Jacques Cousteau produced some of the world’s greatest underwater videos. These videos inspired thousands of deep-sea explorers and avid wildlife filmmakers, including Untamed Science. As a result of his work, many people saw for the first time new species of flora and fauna, famous historical shipwrecks, and unexplored underwater caves. Thus, Cousteau’s films gave underwater filmmaking greater prestige and attention. Now the world relies on underwater videographers to share this uncharted environment with the rest of the world.
Not all of us can become Jacques Cousteau, but preparation and hard work can make you an exceptional underwater filmmaker. Here, we introduce some of the key elements you must consider before beginning your underwater adventures. From learning how to SCUBA to adjusting for light and color, this guide will wade through the basics of underwater filmmaking.
Learn to Dive
Becoming a certified SCUBA diver is perhaps the most obvious requirement for underwater filmmaking. Filmmakers often bypass the bulky SCUBA equipment when taking video of large animals such as whales, but you’ll need to learn the basics of SCUBA diving to take your skills to the next level. Understanding how to dive properly will allow you to get close to coral without damaging it or capture footage of wild marine life without endangering yourself. It will also help you learn to keep a camera steady while the animals perform their behaviors.
In addition to SCUBA training, we also recommend that you learn to free-dive. The disadvantage of traditional SCUBA is that you often scare large fish and marine mammals with bubbles. Free-diving allows you to swim freely with these creatures. But be safe; always practice free-diving with a buddy around.
If you don’t want to make bubbles but you need to stay down for extended periods, you can use closed circuit rebreathers, self-contained dive units that recycle the air we breathe so as not to release any bubbles. A rebreather adds oxygen to the system and filters out carbon dioxide. These systems generally allow a diver to stay underwater for a long time.
Know the Underwater Environment
When shooting video underwater, you want to make sure you don’t break or damage anything in proximity. This may sound obvious, but it can be a bit difficult maintaining your focus on your subject while making sure you are not sinking, floating up to the surface, or crashing into rare coral or dangerous rocks.
If you are diving in blue water without a fixed reference, it can be hard to know if you are heading up or down. This can induce vertigo and lead to a potentially dangerous situation. Before you start playing with the camera, be sure to practice good buoyancy skills so that you can stay at a constant depth.
To get close to wildlife underwater, you want to stay relaxed. Move slowly and controlled; don’t chase fish or other marine life, or you are likely to scare them off. Plus, your footage will look better if you pace yourself.
Avoid kicking up silt and dust from the bottom. It will get in front of the camera and make the water murky. There is nothing worse than thinking you have a great shot only to discover later that the cloud of dirt you just kicked up ruined the clarity of the image.
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