Photography On Location

Underwater speedlights using PocketWizard FlexTT5

Okay, let me start by saying this disclaimer: I’m not recommending anyone take a perfectly good SB900, tie a brick to it, and sink it to the bottom of a river.  But aren’t you just a little curious as to what would happen, and how the light would look?

I love experimenting with light, applying flash in unique ways to familiar subjects.  Often it is a combination of creative ideas mixed with new flash technology that allows me to do something totally different. Sometimes these experiments work, other times they don’t. Sometimes the images look stunning, other times I ask myself ‘what was I  thinking?’ But one saying stands true:  “The process is more important than the end result.” It is easy just to talk about how something might be or should work.  But I try as much as I can to make these pipe dreams a reality. No matter what happens, I have explored new creative ideas that carve out who I am as a photographer down the road.  If you want to find your style as a photographer, you have to get out and shoot.  So with all that in mind, I convinced my wife Cree to once again jump in a kayak for a picture.  No worries that we would be using electrical current in the water, how much damage can 30 AA batteries do? Here is the shot with no light, a nice scene, just needs a little help.

First step, load 3 SB900s into the kayak.  In order for these flashes to fire, I used PocketWizard FlexTT5s as receivers on all the SB900s.  The radio signal triggers flashes in the boat, no line of sight needed.  I put each flash in a ziplock bag, one each into the bow and stern compartments, and one into the cockpit with Cree. The boat was dry, so hopefully all I needed for waterproofing was a simple ziplock bag.

The trick for getting this shot is making sure Cree didn’t fully seal the spray skirt on the kayak.  This needed to be partially open so the cockpit SB900 could spill out onto her face.  All these flashes were set to group ‘A’, and I controlled output at my camera using the PocketWizard AC3 controller. This shot looked good to me, I could have stopped right here.

But the thought of underwater wireless speedlight shooting was just to much.  How cool would it be to trigger SB900s underwater, and control their output wirelessly?  Who knows how this might be used in future shoots?  The trick to keeping these flashes dry was using waterproof cases that had a clear top.  The cases were rated to be waterproof, but no one knew exactly how deep they could go.  Only one way to find out!

I put an SB900 with a Flextt5 (underwater lights set to group ‘C’) into each case, closed the lid and was ready to go.  In order to keep the lights from rising to the surface, I strapped the cases to cinder blocks to sink them to the bottom.  Watching little bubbles rise from the cases convinced me I had only a few minutes before they were filled with water, but the flashes were firing well.  That answered my biggest question; could the PocketWizard FlexTT5 work underwater…yes. I did find if the lights were more than 4 feet underwater, the flashes didn’t shoot consistently.  But all I needed was for the lights to shoot near the surface.

In the end we were able to get all five SB900s firing, two underwater and three in the kayak.  This blended well with the winter sunset to the west. When I retrieved the sunken cases and opened them, they were totally dry inside.  Everything worked as I had hoped.

I’m not sure if using speedlighs underwater made this image better; I like the lit kayak shot the most.  But in the end, for this image, the process was more important than the result…




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