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Shooting Underwater Videos
Practical Tips
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The tips start while you are still in your cabin. You've cooled the housing, inserted the camera and closed the door. Now check all of the camera's functions! It is very easy to undo the door and reset the auto/manual switch while still in your cabin. It is impossible to do this under water. Just before you leave your cabin put lens covers on both the lens and the viewing port. The lens is very easy to scratch and excess sunlight, concentrated by the housing's optics, will burn out the image display. Now enter the water, have your housing handed down to you, secure your housing to your body with a rope, check the housing for leaks, and start the descent. During the descent you must clear all the bubble from the housing lens, from both sides of any external filter and from both sides of any supplementary wet lens. At 9.5 metres, or at the depth you intend to dive if this is shallower, adjust the white balance using your white fins as the subject. Since all of these actions will be done in mid water, total buoyancy control is required. Set the camera to almost full wide angle and focus on an object about 2 metres away.
You are there, the camera is switched on, the tape is running, and battery power is being consumed. If you are new to U/W videography then while around the reef you can keep videoing all the time - there is always lots to see and extensive editing will produce an acceptable "My underwater holiday" video. If however you are interested in big pelagic fishes then it is probable that for much of the dive there will be nothing to video. What do you do with your camera? Switch it to pause, turn it off, or leave it running? Your tape will last for 1 hour, the same as the dive. How long will your battery last? You would like to switch the camera off but it takes several seconds to switch back on and the best shots with big creatures always seem to occur in the first 10 seconds of the encounter. If your camera is switched off you have lost the shot! The decision is yours. Things to influence you are that zooming, focusing, steady shot, and some housing's electronics eat battery power, the number of tapes you have available, and that you should use a tape for a maximum of only five times.
Sue pointing off frame.Assuming that you will be using a non-linear, computer based, editing system, you can build up a library of standard shots to be used somewhere in your video or perhaps in a number of videos. Examples are: a diver pointing, a diver holding an anchor line while doing a safety stop, bubbles rising. Providing you have continuity regarding wet suit colour and to some extent, water colour, you can incorporate any of these into a number of videos.
Similarly some coral or rock formations, especially archways and tunnels, will appear to be particularly photogenic. If it looks good, then video it and then do it again and again. The repetition is necessary because a small, unnoticed fish will almost invariably swim into the shot of what you were hoping to be clear, unobstructed water. This need for repetition also applies to your shots of divers undertaking specific actions.
Starting trip through archway. Part way through the archway. Almost through the archway.

Swimming through an
underwater archway
in the Bahamas.

A fish swims across the exit. Fish almost blocks the exit.
The main tip is however: wide angle, 12 metres, go diving, be there.

But whatever you shoot, never be tempted to show your footage to anyone, well maybe your buddy, before you have edited it, and don't be too disappointed if it isn't quite as good as Blue Planet.

© words and images, JohnFletcher

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Page updated on 11 October 2011
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