Simple techniques for improving skills in handling underwater video cameras and in shooting touring divers are provided. Interesting subjects and strategies for working with underwater photographers are also provided.
Capturing divers on videotape isn’t always easy – some divers you shoot and others you would like to shoot, literally! Thus, the purpose of this lesson is to help you improve your diver shots.
Table of Contents
HOW BIG IS IT?
One of the reasons for including divers in a scene is to give the viewers a feeling for size perspective. If you only shot fish or other marine life, the viewer will wonder, for example, “How big is that grouper?” By including one or more shots of divers with your marine life or wreck subjects, you give viewers an idea of the relative sizes of your subjects.
YOU ARE THERE
Having an occasional diver appear in your video also promotes a “you are there” feeling. Imagine you are watching a video featuring nothing but marine life. After a while you get a detached feeling. It’s as if you were viewing life on another planet.
However, when a diver enters the scene, it’s obvious you are on earth. When the video shows the diver’s view, especially with over-the-shoulder shots, you feel more involved in the action.
SHOOTING TOURING DIVERS
Shooting touring divers who often travel in a random pattern is difficult. They swim too fast and you kick so hard to keep up that your video is shaky. Often, you end up with shot after shot of kicked up sand, fins and tank bottoms. Yes, you want a couple of shots of divers leaving a scene for editing later, but you don’t want fins and tank bottoms in all of your shots.
Your best strategy is to try and find out ahead of time where the divers plan to go. This will be easier if a guide is leading the group. The basic steps are:
- Get into the water first and head for the first planned destination.
- Shoot the divers as they approach and as they examine the site.
- Head for the next destination while the divers are still at the first and repeat the process.
This method works best if the dive guide cooperates. Ask the guide to give you a signal a few minutes before he/she starts leading the group to the next site.
Remember, some divers travel randomly. Some may need time to clear their ears and adjust their gear before going anyplace. Some streak away at the speed of light for unannounced destinations. Some swim slowly looking at anything and everything. Some seem to disappear from the face of the earth.
Forget the fast movers, especially if you don’t know where they are headed. Stay with the slow movers. Shoot them as they feed fish, examine corals or stare at eels.
The one place where you might be able to shoot almost the entire group is under the boat, during the safety stop. If possible, try to get the sun behind you. If you want the details of faces, try a slightly downward camera angle. If you want silhouettes, get in the shadow of the boat. This position prevents the sun from burning out in the picture and also enhances any sunbeams streaking through the water around the boat.
SHOOTING THE PHOTO DIVER
An underwater photographer with a still camera and flash can be an interesting subject. However, he/she can also be a problem subject. Imagine that a still photographer is shooting close-ups. You move in slowly and start the shot, hoping to catch the flash of his/her strobe. You wait and wait, your tape is running and running but nothing happens. The still photographer is waiting for that moment when the composition is perfect for his picture. No sooner do you give up and trigger back to STBY than the photographer’s flash fires.
Your best strategy is to talk to the still photographer ahead of time. Ask if he/she will let you take a few posed shots. Ask the photographer to move in and take the picture quickly.
If the still photographer. is working with models and setting up posed shots, you may be able to shoot the photographer at work – but be careful not to kick up sand or get in his/her picture unless he/she waves you in.
BUDDY WITH THE CAMERA
You start a shot of an unsuspecting diver. The diver looks up and is startled to discover he or she is on camera. You’ve seen the response: the head jerks up, the eyes open wide and the person quickly turns away.
Your best strategy is to chat with the divers beforehand. Tell them to imagine their best friend is riding inside your video housing. Tell them it’s OK to look at their friend, to make gestures and to show things to their friend. In other words, tell them to think of your camera housing as a buddy.
Individual distance is the minimum distance we try to keep between ourselves and others. For example, suppose you are standing and talking to a stranger on a dark night. You might wish to stay at least ten feet away. With a casual friend, you might get as close as two or three feet. With a close friend or loved one, you would probably get closer without feeling uncomfortable.
Underwater, the individual distance between divers is often too great for good videography. You have to back off so far to get two or more divers in the scene that you lose color and sharpness. Therefore, signaling divers to get closer and to angle their bodies so your camera can see their faces is something you will do repeatedly. The easiest strategy is to choose subjects who are good friends.
When people look at an object, their eyes are often about two or more feet away. If they are looking at something in their hands, they usually hold it about 18 inches from their eyes. The problem you encounter is basically the same as the individual distance problem. You would like to tighten up the scene and get closer.
Therefore, if a diver has agreed to pose for you, tell that person to look at objects from about a foot away. If the diver is holding an object, tell him/her to hold it about six or eight inches from the facemask. It will seem unnatural to the model but it looks much better on videotape. Expect to signal “get closer, get closer” repeatedly.
GET SOME FACE SHOTS
Some divers look good while wearing a mask underwater but others look like me. If you see divers who look good, ask them if you can get some close-ups of their faces. You can use these shots later when editing. For example, you have shots of two divers who are looking at a grouper. If you can insert a brief shot of a diver’s face, it makes your video more interesting to view. Also, try to include a face shot of a grouper.
Shoot face shots in two ways: Cut to a diver’s face during the action, then quickly back to the main action or shoot some posed face shots you can edit in later. I like to shoot the face shots during the action, providing I have a cooperative model, but I am always collecting face shots for editing.
DON’T BE A HOG
Divers – especially still photographers – often avoid buddying with underwater videographers for one reason: videographers often hog subjects. I remember one dive where a videographer moved in for a close-up view of a seahorse and started a shot. The minutes dragged by slowly as he kept on shooting. The nonphotographers were soon bored and left; the still photographers were getting madder and madder. They were using up their air as they waited and waited for the videographer to finish shooting. How much cooperation will this videographer (or any other videographer) get from these guys later? Not much. Therefore, I suggest you allow the still photographers to get some shots before you shoot 20 minutes of seahorse antics.
If you choose a poor subject, you end up with a poor video. Think GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). If you choose a subject wearing a black wetsuit and unsightly gear, that’s what you will see on tape. If your spouse is your model, he or she should have some good-looking, colorful dive gear. You, the videographer, can look tacky but not the model. Light blue is good; black and yellow may have too great a brightness range for good video. Choose a mask that doesn’t give the model a bug-eyed look. A translucent mask will allow more light to reach the model’s face than an opaque mask.
If tanks are provided on a dive trip, ask for one that isn’t covered with ugly scratches. When you get in the water, tidy up those dangling consoles. You don’t want to show your spouse dragging a heavy console through delicate coral. I’ve been known to tape divers dragging gear over coral or kicking it with their fins and then play the tape on the live-aboard’s TV for all to view. This often solves the problem without my having to say a word.
LEARN TO KISS
Even if a diver or divers have promised to pose for you, KISS (keep it super simple). Once someone’s head goes below the surface, that person’s brain often turns to mush. They forget the plan or misunderstand your signals. If they enter the water before you have your video system ready, they may decide to swim to the destination ahead of you. When you get there, you can’t find them. Therefore, keep it simple. Your probability of success is one over the square of the number of goals, persons and pieces of equipment involved.