I have always loved hand-held lights. They have in a way defined my work and the way I create images both for stills and UHD Motion work.
Since I can remember I have always searched for incandescent hand lights that with variation in temperatures, power outputs and other features to not just illuminate a subject from the cameras perspective, but more so mold and image with side and back lights as it is this technique, that when combined with two underwater strobes creates the imagery that defines my work.
Years ago, I remember using some Swedish lights that weighed about 20 lb each and lasted a mere 30 minutes. The bulb would have to be replaced every few hundred hours…this was some time ago but illustrates how technology and creative engineering has really made a leap forward in powerful, well designed hand lights, particularly for underwater use.
When the original Light & Motion MOD hand-held light came into the picture about 12 years ago I jumped immediately at the opportunity to have this small light and put it to work for me in my style of image-making.
The MOD light went out of production and re-emerged in the now famous line of Light & Motion Sola lights, which I once again picked up to use in all my work.
Sola 2000 SF for Enhanced Images
Leaping forward to today, I use the Sola 2000 SF as a key player in lighting from side and from behind. Its soft even beam gives it the best looking light for a diver to hold in the distance. This underwater image style (a diver holding a light in the distance) was originally created by the father of modern underwater photography National Geographic Magazine’s David Doubilet. I was Doubilet’s right hand for many assignments at NGM and slowly absorbed lighting and the techniques associated with this his work, later modifying them to my personalized taste.
Having one or two small yet powerful Sola 2000 SF as a primary moveable light source is light years ahead of the lights we used in the past!
I tend to put a C-clip on mine and clip one or two to my BC ready for deployment.
I also tape them to a 2lb lead weight with the same clip to place around the reef.
Incandescent lights are effective in my work only when I slow down the shutter enough to allow the light beam to literally become liquid light, enveloping my subject from all directions and no longer just becoming a uni directional light source. To this effect I seldom shoot at shutter speeds higher than 1/8 / sec. I keep my ISO to the lowest possible setting forcing my shutters to have to go down to let ambient light in. This technique derives from the old days of Velvia film rated at ISO 50 as well as Kodachrome 25 ISO. Since ISO’s were so low, you had to slow the shutter enough to acquire the desired ambient light.
Although today’s DSLR’s have extraordinary sensors that allow us to get great ambient light while still retaining high shutter speeds, I personally opt to drop my ISO to low settings forcing my speeds to be lower, for It is here that the magic happens. By lowering the shutters below 1/30, ambient light takes on a new dimension. Combine this with strobes, and my dedicated Sola lights as well as with pan and motion and you get some very interesting effects. Literally the ocean is in motion yet sharp. Key to this technique continues to be the quick deployment of lights such as the Sola 2000SF.
Shooting in Red with Sola 4000s
In recent years I have been devoted to film work. Well, film is a nostalgic note to the past. More accurately I have been working with Red Ultra High Definition 4K cameras to create content for stock, documentary and commercial projects. This is a totally different ball game than working in stills but, you guessed it, I continue to apply the same lighting techniques, albeit with different results.
Today I am using the Sola 4000’s (4 of them in fact) to light up the subjects immediately in front of my lens. These lights are compact and extremely powerful giving me a subtle subject fill from a few feet away even during bright sunny days. This “fill” is barely noticeable to the viewer but without the lights onboard my housing, the subjects would be in a slight shadow. These lights illuminate a naturally my scenes.
I am also placing the lights behind my subjects as I did in my stills work but I will say that for this technique as well as handing a light to a diver to model for the camera with, the Sola 2000SF is a better choice.
The Solas 4000 are workhorses that help subtly illuminate in difficult conditions yet are also powerful enough to illuminate a large room (such as in a cavern shot).
Sola Technology and Design
Today’s SOLA lights no longer use bulbs but rather take advantage of LED technology. They are powerful cool temperature lights that really deliver a punch In a very small and lightweight package. Today’s stills and HD image-makers have travel weight restrictions non-existent in the past. With this in mind it is imperative to be able to have powerful lights of all sorts that are lightweight enough to carry onboard the aircraft cabin as required by TSA regulations. I carry all 4 Sola 4000 plus a few 2000 in my camera bag aboard the cabin… I could have never done this in the past.
So, after years of searching and testing many of the lights on the market, I am have settled with the Sola lineup. Lightweight, powerful and wet chargeable in design with easy to use features have allowed me to continue to work in the style that I love with few modifications over the past 20 years.
Mauricio Handler is a professional marine photojournalist, natural history filmmaker and expedition leader who was for many years part of the premier underwater photography team at National Geographic Magazine.