Snoots: What They Are and What They Do
By Kevin Palmer
Soft snoot light can make a subject more dream-like. Image by Shen Collazo
First a little history: Snoots have not been around that long. About 10-12 years ago, it was Keri Wilks of Reefnet working with Home Depot parts right here in the Reef Photo & Video Service Department who did a lot of the initial development for what would become the first experimental snoots. The early snoots were pretty much PVC funnels to channel light, but evolved quickly into utilizing fiber optic as a more efficient light focusing method and these designs are still frequently used today. Once snoots showed up at a few macro photo competitions, it didn't take long for them to catch on and a number of different manufacturers have evolved different styles over the years.
So what defines a snoot? Technically, all a snoot does is take a wide light source; generally a strobe, and limit its coverage to a small defined area. This small area may be round or other shape of outline with either a hard defined edge or a soft one. Almost all snoots require getting fairly close to your subject with the snoot and will put out considerably less intense light than the strobe would normally generate.
So what are people snooting with in 2020?
Here are some of the most popular snoots and some of their features.
Reefnet Micro Snoot
Based on Keri Wilk's original Fiber Optic Snoot design, this snoot is still one of the most popular with some features not found on other snoots. This snoot is ordered in two components: A Micro Snoot Mount that would come specific to the strobe you are shooting with and a Micro Snoot Fiber Optic Arm that is universal to all the mounts and just screws in place.
Pros and Cons of the Reefnet Micro Snoot
- This set up is extremely light weight and since it breaks down, it is very easy to pack.
- Because the fiber optic arm is flexible, it is possible to move the arm without moving the strobe.
- Several of the mounts can be equipped with two fiber optic arms to allow special lighting capability without buying a complete second snoot set.
- Since the arm is narrow, it is much like pointing a finger at the subject and many people find it a little easier to master.
- The diameter of the light circle is easily increased or decreased by moving closer or farther away.
- A minor downside is there are only two light tips for size of the light circle and the smaller of the two does not allow for much light, so the camera would need to be made quite sensitive to use that one.
Inon makes simple snoots for their S-2000/Z-240/Z-330/D-200 strobes. These are very well made and adhere to the simple "funnel" design concept: larger at the strobe mounting location and narrow at the aiming end with two diameter tips included. With these, you will move and aim the entire strobe at the subject and adjust the strobe forward and back to get the desired circle.
Pros and Cons of the Inon Snoot Set
- The Inon snoots are collapsible and light, so quite nice for traveling and are easy to pack.
- The system is dedicated only to the specific Inon strobe with no ability to change over later.
- The funnel design tends to produce less light than some of the other designs and there can be some odd effects as you move the light forward and back. There is a definite "sweet spot" you want to get use to.
With a difficult subject, sometimes it is easier to pull the snoot back a bit to widen the throw, while still getting some isolation benefit from using the snoot
Yes, that is a mouthful, but Retra really put themselves on the map with this sophisticated and elegantly machined aluminum snoot. Retra chose to snoot by using light focusing lenses instead of funneling or fiber optics. The theoretical advantage of using lenses is that you should be able to harness more of the light and discharge it in a compact powerful fashion. It is definitely brighter than the Inon snoot on the same strobe and about the equivalent to the Reefnet fiber optic snoot in our testing. Retra calls this a light shaping device and it is hard to argue when they provide interchangeable shape templates providing numerous shapes and sizes of light patterns to work with.
Pros and Cons:
- Good intensity of light.
- With some strobes, a little aiming light may come through.
- Lots of shapes are available that you can change underwater, but in reality, most of us will only use a couple of options.
- Somewhat bulkier than other snoots, so it takes up more room when packing.
- Interchangeable strobe mounting base means the ability to move it to almost any strobe in the future.
- Some find this type of snoot requires a bit more learning curve.
Retra LSD in action
This newcomer to the scene has made quite a splash in the snooting world with a compact optical snoot for under $150. The caveat here is that it only works with the Backscatter Mini-Flash 1 Underwater Strobe. That is not exactly a bad thing as the compact strobe can be added as an extra strobe on your rig without being too encumbered. The snoot is very much like mini version of the Retra design with optical concentration of the light.
Pros and cons:
- This snoot offers a crisp circle of light with some shaping forms to make it smaller, larger or more oval shape. This is a useful range of options.
- Since this is really a two component system, the $550 price puts it above most other snoot options and the strobe is not always strong enough for all lighting situations outside of snoot work.
- The aiming light with this combination works better than most other snoot options and will be appreciated.
- The strobe does not include the rechargeable battery and charger required, so additional expense and packing is necessary for travel.
Not every image needs a black background - there are no formal rules in snooting. Image: Shen Collazo
The other option that is gaining in popularity is the use of a constant light that has a spot mode. This technique has the advantage of the shooter seeing exactly what you are going to get while making the ability to aim and hit your subject much easier. Not all lights with a spot mode throw a good snoot-like light, but some of the good ones are here. All these lights tend to pack smaller than a strobe snoot.
This Inon has one of the tightest beams available for snooting and as long as you are working close to your subject it provides strong enough lighting for good exposures. The Inon lights are very well made and quite rugged and reliable.
The spot mode on the this Sola is not quite as tight as the Inon at about 12 degrees, but it is quite powerful and offers a lot of latitude with your exposures. Sola has been around a long time and these are some of the smallest and easiest lights to use.
This is an inexpensive light with an 800 Lumen spot mode. It is not quite as crispy as the other two lights, but as a light with multiple modes for a focus light and snoot, it is a lot of value.
Close focus wide angle is very snoot worthy. Image: Shen Collazo
Tips for Snoot Use
The obvious challenge of snooting is trying to line up a little critter with a pencil beam of light - while you are trying to compose and focus on the shot. This can be especially difficult with the nature of diffraction in water that effects our ability to judge distance and alignment. So it goes without saying that some practice will be in order!
Make things easy on yourself; select a subject that is not going to move or disappear on you like a christmas tree worm. If you have an aiming light that works on your snoot - use it. This is where constant lighting has an advantage as you can see the spot of light on your subject. Make sure you have your light or strobe mounted on an arm that is easily articulated, but doesn't jiggle or droop.
You may prefer the snoot mounted directly on the camera housing with just one long clamp to adjust with. This makes for a solid, no jiggle mount, but again, if you move the camera, you have to readjust the snoot. It can take a little while, but you will find a system that suits your style of shooting.
If you are serious about snooting, you might consider a small portable underwater tripod for your snoot strobe or light. That way it is completely independent of your camera rig. This can be extremely helpful in fixing your snoot-light exactly on your subject while allowing you some freedom to adjust your composition and position of your camera. Good options for a small tripod set up can be made with the ULCS Tripod Clamp . There are many ways to configure this, so if you would like some help, write or call us.
Remember when snooting, if you want a black background, to use the highest shutter speed possible. This will help darken the area not hit by the light. For more on blue and black backgrounds, go here. Don't expect your first shots to come out with your lighting right on-target. This is a process of getting familiar with your gear: shoot, adjust, shoot, adjust and shoot some more. Did I mention this takes some patience and practice? But the results can be rewarding if you keep at it.
If you want to get hands on with the different snoots in the shop; set up an appointment, and we will be happy to help!
Image: Shen Collazo