Using the Right Arms and Clamps in your Underwater Photography

 

 
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See what happens when you go cheap

 

 

 

 

The importance of good Underwater Photography Equipment

 

When I go underwater to take photos, I want my equipment to work, to be easy to use, and not cost an arm and a leg. 

 

Back in 2006, after shooting with a point and shoot camera for a while, I decided to upgrade. Did I want a more expensive point and shoot with wet lenses and two strobes? Or did I want a dSLR? 

 

 

After lots of research, I decided that I was serious about underwater photography, and I bought a dSLR with 3 of the best lenses Nikon had - the Nikon 10.5mm fisheye, 60mm macro lens and 105mm VR lens, all brand new.

 

I also got 2 strobes, 4 arms and a bunch of clamps. I placed my order on March 20th, 2007. Thinking I could save money, I bought from a company known for discount products.

 

This is what the saleperson wrote to me:

"They are very, very close to ultralight’s weight, equal in quality and half the price."

 

The person who sold me the arms and clamps is not a bad person, and usually had great advice. But in this instance he turned out to be quite wrong.

 

Now I'm not afraid of a bargain, and this company made one of the best lights out there imho, and they had other good equipment. I probably saved between $100 and $200 total.

 

But after just a few months, the clamps were completely froze up and not working. All of them. Cra*p! The rubber rings around the clamps were shot. I had to use 2 pairs of pliers to remove them from the arms.

 

I repurchased everything from Ultralight Control Systems, ULCS. Hundreds of dives later, the arms and clamps are holding up perfectly. My strobes are easy to move around underwater, and I can always get the lighting I want.

 

Don't underestimate the importance of good ergonomics in your strobe arms. I often adjust my strobes for each subject, and change between front, side and back-lighting.

 

arms and clamps for underwater photography

It's nice finally having clamps that work

 

 

Here's my tips for choosing arms and clamps:

  • Buy high-quality arms and clamps that you last you for a long time. This is one area where it's not worth saving the money, I found out the hard way. (There are lots of other products where you can save money though!)
  • Get two arms on each side. I suggest an 8 inch arm and a 5 inch arm, with 3 clamps. Start off with one strobe, and add a second strobe if you an afford it. The reason for the 2 arms is so you have flexibility for moving your strobe is all different positions. This is important whether you are shooting macro, fish, or wide-angle. With this 2-arm setup, I'm ready for supermacro, wide-angle or anything in between, so I never have to mess with my arms.
  • Be wary of arms and clamps from housing manufacturers. I've used many setups with arms and clamps that came with their housing - these are often high-end compact camera setups. I couldn't believe how difficult it was to move the strobe around underwater - no wonder why my friends weren't varying their strobe positions!
  • Don't be afraid to experiment underwater - get a good understanding of exposure, lighting, hot spots and backscatter, and then have fun!

 

 great underwater lighting in underwater photography

Photo taken while diving in Anilao, taken at F18. Photo by Scott Gietler. When you have two strobes you can position yourself easily, getting the lighting you want becomes easy.  Look at the shadows on the nudibranchs and see if you can figure out where my strobes were.

 

Further Reading

 

Underwater Strobe Positions

 

Underwater Photography Equipment

 

 

 

Comments

Hi Scott I have an old Canon

Hi Scott
I have an old Canon Powershot A570IS with an Inon Mount and Close up UCL165 and Wide angle lens UWL105. I also have an old Sea and Sea YS27. I am happy with my set up
I have so far used a cheap flex arm from 10 bar which proves fairly rigid to move around and frequently gets in the way
I have eyed an ultralight set up that will cost short of $300 with a 5" and 8" segments and will fit perfectly with my set up

I wonder though is this the right thing to do with this set up or should I save pennies and invest in a completely new camera?

I am also thinking of getting ULCS components on ebay maybe to get more value?

Any advice welcome

Is the length of the arm

Is the length of the arm measured from end of the ball ?

They are usually measured

They are usually measured from the center of the ball - Scott

Scott Gietler Owner/Editor, Underwater Photography Guide & Bluewater Photo http://www.uwphotographyguide.com http://www.bluewaterphotostore.com

My balls have no o-rings (or

My balls have no o-rings (or grooves)

I picked up a batch of used gear, which include what I think are Aquatica TLS arms and clamps, not a scratch on them. How are these for adjusting underwater?

They are Aquatica TLC arms

They are Aquatica TLC arms and clamps, I haven't used them personally, so please let us know if you find them easy to adjust. Unfortunately "easy" is relative, too bad you can't directly compare them to another brand - Scott

Scott Gietler Owner/Editor, Underwater Photography Guide & Bluewater Photo http://www.uwphotographyguide.com http://www.bluewaterphotostore.com

Hi Peter I did the same

Hi Peter
I did the same question to some friends before, and they responded borrowing me a pairs of ultraligh.. I tested on the sea, demonstrating significant improvement & freedom on the movements underwater, compared with Ikelite.. Easy to extend and release. No regrets.. later, I bought a pair of them.

I just bought a Ikelite

I just bought a Ikelite strobe package with arms and clamps included. They are hard to move around an position, not like you do in strobe positioning videos online here. I must say I haven't used the strobe and arm yet in a dive. Do you recommend to change to Ultralight arms and clamps?

Peter Neander, Stockholm Sweden

Peter

i have replaced my ikelite

i have replaced my ikelite arms and clamps with ultralight i have found them a great improvement

hey Peter - sometimes they

hey Peter - sometimes they are easier to adjust underwater if you loosen the clamps a little bit. I would try it in a swimming pool to see how it goes. The ultralights are a little easier to reposition than the Ikelite strobe package, but see how it goes underwater first before spending more money. - Scott 

Scott Gietler Owner/Editor, Underwater Photography Guide & Bluewater Photo http://www.uwphotographyguide.com http://www.bluewaterphotostore.com