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Top 10 tips for shooting underwater video

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Shooting underwater video is a very specific skill and hobby that divers use to record the wonderful marine life they encounter while scuba diving. Many divers even make a career out of it. There are a few things to keep in mind in order to take excellent underwater video footage, whether you’re using a GoPro or a DSLR in an underwater housing.

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1. Hold the camera as still as possible

Shaky footage, as in any video genre, can be quite distracting. When you’re diving, unwanted currents or water surges can sometimes cause movement in your footage without you noticing. Make sure you’re neutrally buoyant and moving smoothly through the water when shooting underwater video and hold the camera close to your body for stability. Don’t kick too much, as this also causes shakiness (frog-kicking is better for stability while filming). It’s also a great idea to use a tripod when you can for maximum stability. For macro and close-up filming, a tripod is a must.

2. Record clips for as long as possible

Keep your subject in focus and keep recording until it moves out of the frame. There’s always the chance that the fish or animal might do something interesting or film-worthy only seconds after you stopped recording. Rather wait 20 seconds more for the possible action instead of pausing the footage too soon. You can always delete bad or redundant footage later (more on this in tip #10).

3. Include a variety of shots and angles

Make sure you take good panning footage of the environment while shooting your underwater video, as well as some close-ups and medium shots of your subject. Diverse angles and footage make your end product more visually appealing and interesting to the viewer. 

4. Think about your composition

More often than not, the same rules for photography apply for underwater video. Make sure you have a focal point and balanced visual elements and think about the position of the subjects within the frame. 

5. Don’t zoom while recording

Zooming in and out within a clip is very distracting for the viewer and can negatively affect the footage colour, sharpness and contrast. Rather zoom in or out beforehand, and then press record when you’ve got the desired frame.

6. Keep it interesting

People might be more intrigued by an octopus hunting than by a starfish lounging on a rock. Make sure to look out for unique scenes of action or movement to capture that will captivate your viewers.

7. Look away from the sun

It is best to ensure the sun is always behind you when shooting so that you’re sure the subject is lit up (and not the camera). It also makes the water around your subject appear clearer, with less moving particles visible in the water. 

8. More light

Video lights can be a helpful tool to make colours appear more vibrant on film. The best time to use a light is usually within 1.5 m from your camera – if your subjects are farther away than that, rather turn off your lights. You can also purchase and use colour correcting or other types of filters for different effects.

9. Get to know your camera’s white balance settings

Different cameras have different white balance functions, so make sure you know how yours works. You can leave the white balance on automatic if you’re doing macro shooting with lights, but with ambient light, it’s better to adjust your white balance manually. White balance is important, because red colours usually decline in brightness as you descend while diving. In essence, you need to reset your camera’s perception of what is white, in order to counteract the colours becoming lost. To set your white balance manually, you can use some sand or point your camera up towards the sun to see what white looks like in your current shooting position. 

10. Check your footage on a big screen regularly and take out the bad clips ASAP

After every dive, check your footage to see if your clips were in focus and had the right shooting settings. To save time (and space on your memory card), delete the bad clips that you’re definitely not going to use as soon as possible. This regular process of evaluation and elimination helps you adjust your shooting skills on the next dive, as you’ll know how to get the best possible footage with your settings and surroundings. 

Shooting underwater videography is a very specialised practice that takes time and experience to develop and master. Establishing yourself as a professional underwater film-maker, by following the tips above, could open many doors for you into the specialised wildlife and documentary film and media industry.

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Rouxne van der Westhuizen profile

Blogger Profile - Rouxne van der Westhuizen

Rouxne has an Honours degree in journalism and media studies. She is the course director for the Travel and Environmental Journalism and specialises in wildlife conservation writing, travel journalism and blogging.

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