How To – Flash Surf Photography Part 1: Waterproof Your Flash

The Flash

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I had been thinking about getting a flash for my DSLR for a while, when I got some Amazon vouchers for Christmas I decided to put them to good use and pick up a budget flash gun.

The Yongnuo YN460 II has good reviews and comes in at around £42, it’s manual and doesn’t offer the same features as a proper Canon speedlite, but then you’re not paying anywhere near the price of a Canon unit.

As part of my research I discovered that old flash units designed for 35mm cameras can operate at a much higher voltage than modern ones which can damage modern cameras, so bear that in mind when you’re on the hunt for a cheap flash.

It wasn’t long before I wanted to get the flash in the water, if you’re reading this blog you will likely be wanting to do the same thing. As it’s unlikely your housing will have the space for a flash gun as it is, you’ll need to be able to set the flash off without it being attached to your camera, it turns out this is easy and inexpensive.

Triggering The Flash

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I did a little bit more research and quickly discovered the Yongnuo RF 603 flash triggers, they are pretty cheap and as a bonus double up as a wireless shutter release for your camera (just make sure you get the right version for your camera).

They are pretty small but I was impressed with the range they have, either one can be used as transmitter or receiver, there’s lots of information out there on them, check out the links at the bottom of this post for a couple of reviews.

It’s fun to use them for general photography and after playing around with them for a little while I’d recommend grabbing some and trying out some different ideas, see the strobist links below for tutorials and inspiration.

Waterproof Your Flash

I’ll cover the main options for making sure it doesn’t get wet, as usual it comes down to budget and time when making your choice here so read on for my tips before you decide.

Flexible Camera Case

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The simplest way is to use something like the AquaPac DSLR case, I have one lying around not getting used since I got my AquaTech housing for my 60D, you can get unbranded ones for around £20, I probably wouldn’t take my camera in the sea in a cheap one but it’s ideal for a budget flash unit.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • No modification required
  • Allow easy changing of settings
  • Readily available, even second hand
  • Versatile – can be used for your camera too

Cons:

  • Not as durable
  • Can’t be secured to handles/boards easily
  • Fairly bulky

Professional Flash & Pocket Wizard Housing

To be honest I didn’t really consider this option, for a start they (understandably) only make flash housings for high end flash units and the Professionals radio triggers of choice: Pocket Wizard, not my budget YN 460 II, then even if I had a pro speedlite the housing would cost at least a few hundred pounds anyway.

If you’re interested the main housing manufacturers produce them, AquaTech and SPL are the two that I have seen most frequently but I’m sure any custom housing manufacturer can knock one up for a price.

The only downside is the cost, otherwise these will do everything you need, most have controls for adjusting settings, are easily hand held or mounted and are as durable as any camera housing.

DIY Flash Housing

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This is what I decided to do, my design is outlined below with a parts list, it’s pretty simple.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Durable
  • Easy to make
  • Compact, easy to mount on handles and boards etc.

Cons:

  • Takes time to get parts and make
  • Can’t change the settings on the flash easily

It’s a tube with a removable cap on one end, there’s a lot of ways to do this, this is just my version, read on to find out where to get the parts and some reasons why I did it the way I did, for an alternative but similar design check out the links at the bottom:

Materials:

  • 90mm diameter Clear Acrylic Tube – I used clear tube so I could see the settings and check the seal through the side, you can get a 90mm diameter x 3mm thick x 500mm length for £13.74, I used about 220mm length of tube for my housing.
  • Clear plastic for the front element – I had some 8mm perspex lying around, but you could use any clear plastic material, like the A4 sheet of 4mm acrylic I’ve linked to for £2.79
  • 3″ Fernco Qwik Cap (Rubber end cap) – easy and quick to get off and on, reliable double seal. These used to be hard to find in the UK but you can get them via Amazon now for £4.12.
  • Jubilee clips – The end cap is supplied with one, I used another two to secure the handle, if you can get the type with the key on them you can tighten and loosen them by hand which is a big bonus, but I got mine in Canada and haven’t seen them in the UK. The link here is to a set which can make up to 8 clips of your own size, very useful and only £8.09
  • Flash Adapter cable – I needed to move the receiver off the bottom of the flash to fit it in the 90mm diameter tube, this cheap adapter cable works perfectly.
  • Handle – optional, I used the handle from a masonry paint brush
  • Packaging foam – to make sure the flash stays where it should inside the tube, I just scavenged some from an old printer box.

Tools:

  • Saw – for cutting the tube and the perspex
  • Sand Paper – finishing off rough edges
  • Gorilla Glue – this glue foams up as it sets, filling any gaps as it goes, ideal if you want a waterproof join without needing to be exact with your cutting
  • screwdriver/spanner etc. for tightening the jubilee clips if you can’t get the good ones

Construction

The construction is straight forward, cut the tube to length, cut the perspex into a circle, glue it inside the tube, sand off the edges of the open end of the tube and apply grease to the inside of the cap if necessary.

I wanted to make it as compact as possible so I used a hot shoe adapter cable to attach the trigger to the flash guns foot, this let me to secure (using velcro) the trigger to the side of the flash gun, thus allowing me to fit it inside a smaller diameter tube and keep it clear of the rubber cap (which I thought might block the signal more than the acrylic).

Once it’s all secured I cut an O shaped piece of foam out and masking taped it to the sides of the flash, it needs to be big enough to put pressure on the inside of the tube so the flash doesn’t move around.

Conclusion

That’s how I waterproofed my flash, and how I’m now able to trigger it from the camera, even inside the DIY housing the range is about 100 feet as far as I can tell so you can get it out pretty far in the line up.

The next two parts of this series of posts will be out this week, part two covers how I used the flash for traditional remote flash shots with the photographer on the beach and part three shows you how I triggered the flash in the water from my housing.

Resources & Links