5 Simple Tips to Improve your Underwater Video

Roger Munns Blog

Share this page
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  • 8
  •  
  •  
    8
    Shares

I’ve been shooting underwater video since 2001. My first rig was a Sony VX200 3CCD camera in a Light & Motion Stingray housing. It shot standard definition video to miniDV tapes. I would edit in camera and then play my footage over a Deep Forest CD! It was the bees knees. Times have changed since then, cameras are better, tapes have become extinct, workflows are different and it seems like everyone is shooting underwater. What hasn’t changed are these five simple rules which I learnt in my first day of training and I still use today.

This is key to getting great colour. Keep checking where the sun is with respect to your subject and make sure you keep it behind you, lighting your subject. This is especially important with cheaper cameras which have less dynamic range. It will keep the contrast down which will help your shots. If the sun is backlighting or sidelighting you’ll find a lot more particles (aka scatter) will be lit up and the water will look less clear. In general the best time of day to shoot is the morning when the sun is lower and softer than the top-lit midday and murky evening.
Don’t use the camera’s zoom function unless you really need to. Try and get as close to your subject as possible without scaring or interfering with it. That will cut down the amount of particles between you and the subject and make for a sharper, clearer, image. The more zoomed in you are the more chance of wobble there is so it will also mean your shots look steadier. If you really need to zoom for a certain frame then get close first, then zoom.
This will help with clarity. Looking down simply looks awful (unless you are doing a plan view) and your subject will probably be lost against the reef or other substrate. Get the camera low and angle up to show the light water behind. This will mean more light gets into the camera and the subject is knocked out against the blue background. Most important here is to not make contact with any marine life, especially be aware of coral as you try and get your body, and that camera, down low.
Red is lost from the colour spectrum rapidly as you descend through the water column. To counteract that most cameras will allow you to manually reset the white balance (effectively resetting what the camera understands as white) which will bring back a lot of red to the image. I tend to use some white sand or my hand to take the white balance reading but others use a white slate. Ideally you should do this every time you descend or ascend a few metres but there is some leeway and you don’t want to miss shots because you are desperately trying to set the WB! If your camera doesn’t have this function you can choose auto white balance which will work well until you move the camera when it might change during the shot (not nice) or you may be able to dial in approximate WB in kelvin.
A well trimmed housing means a well balanced housing which means… steadier and smoother shots. Stick small weights or pieces of foam to your housing to make it as close to perfectly neutral as possible. If your housing is small (eg. GoPro) then try and build it out using trays or arms to effectively increase the size of the rig. The bigger the underwater rig the smoother the pans and tilts. Of course none of this will matter if you personally are not trimmed well. Make sure you have great neutral buoyancy and are moving smoothly through the water.

I hope those five tips are useful. They are designed to help newbies but even after 17 years filming I still adhere to them every day. There are always exceptions to every rule but in general these are good pointers to remember. Please always remember that safety of you and marine animals must come first. Treat marine life with respect and dive safe. If you’d like to find out more about my work check out my blog about my work on Blue Planet II or take a look at some of my FAQ. Thanks to Brian Kakuk of Bahamas Underground for the photo.


Share this page
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  • 8
  •  
  •  
    8
    Shares