Shooting Underwater Video
Shooting underwater video allows you to capture the essence of the
underwater world; the colours, the movement, the sounds and the interactions of the creatures that inhabit
this fascinating environment. Although it is a relatively straight forward process there are some very
important considerations that must be taken into account.
First, and most important of all, your dive skills should be exemplary. You are going to have
lots to think about while operating the camera and housing so your dive skills need to be second nature. Your
dive safety is of paramount importance; there is no shot that is worth risking your life to get! Buoyancy
control is a definite must since it is very easy to damage the fragile marine ecosystem. Repetition is
the mother of skill so, before you take a camera under water, practice your buoyancy in the pool while
holding a two pound weight in each hand and utilize your breathing to adjust and maintain your position in
the water. When you can perform this exercise and hover motionless without sculling for at least a couple of
minutes you can start thinking about taking a camera into the water. It is a good idea to have a dive
buddy with whom you regularly practice dive safety skills and who can also act as an underwater model while
also monitoring your depth, dive time and the remaining air supply.
Now that your dive skills are well established you are going to require some equipment.
Start with your budget in mind. Video cameras can cost anywhere from $500 to more than $5000.
Interestingly enough, significant improvements have been made to the quality and features of video cameras
over the past few years coincident with a significant decrease in cost. However, before you purchase
your video camera ensure that there is an underwater housing manufactured for that specific model of
camera. My recommendation would be to only consider high definition camcorders that allow for
adjustment of the white balance through the housing controls.
While there is no doubt that MiniDV is being eclipsed by newer formats like DVD, hard disk drive
(HDD), and flash memory cards, the tape format offers a number of advantages. MiniDV is cheap and
widely accessible. It is relatively durable and the cassettes are easy to archive while the capture
process for editing DV is more widely available than for any other media.
Perhaps the most crucial aspect is that DV compression generally offers better quality video
than the other formats. Standard definition DVD, HDD, and flash memory camcorders all employ MPEG-2
compression, which has a much lower data rate than DV, almost 1/3 the speed (8.5Mbps versus 25Mbps).
Data speed is only one component of video quality, but it is important.
MiniDV's flaw, however, is its linear nature but a MiniDV camcorder remains a viable investment
for a number of reasons. While little innovation can be expected in the tape medium, hardware and
software manufacturers will continue to support it for some time to come.
Once you have chosen your camera you now require a housing to
protect it while underwater. There are a number of manufacturers that produce top quality underwater
housings but they basically fall into two groups; those with electronic controls and those with manual
controls. They each have their advantages and disadvantages so it is up to you to choose whichever
style suits you best. The basic controls are power on/off, record/standby, zoom control, white balance,
manual or autofocus, and review modes. For most amateur underwater videographers this is all that you