Underwater filming is one of the most difficult disciplines in videography.
To be successful at underwater filming there are several skills you must master to achieve epic shots.
It’s easy to think that filming underwater is easy. You’ve seen it before on TV, an epic shot of a humpback whale swimming past the camera. The silhouette of a great white shark rising up from the deep or a beautiful clown fish hiding amongst the coral.
The truth is that many of these shots took hours to film.
It’s not just hours spent in the water trying to get the shot you’ve seen on TV either.
Many underwater videographers spend hundreds of dives mastering the technique of manoeuvring through the water column and mastering their buoyancy.
It is a skill that is much harder than it looks.
Mastering underwater filming techniques
We’ve all got friends who have taken a GoPro away with them on a dive trip. Upon their return they’ve boasted about how good the dive was and told you they got some amazing video, but upon review there’s something amiss.
The footage is shaky not steady. The image is grainy not clear. The colour of the water seems to change throughout the video. The wildlife is at the edge of the frame or blurry and out of focus.
There is a basic technique to underwater filming, and without knowing what it is, it doesn’t matter what camera you take into the water with you… the footage will look the same.
Step 1 – Bouyancy
As any diver will tell you, mastering your buoyancy (even without a camera) is crucial.
The first step to perfect buoyancy is ensuing you’re correctly weighted. With the air dispelled form your BCD and/or dry suit, you should float at eye level in the water.
The picture below is a useful guide to spot whether you or your dive buddy is weighted correctly.
Steady you, steady camera.
If you are able to move up and down easily, and back and forth gracefully, then your shots will be steady and controlled.
With every breath you take your buoyancy changes. Becoming adept at mastering your buoyancy is something will come with time and practice.
Know your kit
A crucial part of mastering this discipline is ensuring you are diving with the same kit each time.
Different kit has different properties in terms of weight and buoyancy.
The more you dive with the same kit, the quicker you’ll become familiar with how to control yourself in the water.
If you do not own your own dive equipment, try to ensure you hire the same equipment each time you dive.
Regular dives wearing the same kit will enable you to hone your buoyancy skills.
Step 2 – Body Positioning
The next step of mastering your underwater filming technique is to adopt the correct body position.
The best description i have encountered was the dive master that instructed me, he called it the “starship enterprise position” its also know as the “basic trim position.”
- Shoulders and Knees should be at the same depth, nice and flat.
- Knees tilted upward, head tilted upward.
- Arms can be brought forward to aid stability
Step 3 Propulsion
Propelling yourself through the water with your fins is known as finning.
There are several different finning techniques, each with their own benefits and draw backs.
This is the more traditional method of underwater propulsion.
Although this method will allow you to move through the water quickly, often it is not as stable as a frog kick. If you are close to the bottom this technique will almost definitely disturb it, decreasing visibility.
This technique is better utilised when moving from one location to another, or to get you out of a situation quickly. When the camera is rolling you’re much better off using the frog kick technique.
As an adaptation, you can try kicking only from the lower leg, pivoting from the knee and keeping the thighs locked, this is more stable than kicking from the hips though it does not provide the gliding motion of a frog kick.
Basic flutter kick
Adapted flutter kick
The frog kick
This technique is great for a slow and steady motion through the water.
The main benefit of the frog kick is that it minimises disturbance and allows a gliding motion.
This is crucial when filming underwater, especially if the subject you are filming is on the bottom.
This video demonstrates how to achieve the frog kick technique
As your confidence in the water grows and your technique improves you’ll want to master as many forms of steady propulsion as possible. If you are steady then your shots will be steady and you’ll have great manoeuvrability in the water whilst maintaining a good frame.
Below are 2 more advanced techniques that require practice, once achieved they will greatly improve your filming ability underwater.
Reverse or Back Kick
Step 4 Understanding light underwater.
Light is crucial in all videography or photography, and in the water it’s no different.
Things to consider when filming underwater is how different colours begin to change as you descend and ascend to different depths. This also translates to the distances of objects you are filming
The basic science is explained as follows:
Water absorbs different wavelengths of light at different degrees. The longest wavelengths with the lowest energy are absorbed first.
At what depth do colours disappear?
- Red – 15ft
- Orange – 25ft
- Yellow – 35-45ft
- Green – 70-75ft
Colours disappear underwater in the same order they appear in the colour spectrum.
Even in 5ft of water this is noticeable.
When filming underwater, using lights to bring these colours back is absolutely crucial.
Notice how the colours on the cloth change with and without the light from the torch.
The camera is only 3ft from the cloth at a depth of 100ft.
In the next part of our underwater filming blog article we’ll talk about some more techniques that will help you hone your skills to achieve magical results.
For more information, or to enquire about hiring gassproductions to film underwater for you then please contact us today.
If you have an idea for a TV show involving underwater video, then why not pitch it to us here.