I am currently taking a scuba diving class and I am a Television-Radio student, so I thought putting the two together would be a genius idea! So here is a summary of what you need to know about shooting under water.
Learn to Dive
Becoming a certified SCUBA diver is perhaps the most obvious requirement for underwater filmmaking. Filmmakers often bypass the bulky SCUBA equipment when taking video of large animals such as whales, but you’ll need to learn the basics of SCUBA diving to take your skills to the next level. Understanding how to dive properly will allow you to get close to coral without damaging it or capture footage of wild marine life without endangering yourself. It will also help you learn to keep a camera steady while the animals perform their behaviors.
In addition to SCUBA training, we also recommend that you learn to free-dive. The disadvantage of traditional SCUBA is that you often scare large fish and marine mammals with bubbles. Free-diving allows you to swim freely with these creatures. But be safe; always practice free-diving with a buddy around.
If you don’t want to make bubbles but you need to stay down for extended periods, you can use closed circuit rebreathers, self-contained dive units that recycle the air we breathe so as not to release any bubbles. A rebreather adds oxygen to the system and filters out carbon dioxide. These systems generally allow a diver to stay underwater for a long time.
Know the Underwater Environment
When shooting video underwater, you want to make sure you don’t break or damage anything in proximity. This may sound obvious, but it can be a bit difficult maintaining your focus on your subject while making sure you are not sinking, floating up to the surface, or crashing into rare coral or dangerous rocks. If you are diving in blue water without a fixed reference, it can be hard to know if you are heading up or down. This can induce vertigo and lead to a potentially dangerous situation. Before you start playing with the camera, be sure to practice good buoyancy skills so that you can stay at a constant depth. To get close to wildlife underwater, you want to stay relaxed. Move slowly and controlled; don’t chase fish or other marine life, or you are likely to scare them off. Plus, your footage will look better if you pace yourself. Avoid kicking up silt and dust from the bottom. It will get in front of the camera and make the water murky. There is nothing worse than thinking you have a great shot only to discover later that the cloud of dirt you just kicked up ruined the clarity of the image.
Colors and Light
Colors are different underwater than they are above. The intensity of certain colors like red and yellow diminish quickly the deeper you dive. This image shows how different colors diminish with depth.
The red-colored tank topper looks almost black and the diver’s skin looks blue! With increased depth, water absorbs color at different rates. Water absorbs red first causing video to appear more blue or green than you hoped. In clear tropical waters, blue remains the longest, and when you are diving in temperate waters, plankton and other particles create a strong green hue.
There are two easy ways to compensate for these color issues when underwater. The first one is to use a color filter on your camera, usually red. It will bring back some of the red in the image you are shooting, making it appear richer. The second option is to use underwater lights. If you are shooting in shallow water, or in clear tropical waters, you probably won’t need them. Always make use of the natural sunlight. The deeper you go, the darker it will be. When you know you will be diving to depths where sunlight is limited, you will need to bring a few extra lights.
Next week I will talk more about the equipment that is needed to shoot under the sea!