Video: GoPro for Underwater Macro

Today we’re looking at how you can use a GoPro for underwater macro photography.

“Macro with a GoPro” Starring Michael Smith
With a cast of thousands

Music: “nesting” by Birocratic (

Filmed with:
Logitech C922
Various other pieces of hardware

On-screen equipment:
GoPro Supersuit
Backscatter Flip 5
Backscatter MacroMate Mini
Backscatter Close Up +10

Backscatter Compact Handle Tray

No Frogfish were harmed in the filming of this production….

Video: Focus Torches and Add-In Colors

Today we’re looking at focus torches (focus lights for those of you who learned how to dive in the USA), some of the ones that I’ve owned over the years, and how you can use them to add brightness and color accents to your own underwater macro photos.


“Focus Torches and Add-In Colors”
Starring Ned the Nudi and Michael Smith
With G9 and a cast of thousands
Music: “tubshop” by Birocratic (

Filmed with:
Logitech C922
Panasonic Lumix G9
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60MM Macro Lens
Scubalamp F24
Scubalamp PV102S
Fisheye Fix Neo Mini 1000WR
XAdventurer NextGen 1300FSL
Various other pieces of hardware
No Nudies were harmed in the filming of this production….

Underwater Strobes

Let’s start with a simple fact: you can’t take photos without light. I know, this isn’t a huge surprise for most people. But this has a lot of implication for underwater macro photography. What light you have is usually weak and it’s a funny blue-green color. There are just a handful of ways to counter this: shallow dives with an adjusted white balance, a handheld dive torch, a camera-mounted wide-angle video light (or several), and strobes.

My Inventory

I own 3 different strobes.

Sea and Sea YS-01. This is a small strobe with not a lot of power. I own only one of these and have for quite awhile. It’s great for underwater macro with a compact like my trusty TG-5 and TG-4. Its size is good to add on to my camera setup without adding much weight or bulk, and as my blog readers will know, small components are the name of the game when I take the compact on a dive. However, the strength of these isn’t so good for wide-angle.

Sea and Sea DS-02. These are my usual strobes for diving with my Lumix G9. They have medium-strong power. I’ve had to replace a couple of them over time because of corrosion in the battery compartment. They work awesome for macro if I use a dome diffuser and put then right up along the sides of the lens. These work well for wide-angle if you use two of them and you’re 2 meters or so away from the subject.

Scubalamp P53 Pro. These are my new video lights with a strobe capability. I added these earlier this year. They’ve been a bit of a trial to use just as strobes, but they are great video lights. They are heavy and need some flotation in water which isn’t much of a problem with a wide-angle setup and a huge glass dome but they’re very negatively buoyant on a macro rig.


Diffusers are a mixed bag of results, so you need to give some thought on when to use them. They’re a piece of plastic that fits on the front of the strobe. The idea is that they bounce the light as it goes through them.

So instead of having all the light come from one direction, it’s like having a bunch of mini strobes in many directions. This reduces the dark shadows and bright highlights in a photo that’s not quite as dramatic. This also had a side-effect of reducing some of the backscatter in your photos.

Diffusers also increase the angle that is illuminated by the strobe. I think it’s easier to shoot with diffusers since you don’t have to be as precise with where you aim the strobe.

However, diffusers have one downside: they reduce the total amount of light reaching the subject. This is around 1-2 camera stops which is a small limitation in how you shoot.

Diffusers come in flat or round shapes. The round shapes bounce the light in even more directions.

I have a set of Carbon Arm round diffusers for my DS-02 and I use them for macro. I don’t user a diffuser with the YS-01 although I’ve tempted to buy a dome diffuser for it. The P53Pro comes with a flat disk diffuser that fits under the front ring and I use those.

Signaling Strobes

There are 2 ways to signal strobes to fire: fibre optics and electronic cables.

I haven’t used electronic cables because they require that you have a hole, called a bulkhead, in the housing to put the electrical connection.

All of my shooting is done with fibre optics. They’re just a long piece of fiberglass with a plastic coating and some standard plugs. When light shines on one end, it shines out the other end.

For cameras that have a built-in flash–TG4/5/6 and my older EM10MKII– housings have holes right in front of the camera flash to hold the fibre optics.

For cameras that don’t have a built-in flash, you use a miniature LED flash, called a flash trigger, that fits into the camera’s hot shoe.

The strobes themselves have a plug for the fibre optic and a sensor that can tell when light comes through the fibre optic.

Strobe Layout

Single Strobe

For macro, you can easily use one strobe. You can experiment with distance from the camera body and light angle. This is a pretty easy setup to shoot with.

For cameras with a port, place the strobe on a medium-length (10-20cm) arm in the center of the housing so that it reached out over the end of the lens port. Point the strobe down.

For compact cameras, you can mount the strobe directly on the housing or on a small (5-15cm) arm for a little bit more flexibility.

Twin Strobes

I put my strobes up against the port at 9-o-clock and 3-0-clock and facing inwards a bit, maybe 20°. The diffusers are about even with the end of the port. This is more about getting the arms to work than the strobe and I don’t put too much thought into it unless I have extreme amounts of backscatter or I’m doing some weird style of shooting.

If I need to fit into a smaller area, I’ll move them up to 10-o-clock and 2-o-clock like Mickey Mouse ears. That lets me slide the lens front into smaller areas sometimes.

If I’m shooting a long-distance macro shot like little fish (blennies being a huge favorite), I’ll move the strobes out away from the lens port maybe 15-20cm. That limits the backscatter.

Free-Range Strobes

I know several photographers that mount strobes on small weighted tripods so that they can place them anywhere they want. They either keep the strobe connected via fibre optic or they have a fibre optic cable that plugs into the strobe and has an exposed fiberglass end that will catch the light from their on-camera strobe.


I’ve had days where I was not happy with my strobes. There are many things that can go wrong, and when they do go wrong, you shoot black photos. I have a lot of these on my network storage drive. I’ve seen my wife lay her camera down on the sandy bottom and swim away from it and I’ve felt like that myself.

Is the Strobe Flashing?

Hold a hand in front of the strobe to reduce noise from other lights and take a test shot. You should see the strobe fire into your hand. This is part of my pre-dive camera setup routine. If the strobe doesn’t fire, then the rest of the troubleshooting tests apply.

If the strobe fires but your photos are still black, then it’s one of 5 things:

Camera is set to use TTL but strobe is not. Easy fix is to set the stove to TTL mode and see if that exposes the photo properly. Harder fix is to check the camera settings to turn off TTL. TG4/5/6 calls this “RC” (remote control). Lumix calls this “Flash Mode”. Also one warning here: I don’t know of any flash triggers for Micro Four Thirds that do optical TTL.

Camera is set to “second curtain”. This is where the flash fires at the end of the exposure. In some cases this will mean that the strobe fires too late. Try first curtain and see if that works.

Shutter speed is too fast to “flash sync”. Set shutter speed to something like 1/125. Most strobes can’t sync faster than 1/250.

Camera exposure is too dark. Bump up the ISO to 400, appetite to F8, and shutter speed to 1/125.

Lens cap is on. We’ve all done it before.

Is the Camera Flashing?

If the strobe doesn’t fire, the first thing to check is if the camera is making a flash. Most of the time you can do this by removing a fibre optic cable and watching the now-empty hole while you take a test shot.

If the camera won’t flash, then there are several reasons why.

Camera is set to “quiet mode”. This turns off the shutter noise and the flash. Great for wildlife photography, bad for underwater macro.

Flash trigger is not turned on, doesn’t have batteries, or isn’t seated properly in the hot shoe.

Flash is set to “automatic”. Setting it to “fill-in” forces the flash to fire regardless of how bright the photo exposure is.

Is the Fibre Optic Broken?

This is very common, they don’t like much abuse. Check the connectors for obvious damage. Pull the plug off of the stove, fire a test shot, and see if you get a flash coming it of the cable.

Always carry extra fibre optic cables. Swap them out and see if that fixes the problem.

New Batteries?

Strobes seem to get schizophrenic when their batteries are low. My DS-02 need the flash power turned down when the batteries are half used, otherwise they don’t fire at all. Changing batteries fixes this.

The Backup

I always have a focus light of some kind on my camera and I try to carry a cheap video dive torch when I dive. In instances where I am having troubles with my strobes and I can’t figure it out after a couple of minutes, I’ll switch to using torches and keep the dive going. Things like that are usually better to sort out on the surface. Best to keep calm and carry on with taking shots.

See you underwater!!!


TG-5: Adding a Light Ring

As I wrote about already, I got a TG-5 and the Nauticam housing for it specifically for the light ring so that I could have a more compact (pun partially intended) camera setup. This article is a compilation of everything that I know about using the light ring.

Screws Onto the Housing and Over The Lens

The light ring screws into the 52mm threads on the housing itself. This requires that you take off the adapter that fits over the camera flash and holds fibre optic cables for strobes. There are 2 hex screws that hold the adapter in place. Then you place the light ring over the lens glass and over the glass where the adapter previously was. The center of the light ring screws into the housing with a special wrench.

Remove this with a hex wrench:

And screw this onto the center of the lens port:

One of the downsides to the light ring is that you lose the ability to add any diopter or other “fun stuff” like a magic tube, magic ball, etc. That’s OK, using the toy adapters is fairly infrequent, and with the macro mode on the TG-5 and manual focus set very close to the lens, in my opinion you don’t really need to use magnification diopters unless you’re looking for subjects that are <5mm in size.

Uses The On-Camera Flash

The light ring is a fairly simple thing. It’s just a channel for the flash from the camera. The one bad thing about this design is that the camera has to put out more light than normal–water “eats” normal flash–so that the subject is well-lit. I’ve had to mess around with camera settings to get this to work at longer distances, but the general rule is to get closer to your subject. But this also applies to normal macro anyway, since if you get closer to the subject, you can also fill the shot with it. That is, use manual focus, push the focal point as close to the lens as you can, and gently slide the camera in close to the subject.

However, some camera settings….

Full-Strength. From the quick menu, use “Full” flash mode. Then change the flash exposure compensation (EC) to +2. This is because water “eats” flash, and the further away the subject is, the more flash gets eaten. I use this setting maybe 95% of the time when I use the light ring.

Slow Flash. For shots at a longer distance, you can use the “Slow” flash setting. This fires the flash early on in the exposure so that the flash has time to reflect off the background. this setting is made for use inside a room where you want to use a fill-in on some of the darker areas of the room. What this does for me underwater is that it gives more time for the flash to reflect off the subject. (sidenote: I should try using this full-time for the light ring.)

Can Still Use a Strobe

One of the nice things about the light ring is that it still has a hole for a fibre optic cable. So one of the setups that I’ve used pretty well is to add a single Sea and Sea YS-03 mounted on the top of the housing. That gives me the reach out further for larger subjects like fish. But most of the time if I’m shooting true supermacro subjects like nudies, little shrimp, little crabs, etc, then all that I need to light up the subject is the light ring and I leave the strobe turned off.

Hole for fibre optic cable:

However, when I use a strobe, I change the flash mode to “RC” which turns on the optical TTL setting of the camera. At that point, the strobe does most of the work and the light ring acts as a “fill-in”.

One problem with using a strobe is that the light ring still works. That does create up-close backscatter when you do wide-angle photography. IE, the light ring does its job and lights up any objects near to it which means sand and dirt in the water.

I Sometimes Use My Focus Torch

Using a light ring with the housing means that I can use my torch in a couple of different ways.

In one mode, I can use it for UV light for the black light effect combined with the light ring that does the job of making the right exposure. I don’t think it’s a secret anymore… I love using the UV feature of my focus torch to make white subjects pop out.

Or I can use the torch as supplemental lighting when the light ring needs a little bit of help. Or as the prime light and then

One thing that I haven’t tried is using the torch in red light mode with the light ring as flash for shrimp and crabs–they hate white lights but strobe is OK.

Or I don’t have to use my focus torch at all if I have enough ambient light to frame and focus. Just let the light ring do its job.

Uses Battery Faster

One thing that I’ve noticed is that running the on-camera strobe “very hot” means that I use the camera battery a lot more than I normally would. So I can get 2 long (60-minute) dives out of it and I’m done… have to change the camera battery for the third dive. So I take every effort that I can do to not use battery power. Shut off the camera when I’m hunting for subjects, don’t look at photos on the boat, etc.

Less Shadows

Since the light ring creates a flash all around the lens, it does have a tendency to “flatten” subjects by reducing the amount of shadows that are created. The answer is to add a strobe or torch from the top and/or increase contrast in post-production.

Strange Effects

I do get some strange effects where the light ring doesn’t travel far. And by that, I mean that while the subject is well-lit, the background keeps an unlighted white balance. And where I add in other lights like UV or red from my torch, far subjects keep that coloring instead of reflecting the light ring light which normally happens for strobes.

The bad thing is that it’s hard to see if this is happening unless you do some serious pixel-peeping during your dive.


Weefine makes 2 light rings that screw into a 67mm mount. You’ll need a 52-to-67mm step-up ring to use them. They work well–one is a strobe triggered by fibre optic, the other has a simple on-off button like a torch–and have more light than the housing light ring. They hold their own battery, which solves some of the problems about light ring power. They also are bigger, which creates new problems in getting close to the subject. Alas, everything in photography is a tradeoff….

See You Underwater!!


On Batteries

ABC: Always Be Charging


Batteries are my personal nemesis that I’ve learned to work with over time, and I think that most underwater photographers also have a love-hate relationship with them.

My problems with most batteries:

  • Chargers take up space in your bags
  • Different types of devices have different batteries
  • Battery chargers usually come with a power cube of some kind
  • Some chargers have “fixed” plugs that don’t let them pack nicely
  • Batteries are heavy
  • Batteries have to be in your carry-on baggage
  • Batteries usually can’t be seen through on x-ray because they contain metal
  • Batteries heat up when they charge
  • Hot batteries in a sealed device create vacuum and offgas issues
  • Batteries will last for 2.5 dives on average and that third dive might run out
  • You can’t take photos with a camera that has dead batteries
  • You can take photos if one or two of your 4 light sources dies

Out of all these considerations, I have this strategy for batteries:

  • Have enough batteries for 1.5 days of photography
  • Minimize the amount of chargers that I have to take with me by standardizing on just a couple of battery types
  • Whenever possible, have chargers that plug into USB
  • Always Be Charging: batteries on the charger are one of the first things that I do after every dive
  • Take an extra set of batteries on the dive boat
  • Have 2 containers next to the charging table: one for empty batteries and one for full batteries
  • Whenever I’m not taking photos (hunting for subjects or waiting or on the boat), I shut off my camera, strobes, and focus light
  • I try to resist the urge to look at photos on the boat unless we’re headed back to the dock although sometimes I fail at resisting
  • I carry 2 spot-beam dive torches for tech-diver redundancy and to use as a macro torch
  • I have redundancy between my strobes, focus/video torch, and handheld dive torch so I don’t really need a full set of extras for strobes
  • If you’re diving with a guide, you will take more photos and will use batteries faster
  • If you’re doing 3 dives plus an early morning or night dive, you’ll need more batteries because they won’t charge fast enough
  • Chargers can go in checked baggage

And finally, my dive trip packing list:

  • 4x 18650 (2 handheld dive torches plus maybe the ScubaLamp MS-30 snoot torch)
  • 2x 26650 (1 focus torch)
  • 1x 14500 (dive computer)
  • Nitecore 4-bay charger for 18650, 26650, 14500 (it has a straight cord with no power cube) (in checked bag)
  • 12x Eneloop Pro (2 strobes and each holds 4 batteries, I don’t take a full set for 2 days because it’s just too many to carry) [See Note Below]
  • 2 Eneloop 4-bay chargers with folding US plug (in checked bag)
  • 2x Camera Battery (either TG5/LI92B or G9/DMW-BLF19)
  • USB-powered single-bay charger for camera battery
  • 2-bay USB charger for phone, tablet, batteries
  • Waterproof bag or box for the boat: I have a dive mask box that seals and is the perfect size for batteries and my phone
  • Extra bag for batteries in my carry-on so I can can just put them into an x-ray tray at airport security



See You Underwater



[1] You’re maybe not supposed to put Eneloop batteries into a sealed device: opinions vary on this.  You can read more at WetPixel.  I hedge my bets by never ever using batteries right off the charger that are warm.  This is why I get them on the charger early so that they have time to cool.