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Coelacanth – Shining a Light on the Past.

This article appeared in the July issue of Sport Diver Magazine UK.


Few marine species have gained such international attention as when a single Coelacanth was accidentally caught in a net in 1938 off southern Africa. Until that time the species was assumed extinct for millions of years and so began a mysterious riddle that is still being unraveled today.

The Gombessa Expedition was tasked with expanding that knowledge and capturing images and video of this ancient creature in its own environment – at depths from 100-160 meters. Laurent Ballesta and Gil Kebaili took on a challenge that would place enormous demands on divers, their equipment and their collective imaging skills.

Laurent describes the approach: “I wanted to use the natural light to create this atmosphere characteristic of a deep ecosystem – where there is normally very little light. But it was essential to add artificial light to restore color to this incredibly unique fish. For me, the clear choice was Keldan lights. They are compact, self-contained and importantly: very simple to operate during a dive that entails a lot of complexity!”

The Coelacanth is unique in the marine world and only a handful of humans have ever seen this living fossil alive – the Gombessa Expedition sought to change that. To capture the natural subtle-blue shading of the scales and eyes that are described as “glowing” requires the most natural spectrum achievable in a submersible light. Fortunately Laurent discovered the right tool for the job:

I don't know how they do it, but in every case, the Keldan LED light excelled with a color temperature that is truly neutral, really clean, with all colors being restored properly. The simple variable power control was critical at depth, where balancing exposure requires very subtle lighting output. The Keldans were easily up to the task and provided extraordinary diffusion of the light. This is especially important with moving animals. I do not need a light intensity which is fine at a three meter distance but doesn't work well when approaching close to the subject. When using the Keldans, the transition is smooth and almost unnoticeable.

While the extensive product line of Keldan Lights are designed for demanding video applications first and foremost, Laurent discovered they were equally competent as still photography lights at these depths:

Past a certain depth, I no longer relied on my flash. Because the KELDAN lights have this very, very uniform distribution, this neutrality and perfect color, I was thrilled that I could just use the Keldans for my photos. Small form factor, brilliant color rendering, and rugged reliability to 200’ meters: This is why I relied on KELDAN lights for both the video and still photography. It is the real advantage that helped make this project successful.