Fluorescence, or “fluoro,” photography can make night diving even more exciting by allowing photographers to capture the unusual colors emitted by certain marine organisms when excited by a blue or ultraviolet light source. It feels a bit like you are in a neon underwater video game or you’ve become an avatar and are exploring Pandora as you look around at the bright green, yellow, and blue corals surround you. Whatever it is, it certainly looks different than it did in the daytime.
Ikelite Fluorescence Equipment
Ikelite has recently added fluorescence photography gear to their lineup. Eliminating the need to buy separate equipment to be able to see and photograph underwater fluorescence, Ikelite’s new products allow photographers to convert their current gear with the use of various filters.
What is unique about Ikelite’s fluorescence gear is that it is easy to attach or remove during a dive—in case you want to catch that amazing animal you just found in normal light, too. The strobe filters come with lanyards that can be attached to the strobe arm, and they easily slide on and off the front of your strobe. The DSLR port filters attach by adding a velcro strip to the lens port and three strips of velcro to the filter, holding it snugly in place but making it quick and easy to remove. For smaller cameras, the port filters are similar to the strobe filters, which slide on and off and have a lanyard.
In just a few seconds, photographers can change between their fluoro setup and back to taking normal photos, and then back again to fluoro. As an Ikelite user, it’s also great because you can convert your current gear to make it fluorescence-ready, instead of having to invest in expensive new gear for the sole purpose of trying out fluoro photography.
Ikelite now makes a variety of equipment to allow you to produce underwater fluorescence images, including custom dichroic excitation filters and barrier filters
Ikelite offers detachable dichroic excitation filters that convert strobes and video lights into the blue light needed to excite fluorescence. These excitation filters fit on the DS161, DS160, and DS125. Also available is a smaller excitation filter that threads onto the Vega photo/video light, making it an excellent focus light or a great fluoro flashlight for those just wanting to go for a fluoro dive.
Meanwhile, a barrier filter is also necessary to attach both to the front of your camera’s port, as well as your mask. The yellow barrier filter blocks blue light, only letting your eyes—or the camera sensor—see the fluorescence. There are barrier filters that fit onto Ikelite’s DSLR flat ports, as well as the 3.0-inch, 3.6-inch and 3.9-inch ports that work on their housings for smaller cameras.
The ability to easily switch between Ikelite’s fluorescence setup and traditional lighting makes it easier to experiment with the fluoro effects of critters like this goby
Fluorescence is the process in which light of one wavelength is absorbed and light of another wavelength is emitted. Many species of coral fluoresce, as do fish, nudibranchs, shells, crabs, and more; even some shark species do it. Half the fun is just discovering what fluoresces and what doesn’t. Sometimes you get lucky and find something “neon” that you otherwise might not have found. For example, while diving in Chuuk, I came across a tiny orangutan crab because it was glowing red against an otherwise dark background.
Fluoro photography is also fascinating because so little is known about which species fluoresce and why they’re fluorescing. Sometimes two coral heads of the same species will be next to each other and one will fluoresce and the other won’t, or they might be different colors. Scientists are currently studying underwater fluorescence: Some theories suggest fluorescence is a means of communication between species or possibly some sort of sunscreen for corals that protects them from UV radiation that may damage their symbiotic algae. It could also be a form of camouflage. Some fish species’ eyes have been found to have a unique yellowish lens—much like the yellow barrier filter we use—that helps them see fluorescence, so it is definitely an important part of marine life that has evolved over time for specific reasons.
Did you know that some orangutan crabs exhibit fluorescence? I didn’t until I started experimenting with Ikelite’s fluoro gear
It is also possible to capture underwater fluorescence during the day. A powerful light source is necessary and by underexposing you can remove the ambient light and capture the fluorescence. For a more detailed explanation of the effect and the techniques you can use, check out the article, “Underwater Fluorescence Photography.”
Photographing with Ikelite Fluorescence Equipment
Fluoro night dives are great fun, seeking out marine life to see if they look different under blue light. However, fluoro photography can be challenging. Because the light intensity is drastically reduced by using blue filters, and even further by the yellow filters, it can be difficult for cameras to have enough light to focus. I found that adding one or two of Ikelite’s 2,200-lumen Vega lights (also with an Ikelite fluoro dichroic excitation filter) greatly improved the ability and speed of my camera to focus. The strobe filters fit Ikelite’s DS125, DS160, and DS161 strobes, but only the DS161 strobe has a built-in video light. If you’re using the DS125 or DS160, it’s imperative to have a continuous light source equipped with excitation filter to find potential fluorescence subjects.
The only real way to know if a section of coral fluoresces is to strap on an excitation filter—it’s quite a thrill to discover unknown colors!
Using powerful continuous lights, like the 2,200-lumen Vega, makes it far easier to quickly focus on small subjects, like this nudibranch
Fluorescence Photography Quick Tips
- To get the best results, it’s important to shoot at a high ISO and set exposure compensation to +3.0 or higher.
- Strobe power should be set to the highest power setting, and the more strobes and/or lights, the better.
- Shooting with 60mm/50mm macro lenses can be easier to use than 100mm/105mm lenses because they allow you to get very close to the subject and still be able to focus, bringing the most light closest to the subject.
- Post-processing is also necessary to help bring back some of the vibrant colors that were seen but possibly not entirely picked up by the camera, particularly from RAW files, where increasing saturation can help bring back the neon glow seen underwater.
Some post-processing is required to bring back the color, saturation, and exposure of the fluorescence effect in your images to match what your eyes see on a dive
Fluoro diving and photography can lead to unique and exciting images. It’s a challenging technique with the possibility of getting very different underwater images than you typically see. And nothing beats playing in a neon underwater video game where everything glows!
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