasons. But the usual answer is not because the subject is a rare or unique creature. In many cases, the reason is the subject is perfectly isolated without distracting elements that draw your attention away.
And to pull this off? Time to pay attention to not just the composition, but also the lighting. On this blog, I will describe one of the techniques I first learned from Martin Edge a few years ago and I’ve been using a lot recently: Inward Lighting.
When photographers make the transition from using purely ambient light to shooting with strobes, one of the first things they learn is not to point the flashguns directly to the subject.
This is because the centre of the beam tends to be very harsh and much stronger than the rest of the cone of light increases the risk of backscatter and hotspots. Instead, we use the corners of the beam which offer a much softer and pleasant light. This is particularly important when using a wide angle lens.
Inward lighting is a technique that takes the concept of using the side of the light cone to an extreme. As the name says, the idea is to point your strobes inwards, to yourself. I know it seems a bit counterintuitive and wrong but you will be using the outside edge of the cone of light.
Benefits of Inward lighting
As I mentioned early, the propose of using inward lighting is to separate the subject by lighting it while keeping the background dark even if they are relatively close to each other.
When positioning your strobes you need to make sure that they are not pointing into the dome, try to position them carefully. The front of the strobes wants to be behind the base of the dome port and aim the strobes towards your own ears – that way only a very small portion of the light cone should be able to go forward.
By minimising the amount of light in front of the lens you can also minimise backscatter.
Now you have the strobes pointing on the correct inwards angle, think how far apart should the strobes be? Exactly the same way you do when shooting traditional wide angle, the closer your subject is to the port, the closer the strobes want to be to the housing. When the subject is further and you move your flashguns further apart. Be sure to bring them further back or tilt them further back to avoid hotspots. Remember: aim for your ears! This is particularly important when using fisheye lenses.
When using inward lighting there are two main problems you will encounter:
- your subject won’t receive enough light and will be too dark
- your strobes are not tilted back enough and you will get hotspots and backscatter
I’ve been using this technique for some years now and I have to say there is not a magic recipe to get the results you want the first time. The best thing you can do is to practice every whenever you have a chance and be prepared not to get the shot on your first attempt, you will need to adjust your strobes several times. The more you practice the easier it gets.
Want to learn to improve your underwater photography lighting? Join Mario on his Red Sea Photography trip next June for the opportunity to practice this and many other techniques.
Mario is well known for his patient, calm approach to teaching underwater photography, he will help you develop new skills and build your confidence in a relaxed and fun environment.