Shooting underwater video is the perfect way to share your underwater world with your friends and social community. If you follow a few basics, you can bring the peace and calm and vibrant, and colorful life of the underwater world to those who will never venture underwater.
Make your underwater video engaging and entertaining by keeping it short and interesting. Your friends won’t want to watch your entire dive, trust us!. But they will love seeing the highlights and a well-edited look at the wonder of down under. For social media, a 30 to the 90-second video can be the maximum of your audience’s attention span, so keep it concise and focused and your shots well chosen and edited.
A prerequisite for good underwater filming is that you are a strong and experienced diver. Remember, you’ll be fighting with buoyancy, currents, tides, and other factors before you even begin to shoot. Maintaining stability is always one of the biggest challenges, and you’ll need some scuba skills to manage them and create a smooth and flowing video. Bring a tripod for additional stability for those macro shots.
You’ll need to bring all of your fundamental photography skills to your dive. Composition, framing, perspective, lighting, and subject all must converge to help you share your underwater experience compellingly and entertainingly. Don’t be overwhelmed trying to think about all the things! Like any new skill, underwater photography takes discipline and practice.
Learn from the best
Study other great underwater videos that appeal to you. Look at their technique and how they frame up subjects similar to the ones you’ll be shooting. If they share settings and other techniques, read them carefully and read any accompanying notes or articles. Watch the Discovery Channel and other nature shows, and watch YouTube videos in that space.
Search for underwater organizations like Mare Group, Oceana, The Ocean Conservancy, and others dedicated to marine life preservation. These organizations will help you understand and appreciate what you are shooting and may change your perspective about life under the waterline.
Before you head out, be sure your batteries are charged and that you have plenty of memory space- bring an extra.
Give some thought to what kind of story you’ll want to tell before you hit the water. You may want to follow one animal or a couple of species of the same order or tell the story of your dive. Try to get some close shots, try to shoot upwards, and go for a little bit of movement and various images. Try panning horizontally and vertically, or flyovers of your subject. Mix up wide, medium angle, and close-ups. And keep it steady. You will get movement, so shoot extra footage to net out with the usable footage you need.
Pro-tip #1 – Always shoot more video than you think you’ll need. Memory space is cheap, and this will help you catch those unexpected and serendipitous moments and provide lots to work within the editing room. Shoot some transitional shots, too, like divers entering the water or preparing for the dive, to help bring our audience along. This pre-roll and post-roll will be super helpful.
When you are shooting the action, don’t rush. Let the fish exit the frame on their own time. Let that camera run and see what happens. Move slowly, and hold your shots as the marine life moves around you. Resist the urge to chase the action.
Try to get various shots and angles to create a video that maintains interest and adds drama. Go for long and slow shots to bring your audience in on the tranquility and flow of underwater life. Pull in close to subjects that are incredibly vivid in color. Take wide shots to establish some context for the video.
You must understand how light behaves underwater. The water absorbs color and light with distance, and you must use lighting to account for that. Using the correct filters will help bring all the colors you’re seeing to life on your video and adjust for the blue or green water. Shallow water shooting can bring plenty of natural light. Just be sure you try to keep the sun at our back unless you are going for a silhouette shot, which can also be interesting.
Since much of the good stuff happens in deep water, you’ll need proper lighting to overcome visibility issues. Good quality wide-angle video lights will do wonders for your video.
The Sea Life
It’s a privilege to share the zen-like calm of the underwater world with its inhabitants. The more you know about your subjects and their habits, the more compelling your underwater stories will be.
Here are some favorite sea creatures of underwater filmmakers. Your subjects will, of course, depend upon your location and the time of year.
Seahorses are great sea creatures to film underwater. They live in shallow waters amidst weeds and algae, so they can be hard to spot. These little guys move by beating their dorsal fin 30 to 70 times per second.
Reef fish are a photographer’s favorite. You’ll find a great variety of these amidst the reefs and can often catch many in one frame or shot. They are a great representation of the diversity of a reef ecosystem. Keep an eye out for butterflyfish, damselfish, triggerfish, angelfish, gobies, scorpionfish, and frogfish. Reef fish are the stuff those amazing aquariums are made of.
Crab can be fun to film. You may even find them in tidal pools. The larger ones are exciting subjects in underwater videos. They can have an enormous leg span and are the largest crustaceans in the world.
An incredible dive adventure is swimming with the sea turtles. They live in the open ocean, and some of them are surprisingly fast. Be responsible when filming turtles as most species are endangered and research them before you go, so you know their habits.
Whale sharks are not as scary as they sound. They are incredibly docile and great diving partners. They look slow but are actually very fast and make for fantastic video footage. Try slowing it down in edit and adding some calm music.
Octopi like to hide from you behind the rocks but are extremely photogenic for your underwater video. They are graceful and mesmerizing, but take care- some are poisonous.
In post-production, edit carefully. Try to stitch together a story. Group together with the shots you want to keep and start building your story. Keep it concise with smooth transitions, some context establishing wide shots, some macro detail, and some cutaways to end the story. Let the marine life set its pace and make its exit from the frames. Don’t forget some sots of empty blue water or diver bubbles. They work great in the credits section!
Don’t forget to take advantage of effects like music, titles, and fade-ins and fade-outs. They will all bring professionalism and interest to your video. If you’re stuck for music, check out YouTube’s audio library for free downloads.
Creating underwater videos can be fascinating and rewarding. Take your time and practice. Learn from the best. And start sharing your underwater adventures with your friends and community.