Luminance and the Fluoro diving experience
Night diving is OK to me- just OK. Some people love the experience more than sunny day diving, and I understand why- it might be spooky, but it is very visual, and colorful! Our brain does a funny thing when we dive even a shallow sun drenched coral reef.
We know that all of the reds, orange, and yellow are gone as the water has absorbed them. What we actually see are shades of blue, sometimes green or grey. But we don't notice it because our brain interprets the beautiful textures, color and light and fills in the missing details. Our memory is of a colorful, beautiful reef- not a monotone scene like black and white TV. Capture an image in 20 feet of water without a flash and you will see the range of colors is very limited.
This changes at night. When we carry high powered artificial lights with us, all of these wavelengths and colors are restored, making the reef look like a different place, this time vibrating with warm colors. Swimming along a colored up coral reef like this is the Night Diving experience. The visual difference between a white light Night Dive and a Fluoro experience is as stark in comparison to a night dive/day dive. Now the colors are electric- neon, reminding many of the black light posters of the 60’s and 70’s.
Fluorescence photography has been practiced and understood only in recent years. You may remember an article in the July Issue by the Publisher of Blue Magazine on the equipment and techniques necessary for capturing the bright colors of the reef using Fluoro-photography. The techniques are essentially unchanged. First, you color your lights blue, either by using a blue LED light designed specifically for this purpose, or by using Dichroic filters on your lights and strobes to produce this exclusively blue light. From there, you place a yellow Barrier Filter on your cameras lens or the port of your camera housing. Now your camera will capture (see!) only things that are actively fluorescing. To be able to see the effect (and find subjects!) yourself you will also need to place a Barrier filter on your mask, (and have no white light around!)
Now, like your camera- you will only see things that are Fluorescing.
And this is where the problem lies.. When Fluoro dives were first being offered, the dives were conducted in a one Guest per Guided situation, and rarely with cameras involved. The reason for this is that although you are seeing wonderful bright glowing animals, anything that is not fluorescing (which is most of the reef) is almost.. well, invisible! This can present issues for the diver, as well as the corals and animals we are diving with. We are not supposed to come in contact with the reef, and if we can’t see it there is a better chance of inadvertent contact with coral, or a camouflaged animal.
On a recent night dive in Wakatobi, my non-fluoro diving buddies signaled me that they had found something I might want to see; an interesting thing about the fluoro experience is that the colors are so loud and visible, I swam over to where they were and went directly to what I saw fluorescing- a small patch of hard coral that from 15 feet away glowed bright green.. on my way I swam past a Crocodile-fish and a Lion-fish, and saw neither.. they are what my friends had signaled me for, but since these fish were not fluorescing, they were almost invisible to me.
There are some ways to mitigate the issue though- first, if you dive around dusk the natural light will allow you to see the shapes of the reef better. The darker it is, the more pronounced the fluoro effect is. If you are a Live View shooter, or using Live View for video, then you can lose the barrier on your mask, and just look at the camera for things that are fluorescing, although the “Fluoro experience” suffers a bit with this technique. Another option would be to use an over sized yellow barrier filter on your camera housing’s port, so that the yellow material extends upward enough for you to sight over the housing and look through the barrier to know what is fluorescing. Again, diminishing the overall fluoro experience- but safer, and will allow you to shoot Fluoro. I cannot quantify this, but Fluoro colors seem to travel great distances through the water. If I point my blue wave length light at a fluorescing coral, I see the bright green from much farther than I would a red coral hit with white light.. so at the same time it is very cool, but much of the scene close and far is just missing because there is no Fluoro. Lastly; and in my opinion, the best solution is to add Luminance.
Fluorescence is exciting and fascinating, we’re talking about exciting proteins and electrons jumping orbit! It brings into question the whole idea of how fish “see”… Luminance is boring by comparison, as is consists simply of coloring your white light into a palette of your choosing. Adding Luminance to your Fluoro kit means attaching multiple colored lights to your camera setup, these colors will shift as they pass through your barrier mask, becoming warmer- but most importantly these lights will produce ambient light around you allowing you to see everything whether it is fluorescing or not. You can navigate the reef with your Luminance and Fluoro lights working together, then when you find a subject- if it is fluorescing you can turn off the Luminance lights and shoot pure Fluoro, -or even pure luminance if you like. But most importantly you can now shoot whatever you like, Fluoro or not. Think of your scene as a theatrical stage, and light it with a half dozen or so light sources in various colors set and tweaked to suit the scene.
The images here were shot in a single night dive, with two Ikelite DS strobes set with blue Dichroic filters, accompanied by 4 Gamma lights fitted with gels in red, yellow, and orange. There are a wide range of colored gels available to experiment with, and as always, there are no rules so have fun experimenting- swimming a reef at night full of neon colors from Fluoro and Luminance is the Fluoro Experience.