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Shooting Underwater Videos
Making Beneath Thailand's Western Isles
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The video was designed for entry into a particular video competition and its style was to be the same as that of the winning entry in a previous year i.e. lots of short sequences with apparently limited or no relationship between shots. There was however to be an overall story as the video was also intended to serve as a record of three trips to the islands of the Andaman Sea, West of Thailand.

The Trips

The first of these trips in 1997aboard the yacht Stressbreaker provided the majority of the footage. There were just three guests and three crew for the ten-day trip. Max, the skipper, ensured a very relaxed atmosphere and this became part of the video's theme.

Max resting in the bow.Sea conditions were ideal, currents were weak, visibility was good and we gained a strongly favourable impression of the area. With the exceptions of Richelieu Rock and Hin Daeng, each dive was at a new location, and so at the majority of sites video planning was impossible. Reading the diving guides was helpful but they were usually very over optimistic. But at Richelieu Rock we met Whalesharks on every dive and we knew what we were going to video and the type of shots that we desired. The sharks seemed interested in us and having once positioned myself in front of them they were happy to continue on their intended course and pass within touching distance. In addition to Whalesharks and Guitar Sharks, Richelieu Rock, which is almost completely submerged at all states of the tide, also offered a wealth of small creatures in particular cuttlefish and sea urchins. The other sites, most of which were the edges of true islands, offered abundant sea life but no large sharks.
Above water, Stressbreaker is a yacht of most elegant design and visual appeal, an ideal subject.

The Stressbreaker in sail.On the journey to Hin Daeng, dolphins played around the boat and were videoed by hanging over the side. This was slightly precarious and there was always the possibility of getting salt water onto the lens and into the camera, as it was not in its housing. "Plastic Bag" covers with optical glass front plates are available and are recommended.

We returned to the islands at the same time the following year, but due to Stressbreaker coming into contact with a submerged rock shortly before our trip, we travelled and lived on a tiny catamaran - "Amadeus"- which boasted only expeditionary facilities. This time, Sue, my wife and diving buddy, and I were the only guests and again we were looked after by a crew of three. We had defined the charter to dive several of the islands on route to Richelieu Rock, to stay there for five days, before returning slowly to the harbour near to Phuket. I knew the type of shots I wanted, in particular of the Whalesharks and hopefully mating cuttlefish.

It was after the first "check out" dive that we realised that something unexpected was happening. We waited for the slack water that happens as the current changes direction at high and low tide. Slack water never came. The current kept running in the same direction for at least the next ten days; the moon had lost its influence over the Equatorial Counter Current which sweeps clockwise around the Northern half of the Indian Ocean. And the currents were enormously strong, sometimes preventing me from taking a camera into the water. At Richelieu Rock at a depth of 30 metre the water was yellow and visibility reduced to just a few metres. The fast flowing water was full of large pelagic fishes which gazed at us as if to wonder just what did we think we were doing down there. Most other divers seemed to restrict themselves to the top ten metres while some were swept away before they had time to descend. The diving was exciting but it was no place to be hindered by a large, videocamera housing. This was perhaps almost fortunate as on one of the earlier dives a flashing red light on the housing had told me that the housing was leaking and that I was about to flood the camera. The fault turned out to be one known to the manufacturers and they subsequently offered a free upgrade - but the opportunity to video was lost. The dives, the fishes and the occasional Whalesharks, were recorded only on 35mm stills. We were however able to get additional topside footage.
Manta Ray. Our third trip, aboard the yacht, Seraph, was not one of pure joy. Currents were uncomfortably strong but diving and videoing were usually possible and we visited the Surin Islands for the first time. Because we dived here mainly at the protected overnight moorings the life was of a gentler nature than that recorded around the other islands. But the underwater environment at most sites had been significantly destroyed by perhaps thousands of visiting divers, many of whom have but scant regard for protecting the environment. In some cases this lack of respect stems from inadequate diving skills, in others it seems a national trait. Fish life was noticeably reduced and there were no Whalesharks at Richelieu Rock, but there were three magnificent Manta Rays! These were a totally unexpected bonus and were videoed from all angles as were permitted by the currents and the need for a useable background.
On this trip we were also able to get certain shots e.g. finning through the tunnel, the foaming water at Koh Bon, that we had recognised as being desirable on the earlier trips. Three trips, all exciting, and each significantly different from the others.


The record of the three trips was spread over eleven mini dv tapes, about six hours in total. This was to be my second video using a computer based NLE system - Speed Razor plus Boris fx. My few earlier videos had been produced as butt-edit sequences using a digital VCR.

The video required a beginning, a middle and an end. The airport scenes were initially intended to be the opening sequence, and the opening guided tour of the composite trip was developed after I decided to use just music and no narration during the body of the video. The middle was simply the planned format; sequences of shots related by their locations. Selected sections of each shot were defined by their quality, shows the creature's eye etc, and by a need for the cross fade transition between shots to have the subjects pointing in the same direction and at the same visual location. This was not possible, or necessary, where the two shots were completely disparate e.g. coral transitioning to a fish. The end shot of the cuttlefish stationary and then disappearing backwards was a natural ending sequence. This choice defined the order in which the islands were visited on the video. In reality, Hin Daeng was visited as the last island of the first trip rather than the first island of the composite trip. Richelieu Rock provided the most exciting video and was therefore the appropriate finale.

Boris fx showing different images on a virtual cube.The length of the video was set at 23 minutes, as in one role it was to provide a record of the trips for those who went on them. This was however too long for a competition entry and for watchers who were not on any of the trips. Repeated display of creatures seen at two or more sites does not make good video, only a record for participants. The rotating cube using Speed Razor files on Boris fx was novel as this Boris effect is designed to work with avi files and not with Speed Razor's dvsd files. It took three weeks to develop a method that allowed the Boris cube to display dvsd files.


Before you go on a dive trip, watch Blue Planet and other TV videos again. Analyse them and decide just what it was that impressed you so much. Keep this in mind, just in case that very special opportunity presents itself to you.

Portrait of John Fletcher.John Fletcher has been diving for more than thirty years.

He is a BSAC Advanced Instructor and a PADI Master SCUBA Diver Trainer. Upon leaving BT in 1990, where he had worked as an engineer and ergonomist, he set up and ran his own diving school and has introduced many people to the underwater world.

He is still teaching but now tries to spend an increasing amount of his time simply going diving. His wife and buddy, Sue, is also a PADI Instructor.

© words and images, JohnFletcher (email: john@jonsanp.freeserve.co.uk)

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Some Useful Links (your webmaster's choice ... )

Training Organisations:

  • PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) UK: www.padi.co.uk and international: www.padi.com
  • British Sub Aqua Club: www.bsac.com and The British Sub-Aqua Club will be offering people the chance to begin their voyage of discovery. FREE scuba diving lessons will be given away during National Try-Dive Week, 2nd - 8th September 2002, at British Sub-Aqua Club branches across the UK.
  • The organisation for Nitrox and Technical Diving, IANTD: www.iantd.com

A Few of the Equipment Manufacturers whose kit John mentioned:

Other Interesting Sites

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Page updated on 11 October 2011
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