I recently had the opportunity to try out the new Sola 9600 video lights from Light & Motion while on assignment in Placencia, Belize shooting for The Gap. Tasked with shooting underwater fashion photography, i knew I wanted to add artificial lighting to make the clothing pop but wasn’t sure if strobes or video lights were the right way to go. As a freediving photographer I usually rely on ambient light for the majority of my work so I can keep my rig nimble and minimize drag. Luckily I was able to dial in my rig a few days before heading down to Central America.
The folks at Backscatter in Monterey were extremely helpful and assisted me with adjusting buoyancy on my primary dive rig, the Nauticam 5DSR with 230mm optical glass dome. For the shoot I was using the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4 L and the Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8 L III lenses with two separate Canon 5DSR cameras. I ended up going with two 90mm x 200mm Nauticam Carbon Fiber float arms with Ultralite clamps attached to my Light & Motion Stella 9600’s. This kept my rig positively buoyant and eliminated the need for me to have the housing strapped to my wrist.
I was concerned that my subjects might be distracted by the lights flanking the dive housing but am happy to report that the models never felt intimidated. Amazingly enough they all reported back to me that the lights had a soothing effect and were not distracting in any way. The OLED display on the back of the Sola 9600’s kept me informed of the exact time remaining at different settings and I found it to be extremely accurate. The great thing here is that you have consistent light output from start to finish with no gradual degradation as the batteries deplete. We mostly shot at depths of 15 feet or less and usually ran the lights at an output of 4800 lumens to add fill lighting at a distance of 10-15 feet from my subject. Every 3 hours we would head back to basecamp for a break and to switch out clothing. This gave me the 45 minutes I needed to quick-charge the batteries and be up and running all day with only two lights to keep track of. Amazingly enough, the power cables can be plugged into the Sola lights immediately after freshwater rinse down. The menu system tells you precisely how much charge is remaining.
The magnetic slide switches are a real time-saver and allowed for me to quickly and independently adjust light output settings in mid-dive. While looking through the viewfinder I could easily see the results without having to deal with strobes. Even better, when the opportunity arose and I needed to switch over quickly from stills to filming, the video lights were already at the ideal setting. The quality and craftsmanship is evident throughout every element of the Sola 9600.
Post production was where the lights really showed their true potential. Underwater color correction is always a tricky prospect and with freediving at various depths, the tint and color balance is different for nearly every shot. The Sola 9600’s cast the perfect amount of fill light to nail the product colors for retail applications. The intricate patterns on the bathing suits were easily distinguishable with minimal post production effort. I spent far less time on editing photos because I had better data to work with in the RAW files than when I simply use only ambient light.
I highly recommend the Sola 9600’s from Light & Motion and I can’t wait to try out their new 7000 lumen Air Kit’s and 120 degree diffusers. The air kit allows for the lights to be used top-side for cinema grade LED lighting in the same form factor. Visit them today at http://lightandmotion.com for the entire range of illumination products designed and built in the USA.
Justin David Baluch is a marine-based Cinematographer and Director of Photography based out of North Shore, Oahu and has a background in computer engineering. Justin specializes in freediving and marine lifestyle imagery and has worked with an extensive array of underwater projects and active lifestyle brands such as Patagonia, Athleta, The Gap, and more. A relative newcomer to film, Justin is sought after for his unique stabilized underwater "drone-like" footage created on a single breath under his own power. Find more of his creativity on www.jdbaluch.com and instagram @jdbaluch