Oceans of Opportunity

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tech tips: think subject illumination, rather than ‘lighting’

As recently as two days ago I was mucking about at the bottom of Narragansett Bay to identify and recover debris that may have posed a problem for a dredging operation. While at it, I made the effort to do some tests with a recently launched underwater LED light. The design was pushed by your truly, and has since undergone refinements and is fabricated by Juice Robotics LLC.

Many of today’s diving lights are the product of the cave diving community, where generally clear water (think Florida Springs) and stone walls amplify very bright white light to illuminate a wide area. I’ve owned these types of lights and used them here in murky New England water both out on deep wrecks, and inshore during working dives, The problem is often that the lights create a hotspot against particulate in the water…i.e. they are not diffuse enough to properly illuminate. Bright, yes, but bright is not always what we are going for and in fact it’s possible to be ‘too bright’.

When we started the development project, the goal was to create a cost-effective light that was economical, built tough, was versatile for both photo/video as well as work site use, and provided the correct illumination for the immediate work area. Here lies the key – think illumination rather than lighting.

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Most often, lights are either handheld, or attached to a helmet. Therefore, the direction of the light comes from the diver. This is effective for transit, but in my opinion only suboptimal for illuminating a work area. Think about working outside – is it better to strap on a small headlamp, or turn on the patio lights? Well, it depends on what you are doing. For a simple and short task, the headlamp is probably ok. If you are going to sit there and relax with your friends, play cards, and enjoy an evening cocktail, you want the patio light. Likewise, for a lengthy immersion, we want to illuminate and create an immediate work environment that is comforting and contributes to the diver’s success.

My dive two days ago reinforced this perspective. While the lighting was excellent, the work area was not best illuminated for the task at hand. It was actually easier to shut the light off and look at shadows over a greater distance, than details up close. For this reason, photo/video people often use arms to spread the lights illumination over a wider area. This still requires careful attention paid to the type of light beam focus as it is all too easy to get blown out. With the correct lights in place, it is possible with today’s digital SLRs to take great photos with lights rather than strobes.

The below cover photo is a prime example, and in fact I used our newly developed LEDs for this shot. They provided a diffuse and warm illumination of th subject, even in murky water. It took attention paid to proper light head positioning, but was only successful because the light head itself was ideally suited for this type of illumination.

New technology can breathe life into our future. Cover photo by M. Lombardi 2014.

At times while working, I have actually taken a light head and placed it away from me, illuminating the work area from a different angle which provided better contrast of the subject and more comfort for me, rather than blowing it out from my perspective. To do this, it is important to configure both the light and sometimes the power supply in a way that allows for easy jettison and placement. This configuration is not rocket science, but comes with time in the water.

In short, if I may plug my own product, you wont be disappointed with the new LEDs. They are a 500 lumen warm white LED array potted in a clear epoxy making them bullet proof. The design was field tested on a drop cam to 1000 meters depth during a National Geographic funded expedition carried out by our friend and colleague Brennan Phillips, where he successfully placed a camera (and lights!) at the rim of the Kavachi volcano in the Solomon Islands. The power supplies we are producing are a 12vdc 5.4aH rechargeable battery within anodized aluminum canister – built tough for tough dives, and I’m confident it’ll illuminate your subjects the way they should be illuminated as you capture them for the world to benefit from!

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