SHOOTING UNDERWATER


September 2021


Since the documentaries filmed by Jacques Cousteau in the middle of the 20th century, underwater life has fascinated generations of kids, some vowing to become explorers themselves. Filming underwater was 50 years ago only reserved to a very few. The advance in technology combined with the affordability of underwater cameras have made the ambition of most kids a reality. But filming underwater requires a completely different approach than conventional filmmaking on earth. It would be a mistake to believe that an air tank on your back is enough to launch your project. Becoming a certified scuba diver with proper training is essential. It seems very logical, but many think it is not necessary. Safety, whether your own or your team is the most important factor to consider when planning to film underwater. Getting Scuba certified will cost an average of $500. Even with any Scuba certification, being humble, respecting the environment, being aware of your surroundings and not taking anything for granted will be the key to success. Then there is the need of prepping very specific gear to shoot underwater. If you are filming a personal video to keep a vacation souvenir, you may use a special case to protect your GoPro-like camera but if you have a more sophisticated project and want to access various features underwater while filming, you need sophisticated underwater cameras.

cameras provide high-definition images with fast autofocus and impressive zoom capability among many other features. They often allow the mounting of a specific lighting system making shooting easier. Of course, professionals in need of an underwater sequence are likely to call up the services of professionals with an entire team of technicians holding extra lighting and with cameras shooting different angles.


Never dive alone! Even if certified, diving with a buddy or more is crucial especially when your attention is focused on the subject you are filming. At a certain depth, work with a team who has experience working underwater. Time underwater is not measured the same way as on earth, so beyond air tank capacity, many things can happen underwater which can change your original schedule, so be very mindful of timing and do not set unrealistic objectives. Depending on what you are filming, holding the camera still is key to quality sequences. If filming an octopus in its hole, you may want to use a tripod to keep your camera still. If following an exotic and colorful fish, you will need to move underwater with no sudden nor shaky movements.

Camera memory cards are inexpensive, so do not hesitate to shoot repeatedly until you are satisfied with the outcome. There will be much editing afterward, but time spent in postproduction is easier than underwater, should you need to go back.

Test your "white balance" function. Adjusting the white balance manually can help, especially when shooting in ambient light. You can always correct in post-production, but the result is much better if you balance from the camera. The lighting can make or break your work underwater. Different lights for different depth. With wide angle in shallow water, ambient light with a red filter should be enough. At deeper depth, the intensity of the lighting needs to be tested for optimal results. Even the most seasoned filmmakers/divers are running their shooting following a well-defined plan. Spend time preparing and planning out of the water for optimal results in the water.