Seventeen exercise tips are presented to practice using a camcorder during a dive. The most important skills for this are buoyancy control, body control and the smooth handling of the camera.
This article will introduce you to the 17 essential drills that will give you the foundation for creative underwater videomaking. I strongly recommend attaching this list to your camcorder. (You can use a laundry marker and plastic tape.)
Do the first two drills without your camcorder. Your object is to achieve neutral buoyancy and prepare for the underwater drills that follow. If you must adjust your buoyancy to compensate for your camcorder’s buoyancy, do so after you have finished drills 1 and 2.
During drills 3 to 17, shoot up to about 15 seconds of tape. Your goal is to do each drill as smoothly as possible, without unwanted camera movement. Later, during playback, analyze each scene for steadiness. Still subjects should remain perfectly still on the TV screen. Moving shots or subjects should appear smooth and natural.
1. The skydiver position. Below about 20 feet, assume the skydiver position. Your arms and legs should be moderately spread and elbows and knees slightly bent. You should be able to relax in this position for at least ten seconds, without rising, sinking or tilting.
2. Crossed arms and fins position. Below about 20 feet, assume a vertical position and cross your arms and fins. You should be able to “stand” in this position for at least 10 seconds.
3. Standing, kneeling and prone positions. Practice this drill from three positions: standing, kneeling and prone. (When in the prone position, you can brace yourself on the bottom with your elbows.) Aim the camcorder at a stationary subject. Place the subject exactly in the center of the viewfinder and shoot a 15 second scene. The goal is an image that appears absolutely motionless on the TV screen.
4. Tripod position. Select a sandy, silty bottom that will cloud up quickly if you kick your fins. Settle on the bottom, fintips first. Then, brace on the bottom with your left hand or fist. Your fist and fintips form the tripod. Aim at a stationary subject and shoot 15 seconds of steady video. Then look around yourself. You shouldn’t have kicked up a cloud of silt.
5. Bipod position. The bipod position is my advanced version of the tripod position. Put just enough air in your BC so you can settle on just your fintips or knees (the bipod). Shoot 15 seconds of steady video. The bipod position prevents your body from crushing corals and other delicate marine life.
6. Midwater position. Hold your body as motionless as possible in mid-water and shoot 15 seconds of a stationary subject. Practice using both the skydiver and vertical positions from drills 1 and 2.
7. Sinking vertical position. Starting in the vertical position, let enough air out of your BC so you will slowly sink. As you sink, slowly tilt the camcorder up and keep the dive boat in the frame (the picture area being recorded). Place one fin slightly forward and the other slightly backward. You can use the fins to stabilize your descent.
8. Glide-in zoom. The goal is to zoom in on your subject by gliding in rather than using the zoom control. Select a stationary subject several feet away. Kick to gain momentum. Then stop kicking and glide in toward your subject as you shoot.
9. Glide-in and circle. This is an advanced version of the glide-in zoom. Rather than gliding directly toward your subject, glide to one side. As you approach the subject, circle around it as far as you can. The goal is a moving shot of a stationary subject.
10. Following moving subjects. Find a moving subject, such as a fish that cruises around a relatively small area. Follow the fish’s general direction, not every single move it makes. Let it swim in and out of frame. The idea is to let the subject do most of the moving. Only move the camera when necessary.
11. Panning slowly. From both the standing and kneeling positions, try to pan (move the camera to the left or right) slowly and smoothly. Pan first at the speed you believe to be correct then pan again at half the speed you believe to be correct. When you watch the playback on TV, you may be surprised. The one-half speed pan will probably be more pleasing.
When panning, align your body with the point at which you want to end the pan. Then, twist your body to the starting point. Untwisting during the pan will improve camera steadiness because your muscles are relaxing rather than straining during the pan.
12. Panning parallel. This is a tough drill. The objective is to swim alongside a moving subject and shoot about 10 seconds of tape. You and your subject must both swim slowly; otherwise, your swimming movements will rock your body and your camcorder.
13. Overhead reverse. This shot adds a professional touch to your videos. It blends a view of a subject approaching with a view of the subject leaving. The technique is simple: stand on the bottom and have your model start from about 20 feet away. Tell your model to swim directly over you (or slightly to one side), at a moderately fast speed. Tilt upward to follow the model’s approach. When the model passes over you, rotate your body 180 degrees and follow the model as he/she swims away. This technique works with many subjects, including large fish.
14. Entry and exit. Select a pleasing background, start the shot and hold the camcorder as steady as possible. Then, have your model (who has been instructed ahead of time) swim into the frame, stop and look at something and then swim out of the frame. A few seconds after the model leaves the frame, stop the camcorder. The goal is to produce a pleasing entry and exit for the model.
15. Diver’s view. The idea is to show a diver’s view as he/she swims along the seafloor. Aim the camera ahead of you and sight by looking directly over the top of the housing. (If you use the electronic viewfinder, you may ram into coral.) Swim slowly so the camera doesn’t rock.
16. Self pan. The idea is to show your portrait against a moving background. Hold the housing at arm’s length and twist your body (see drill 11). Trigger the record button and untwist your body. When you view the tape, the background should move by smoothly behind you.
17. Self scene. The idea is to shoot yourself entering and leaving a scene (as in drill 14). Rest the camcorder on a rock, wreckage or other non-living surface. If the housing is a floater, place a lead weight on its top. Trigger the record mode, then swim around and into the frame. Stop, look at something, then swim out of frame. Lastly, trigger the camcorder to standby.
Conclusions. If you are constantly kicking and flailing with hands and fins or fighting to maintain your depth, you can’t shoot good video. This is why the 17 drills are so important. They will help you master buoyancy, body control and smooth camera handling.
Protect The Environment
When swimming close to the bottom, with their eyes glued to their electronic viewfinders, some underwater videomakers smash into fragile corals. Take care to protect the undersea environment. Never rest or brace your body or camcorder on fragile sealife. Always choose a non-living area when standing or kneeling on the bottom.