U/W Video Techniques for Cold, Dark Water
underwater video in areas of less-than-Caribbean clarity should
be approached in much the same manner as still photography. The
only major differences between the two are that in photography,
one waits for just the right second to take the picture to freeze
a particular moment in time.
video you try to capture an entire sequence of events to
tell a story in motion and sound. If you wait for just the
right second a mood setting or dramatic scene will be lost.
in still photography, underwater video in turbid areas requires
excellent buoyancy control to avoid churning up a silt,
or mud-covered bottom by plopping to the ocean floor.
the same amount of weight you might for still photography - possible
two or three pounds more than usual. Practice buoyancy control
with the video system in a pool or in a shallow estuary before
attempting open-water video. You should be able to fin towards
a subject while remaining neutrally buoyant and at the same time
keep the video camera rock-steady. This prevents the video from
looking like a roller coaster ride and yet helps you to get situated
in surgy areas to obtain good shots of both marine life and diver
alike. And as always, practice makes perfect.
shooting in areas with 100- to 200-foot visibility, working with
an average of 10 to 15 feet means that you cannot always start
underwater sequences with a long distance shot of divers hitting
the water. Instead, descend on the anchor line first and direct
the other divers to stay right next to the line while descending
- right to the anchor on the bottom. This becomes your establishing
shot at the beginning of your dive and does not require tremendous
visibility to acquire.
you cannot tape divers 100 feet away to establish where they are
and what they are doing, stage shots of divers finning by the
camera from right to left and at the end reverse the process.
Back home you can edit this just before a shot of a shipwreck,
for example, to establish that the diver has moved from the anchor
to his/her dive destination. Your diving buddies can be as close
as visibility permits, and you can still move your story along
as you would by tracking them in clear water.
forget to tell a story underwater. Get wide-angle shots to
establish where you are and what you are doing, and closer
shots to focus attention onto a subject. Spend most of your
time taking close-up shots of the wreck or marine life you
technique in cold waters tends to focus attention into a much
smaller area and will allow pleasing results in telling a story,
as if you really could see 200 feet underwater
as many angles of each shot as possible in sequence - again, to
tell a story. Stop and restart recording between moving to different
angles. This will make your video appear to have been shot with
more than one camera.
in as close as is possible to all subjects, to reduce the amount
of suspended particles in the water column. You will see more
subject and less sediment-strewn water. You will also be amazed
at how most of today's highly light-sensitive video camcorders
can "see" further than the human eye while diving. Try
to keep what sunlight there is, coming from behind you at all
times -otherwise in turbid waters, a video camera will see the
sunlight and expose for that instead of your subjects underwater.
the video camera "white balance" to the daylight setting
for waters up to 30 feet deep. When utilizing video lights or
in deeper water, set this switch to the indoor setting.
A magenta or pinkish-colored correction filter placed in front
of the video camera lens will help substantially to acquire all-around
good color at any given depth in "green" waters without
the need of a video light. Keep the white balance on outdoor when
using this filter.
using video lights to highlight or bring out colors of marine
life and divers, mount the light so it sits between a 45 and 90-degree
angle to the subject. This will prevent having backscatter that
would render the lights useless. Using arms and brackets works
well for placing the lights at the prescribed angles. The alternative
is to have the lights mounted directly next to the camera, looking
straight at the subject and illuminating all of the suspended
particles between you and your target of interest.
in mind that there is only one sun and we try to mimic this
form of natural lighting underwater with artificial light.
A miss-placed light will give the video an unnatural look
and make the viewer feel uncomfortable when viewing your work.
are several digital recording formats available to novice and
broadcast professionals alike including Mini-DV, DVCAM, DVC-Pro
and HD-TV. There are also many manufacturers of cameras, housings
and lighting for underwater video. Chose a level of video production
that fits your budget and your needs. Take the time and research
what is available and learn about the features that you would
like to have in a video system. Purchase the best equipment that
you can afford and properly maintain that gear for many years
of successful underwater TV production.
Michelson is the president of Photography by Michelson, located
in Braintree, Mass. He has been photographing and videotaping
underwater images for over 25 years. His video footage has appeared
on the Science Channel, History Channel, Discovery Channel and
major network affiliates, including ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN.