It’s been awhile since I posted videos to the blog or added any to my Youtube Channel, so here’s a post to correct this deficiency! Videography is a fun but challenging activity underwater, as rewarding and frustrating as photography if not more so owing to how an off series of frames can ruin a whole video. Movement, buoyancy, and stability are the real challenges I’ve found in this area, and those are on top of the usual difficulties encountered in underwater photography. These movies were made in the Coast Marina and near Lone Tree Island in the Campbell River/Quadra Island area of British Columbia.
Unlike tropical waters with their distinctive and vibrant blue hues, the waters around British Columbia are an emerald green shade that can verge into near black at the maximum operating depth of 40m (both a recreational and occupational/commercial scuba limit). The use of strobes, flashes or hand lights is essential at these depths. In shallower areas on sunny days, even to the 6-10m range, natural light can still be surprisingly effective. As I discovered as well, the macro setting is not just for stills, and if you’re planning on filming something up close, the macro is essential.
Video work is also a an attractive extra if you’re a scientific diver or if you’re doing any sort of survey work. A potential method here is to have a third diver advancing just ahead or just above the two divers doing the counts/surveys along the sides of the transect, capturing the entire operation on video; another might be to have them do at least a 180˚ (270˚to 90˚ facing forwards, or left to right) or a 360˚ pan shot at specified points along the transect to give the end user of the video a better idea of the broader area. If you can do both stills and videos, even better. There is no such thing a too much information.
Equipment wise, you may find yourself limited by budget to less than ideal gear for the job at hand. For example, all three videos shot and used in this entry were done on my Nikon CoolPix L22 in an Ikelite case with no strobe or external lights. While alright as amateur fair, the addition of a strobe/light system would vastly improve them, in particular the Sunflower Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), where the extra few metres down and poor sunlight allowed a green wash to overcome some of the natural colours. Fortunately, companies like Bonica are bringing affordable video gear out to the masses while other companies make housings for normal camcorders. Keep your eyes peeled because there are some great deals that pop up!
Last of all I’ll talk about shaky camera work. I know I’ve had issues with it, and most other people starting out probably will to. Here’s a few things I’ve learned (often the hard way) so far:
1.) Go slowly and turn the camera slowly, if you think you’re moving too slowly, odds are you’re making a very smooth video.
2.) Buoyancy, it’s even more important here than in still photo shots. Pick a depth, an axis of advance and stick to it as best you can, that way your hands and mind are on the task at hand, not fidgeting with your BCD or valves.
3.) A stable camera makes a stable movie, don’t be afraid to plant yourself on the seafloor to get some good footage.
4.) Set up your camera before shooting; avoid using the zoom functions during filming, zoom then film to avoid flow breaking imagery. Also, white balance when you can to get better colour at depth, even if you don’t have a light system; every bit helps!
This is my first write up on the topics of scientific diving, where constantly seek to expand my ability, and underwater videography, an area that I have dabbled in and want to improve myself in. Hopefully my lessons learned can help you avoid some of the pitfalls I’ve found, and get you on your way to better videography whether for fun or for science!