Underwater Videography: Things I’ve Learned

If you’ve ever managed to take along a camera snorkeling, you probably had the same reaction I did when you got your finished footage home to the computer:  “It looks nothing like it did when I was actually snorkeling.”  Colors are washed out, everything is a dingy blue, all the fish you saw are nowhere on your footage, everything is shaky…especially if you bought one of those fancy underwater cases for your camera, it can be really frustrating.  In my case I was only using an inexpensive Flip camera with a $30 case…

But if you have a decent video editing program, you can save your footage.  It does take a bit more work than normal.  I found that underwater footage is one of the few times I have to fiddle less with the brightness and contrast, and more with  color saturation, tint and hue.  If you have Adobe Premiere 11 (as I do) it is also helpful if you can adjust the lighting and crank up the “black” slider (click “more”) in addition to a little bit of additional contrast.

Some other things I found are helpful:

– Just like in other subjects, but maybe just a little bit more so, edit mercilessly.  No one wants to see 12 minutes of identical fish and coral – so pick the best of everything and delete the rest.

– You’ll probably find that your footage is a lot more shaky than usual – you’re swimming and waving the camera back and forth to follow fast-moving fish that frequently change direction.  The solution is to slow most of your footage to 60-80 percent of its original speed, and cut whenever the camera changes direction – sweep left or right, not back and forth multiple times.
– Even more than usual, cut on the action.  Bring your clip in when the fish is already in frame, and go to the next before it leaves the frame – shots of the ocean floor are generally boring, and if there’s a lot of coral, the viewer needs help knowing where to look.
– Generally the straight cut is the best transition between shots, but personally I like to use dissolves in underwater videography.  Depending on the music you used, the whole thing can be a bit dreamy, and I think dissolves can be more consistent with this kind of mood.
– And you will definitely need music.   I found some at the Free Music Archive, but you can find other free or inexpensive music at a number of other sites I listed in a post on royalty-free (or nearly) music some time ago.

I’m sure there are a lot of other things to think about…feel free to share.  Here’s my video of some snorkeling off the coast of Madagascar.

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