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Diagram of diver hand signal for OKPreparation

Having chosen your subject, there's plenty more work to do before you jump into your dive gear. Research is essential. Read up as much as you can about your subject and make yourself an expert on it.

Then think hard about the structure of your film. Like any story, it needs a beginning, a middle and an end. How long is it going to be? What shots do you already have? Write out a basic outline of your film and work out a list of the shots you will need to tell your story. This is called a shooting script.

Marine wildlife around the world is infamous for not reading scripts, but it's still worth writing one. If you've done your research properly, you should be able to get 80 per cent of the shots you've planned. You might get some great shots you didn't expect, as well missing some you wanted.

To give you some idea of how many shots you'll need, traditional-style natural history or documentary programmes use about eight per minute, but if you want something with a faster pace you could at least double that.

As when taking stills, your buoyancy control needs to be exceptional when you're filming under water, whether you're diving on a coral reef or in a less-fragile marine environment. For most shots you must keep yourself very still under water, so I dive slightly overweighted and always with ankle weights. That way I can dump all my air and glue myself to the seabed, and don't have to contend with irritating floaty fins.

That doesn't mean you can't move the camera at all, but it does mean that any movements are more steady than if you are hovering in midwater. You become, in effect, a human tripod.

This technique obviously needs to be adapted on a coral reef. Find a patch of bare sand next to the coral where you can settle down without causing any damage. When you lift off again, take care not to waft heaps of sand onto the coral. No shot is valuable enough to warrant damaging the marine environment.

diver sketchYou can take shots as you fin along in midwater, too. These work well on wrecks and swimming through weeds or along a reef but you can't make a whole programme with such shots.

If you're filming big animals swimming all around you, such as dolphins or seals, then you will need to be in midwater, but the same rule about keeping yourself as steady as possible still applies.

The biggest mistake made by beginners is to try to film everything they see on a dive. The camera is switched on as they leave the surface and stays on until they get back up again. It's called "hosepiping", and makes for uncomfortable viewing, as it can literally leave the audience feeling seasick.

Select just two or three subjects and concentrate on filming them from a variety of angles, in close-up and as wide angles. Above all, try to find creatures doing things.

Courtship rituals, mating, fighting or eating all make more interesting viewing than animals just sitting there doing nothing or aimlessly swimming around. Many creatures will let you get closer to them when they are busy.

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Page updated on 11 October 2011
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