Finding the right underwater lighting system can be tricky if you do not understand how light is absorbed. The same concepts on land can be applied, but with a few extra steps. Testing out new lights can be eye opening if you are tired of using a four-strobe setup which can be a workout on its own.
A few months ago I was contacted about trying out the Stella Light systems underwater. At the time I had been utilizing a multi-lighting system to get the most of my in camera shots. Underwater lighting can vary greatly. Just as on land, time of day, cloud coverage, and shadowing affect your overall image. Add this to the list for underwater such as absorption of red wavelengths, depth, and clarity issues, and you can be playing a whole new game.
My setup at the time was the Ikelite housing over my Nikon D810. Attached to the port was a dual sync cord. One cord to the Water Wizard housing that encased the Pocket Wizard. This system was a floating device over my head that triggered two Alien Bees on land attached to a Vagabond battery unit (note: for safety please always use cordless options when shooting around water). The other cord was attached to the DS151 strobe on an arm right on the camera housing. On top of these I would add in a few underwater flash lights for fill if needed.
While this setup is not complicated, the chance of the subject moving is highly likely with the nature of being underwater. The light may not feather in the same way, she may look up and become washed out, or even the possibility of a strobe not firing. I was very curious to try a continuous lighting setup to minimize some of the extra lights. When I received the lights I was already packing for WPPI in Vegas where I was shooting a series underwater. I brought it with me as a back up, but also to test them out while I was there.
The first day with the Stella Pro was a challenge being that the pool I was shooting in had major water clarity issues. The ambient light letting in was poor and it was very small making it difficult to get a full length shot.
The Stella has multiple settings for intensity. The first setting was plenty for this smaller environment. I was pleasantly surprised on this power as the previous continues light I was using (a dive flash light) had to be directly on the face in order to even see any effects. It gave a soft light over the models body without the beam being too narrow.
After a day, I had to go back to the standard setup I had been using as the battery was dead on the Stella. This was completely the fault of my own. I had been charging it over night, only to realize it needs to be turned on in order for it to charge.
I cannot blame anyone but myself for this error as it clearly notes this on the device itself when you plug it in. I'll chalk this one up to jet lag perhaps?
After returning back from Vegas, I brought the device to the competition pool I shoot the majority of my time. Using my trusty sidekick muse daughter, we shot in various distances from the backdrop to see how it would change with the beam.
Here is the side-by-side comparison of the power of the light. On the right the first setting close up, while the image on the left is the highest setting with the subject further from the source. Both images are unedited. This test allowed me to dial down the setting to about midpoint on the full body shots in order to get the same color balance and affect as the other.
For a comparison on how incredible the power is, the image below is the full setup prior to the Stella being introduced. This unedited image is composed of sunlight, two strobes on land, one strobe underwater, and a mini dive light. The Stella's intensity blew the other setup out of the water (pun intended?).
Other Bodies of Water
Pools are fantastic to shoot in to achieve a controlled look and to create composites having black backdrops. However, in other bodies of water such as springs, you will not always be able to control all other light coming in. Here the lighting assistant was able to hold the small device pointing directly at the models face filling in the water ripples that normally occur on the skin in this environment.
The light can run for 90 to 375 minutes cord free with an integrated Li-ion battery. This varies a bit underwater, but I never had to turn off the system until I was done with my sessions. The specs from the site again may vary slightly underwater.
- Chip on Board LED
- 5600 Kelvin
- Output up to 10,300 Lux at 1 Meter (1,000 Lux at 3 Meters)
- Battery is rechargeable for 1.5- 6.25 hours
- Sophisticated flicker-free design
- Lumen output is regulated so it will not fade during use
- Controlled focus from 120 degrees to 50 and 25 degrees
- Accessories are adaptable including Profoto, Elinchrom, and Chimera
- Runs off wall power
- Charges in 2 hours
- Three button interface and easy navigation through menu settings
A few accessories that work under the surface and help focus the beam:
- 50-degree Focus Optic - narrows beam angle 1 stop
- 25-degree Focus Optic - narrows beam angle 2 stops
- Glo Bulb for diffused effect
- Barn Doors
What I Liked
- The beam angle was larger than the other continuous lights I had been working with previously. This gave for a larger spread over the client.
- Easy controls for when working underwater without having to remove the light back onto land for adjustments.
- Lightweight for handheld options when an assistant is maneuvering the system.
- The kit comes with multiple modifiers helping to further focus the beam. It also has an attachment for gels.
- Included bag stores everything in one space for carry on or checked bags.
What I Didn't Like
- After many hours underwater, if brought quickly to land the heat intensifies.
- Modifiers feel unstable underwater.
After speaking with the company they responded that "the 5000 has a passive heat sync to keep it completely silent for video work where sound is being recorded, so some heat build up is normal if it has been on for a while. The light does have a firmware that will dial the power down if it gets to hot to protect itself." Not much of an issue when it came down to it as I would just turn off the system underwater for a few minutes prior to bringing it up. This only happened on the full extent of its capacity when I was shooting for many hours.
As far as the modifiers, they are not really designed to go underwater with the light so results may vary. The system is more of a topside light that can also go underwater. However, the fresnel stays on securely in all instances. It was rare that I would need to narrow the beam so the modifiers weren't always used.
The intensity of the Stella underwater passes all other systems I have used. The beam does not narrow greatly compared to on land, and the color balance was impressive. While I am only using the unit in shallow areas less than 3 meters deep, it has the capacity to be fully submersible up to 100 meters. The unit is perfect for deep divers as well photographing fish and wildlife under the surface.
The Stella Pro 5000 kit price tag is $1,799.