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Top Ten Tips for Shooting Better Underwater Video

Most people who shoot underwater video of their holiday or favourite dive site want to be able to share their creation with family and friends.  Sadly, not every underwater videographer is the next Jacques Cousteau.  However, there are a number of things that you can do to greatly improve the quality of your productions.  Here are my top ten tips for shooting better underwater video.  

  • Keep it steady - The underwater world is a three dimensional fluid environment where everything is in motion at all times.  Waving a housing around while filming underwater is a sure fire way to give your audience motion sickness in the comfort of their own living rooms.  Bear in mind that the fragility of the marine environment does not allow you to secure your position by standing on or leaning against something or even, in most cases, using a tripod.  Your buoyancy skills must be exceptional.  Hold your housing in such a manner that you are able to minimize the effects of the water movement.  For maximum stability I shoot with both hands on the housing handles, elbows bent outwards and arms extended forwards with the housing monitor at eye level so that I can view the subject.    
  • Keep your lens clear - Bubbles on the lens, salt spots from dried water droplets or, even worse, scratches on the lens can ruin your best underwater shots.  Use a protective cover over your housing port when not in use, rinse the housing in the fresh water dunk tank and dry off any excess moisture using a lens cleaning cloth.  Periodically brush bubbles off the lens while underwater by waving your hand in front of the lens.   
  • Use the Rule of Thirds - Divide the picture into three equal parts both horizonatlly and vertically.  The most significant part of your shot should be where the lines intersect, either top-left, top-right, bottom-left or bottom-right.   
  • Watch out for the light source - Generally I shoot daytime video using the ambient light from the sun.  Your images will look best if the sun is behind you and over your shoulder.  You can check the position of the sun while underwater by looking at the shadow cast by your hand.  If you are using lights, set the angle of the lights so that the edges of the cast light slightly overlap.  Positioning your light directly onto the subject will invariably cause a hot spot.   
  • Keep your shot sequences short - Watch any TV program, newscast or movie and you will notice that most shot sequences are short, generally three to six seconds.  We have become accustomed to having our entertainment served to us at this cadence and it will help you to maintain your audience's interest.   
  • Get close to your subject - Minimize the amount of water betwen your subject and the lens to obtain the best colour and resolution.  Don't chase the fish, their instinct is to flee from predators.  Instead, allow them to enter the frame, swim through it, and then exit while you are holding the housing steady in one position.  Shooting several seconds before and after your actual shot allows you to trim your sequence later in your editing suite.   
  • Manual focus - Set your focus to manual and focus on an object that is about three feet from your port.  By doing this, everything from within three feet to infinity will be in focus and you will avoid the `hunting` for focus that a camera set to autofocus will deliver while it searches for a subject to focus on.   
  • White Balance often - Manually set your white balance at every change in depth or change in available light.  See:  Setting White Balance for Underwater Video.   
  • Shoot `neutral - subject- neutral` shots - Begin with a wide angle establishing shot of your scene and then pan or tilt to your main subject.  After shooting the shots you want of your main subject ease the viewer out of the scene with another neutral shot to finish the sequence.   
  • Avoid using the zoom feature - Shooting with as wide an angle as possible is going to give you the best results.  Rather than zooming in to your subject with the camera, swim slowly towards the subject.  Be quiet in the water, hover motionless near your subject, and eventually your patience may be rewarded by the fish swimming towards the camera to satisfy its curiosity.  



Katyk BriceƱo
"Amazing!!! Beautiful!!" 
Daniel LaFrance  
"Beautiful, akin to an underwater spiritual experience of sorts."
Walter Marshall   
"Whenever I watch your videos I am just taken away." 
Shaun Diaz   
"Well done, very well done. Mysterious, gorgeous and deeply inspiring... The best part is I am not naming any of it. It is nature in its most perfect and beautiful form." 
Christie Lopez  
"David...the video is beautiful and so is the music!! I love the music!!!!" 
Brian Dodd
"I just wanted to thank you for the moments of peace and beauty these clips brought to my hectic life."