Night Diving in a New (UV) Light
When I was younger I went through a blacklight poster phase, but didn’t think much about it again until diving with Dyron’s Solaris 4200 lumen ultraviolet light. I’ve used the UV light a few times and it has turned my familiar Malibu reef dives into a whole new experience. Switching off my primary light and turning on the UV light awakens a new fluorescent world popping against the dark structure of the reef – green anemones, sea stars, metridiums, cup corals, fish eyes and much more. Before we dive in, let me talk briefly about how ultraviolet light works underwater.
UV Light Underwater
Most night divers are familiar with bioluminescence, where single-celled organisms glow when disturbed by fin kicks or any other turbulence in the water. Fluorescence has similar properties because both are a type of luminescence, however it is only seen when shining a UV light on the subject, which stimulates the glow. The effect of the UV light is maximized at night when there are no ambient light wavelengths.
The Dyron Solaris UV light has two modes – 40% (2000 lumens) and 100% (4200 lumens) and it's predicted to last 30 to 50 minutes, respectively. I shot my photos and hunted subjects at 100% power and it lasted for each full dive, turning it off while not in use.
Dyron also included an orange gel with the light, which serves to isolate the fluorescent subjects from the background. One gel is cut and carefully placed inside your housing port. Then, in order to see what your camera “sees,” you need to also look through an orange gel. I opted against putting the gel inside my mask for two reasons: 1) the gel heavily reduces the light you’re seeing underwater, making for a very dark dive, and 2) fogging issues. My solution was to create an orange gel viewing window and zip tie it to my strobe arm. This allowed me to dive without modifying my mask and look through the window while inspecting a subject and starting to compose a shot.
In order not to be distracted by a gel cover in front of my eyes for the entire dive, I constructed this "viewing window."
I use a Canon s90 and the Dyron 67mm macro wet lens. I handheld the UV light, which allowed for great flexibility with angle of light as well as distance of light. I shot in AV mode to capture ambient (UV) light with no flash and spot metering, and was able to maximize brightness without burning out the highlights by increasing or decreasing the distance I was holding the light from the subject.
Compact cameras are more limited with ISO than dSLRs, and I pushed the ISO to 640 in order to get a shutter speed fast enough to produce sharp images. One thing to note is that the fluorescent glow of the subject needs to really fill the frame in order for the camera to focus and find a fast shutter speed. I tried unsuccessfully to shoot a number of smaller subjects and have a bunch of OOF (out of focus) abstract art to show for it. Maybe a fine art collector will purchase the series for a million dollars?
ISO 640, 1/2, f/2.0: One of many fluorescent subjects that I just wasn't able to capture.
ISO 640, 1/4, f/3.2: Green anemone next to a starfish.
Want to try it yourself?
In summary, the Dyron Solaris UV light will bring a whole new light (pun intended) to your night dives, whether shooting photos or just kicking around the reef. Bluewater Photo has one to rent, and once you try it, you’ll be hooked!
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