Using Your Strobes on Manual Power

Get control of your lighting in your underwater photography
By Scott Gietler

Whether you are a new photographer, or an experienced professional, you can benefit from using your strobes on manual power settings. After using TTL for my macro photography for quite a while, I've recently discovered the joys (and frustrations) of using manual power settings again. I enjoy have the extra control over my lighting.


Shooting strobes on manual is fairly simple. It simply means that you are in control of the strobe power. Follow these steps:


1) Test your strobe at home, in a dimly lit room, and make sure it works correctly on different power settings.


2) Go for a dive, and do the following: with the strobe off, take a test shot. The photo should be fairly dark, or completely dark. If it's very bright, your settings are wrong.


3) Turn the strobe on, and verify you get different results on low power and full power. Pick a test subject that is just a few inches from the camera.


4) Now you are ready to shoot! The further your subject is from the camera, the higher the power setting will need to be.


5) If your strobe is on maximum power, and your subject is still not bright enough in the photo, you might have your strobe settings wrong. These problems are best worked out at home. Still, try one of the following: 

  • Bring the strobe closer to the subject

  • Opening up the aperture (larger F-stop number)

  • Increasing the ISO


6) If you are using two strobes, try using them at different power settings


Here's some underwater photos from my most recent dive that I took with my strobe on manual power settings:


strobe lighting underwater

Nudibranch at Anacapa Island, California. Nikon d300, 60mm lens+ 1.4x teleconverter, strobes on different power settings. F25, ISO 200, 1/320th


goby in brittle stars with strobe lighting

Goby in brittle stars, F14


sarcastic fringehead underwater photography

Sarcastic Fringehead, F11


Read the following articles:

How to avoid backscatter
Avoiding hot spots
Front-lighting, side-lighting and back-lighting
Strobe position diagrams
Getting good color in your photos
Getting sharp images underwater 

Beginners guide to Underwater Photography

Using Your Strobes on Manual Power
Scott Gietler
Get control of your lighting in your underwater photography


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