The earliest commercially available underwater videography system appeared in the late eighties in the form of Sony’s Capsule 8. Recording on 8mm video cassette tape and housed in its yellow housing, the Capsule 8 became many divers choice, as they first forayed into underwater videography. With the more compact video cameras emerging onto the market, it wasn’t long before independent manufacturers started producing underwater housings made from either polycarbonate or aluminum for the more popular models, some also offered the option to build custom housings for those less popular. If this is starting to sound pretty expensive to you, it was!
Fast forwarding to today, video cameras and housings are still very expensive, especially if you’re seeking anything near broadcast quality (you were expecting it to be cheaper?). However there is one little unit that I’ve been seeing more and more often, appearing on my dive boat in the hands, on the heads or on the chests of divers. You’ve probably already guessed that it’s the very affordable and popular, GoPro camera! This lightweight, versatile camera, which is capable of shooting video in HD, has revolutionized videography for many extreme sports by providing unusual perspectives which were either previously impossible or too expensive to produce. This, assisted by its affordability and the popularity of YouTube, has made it into a ‘must have’ item for just about everyone on planet earth. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it’s a lot of people, lots.
Dense aggregations of fish that are usually solitary are an indication of courting or spawning behaviour, other changes in behaviour are also indicators such as when brown chromis (which school mid water) are found densely packed amongst the corals or the obvious spawning activity of yellow wrasse which suddenly dart collectively upwards on some indiscernible cue, to release a cloud of eggs about a metre above the reef before immediately returning to the shelter of the coral.
The pros: The camera comes ready for use underwater and is easy to prep and maintain. Very user friendly and compact, you can carry it without any bother on every dive. It’s compact design and wide angle view, makes it possible to get into crevices for unusual perspectives, video oneself and get up close to smaller creatures without unduly scaring them. It records on a standard SD card. You can shoot both photos and video with it. It’s affordable.
The cons: The compact design lends itself to shake. Absence of a LCD screen means that you’ll be shooting blind. The camera has a fixed aperture, resulting in still images being blurred due to hand movement when shooting in low lighting, though video footage fares better.
Tips for better imagery: Shooting good underwater video begins with good diving techniques, practice your buoyancy control. It may seem obvious but ensure that the SD card has space, the battery is charged and that the seal is clean of sand etc. Close the housing of the camera in front of an air conditioning vent and keep it in the shade between dives, this will prevent condensation on the camera lens. Forget using wrist/head/chest mounting systems as they are worthless underwater, mount the camera unto a short pole using a roll bar mount or use GoPro’s extendable pole, this will allow you to better ‘aim’ the camera, get more interesting perspectives and get the camera closer without spooking your subjects.
If you really need to see what you’re shooting then an optional LCD back is available, but be warned that battery life will be shortened. Ensure that the camera is recording when you’re shooting and power the unit off when idle, so as to conserve battery power. Try to avoid sharp or jerky movements which will get your viewers sea sick. You’ll need to get rid of the ‘blues’ so if you’ve got spare cash laying around then you can consider investing into a compact lighting system (now we’re getting into additional expense again as well as adding bulk), or like myself, invest in a set of correction filters, red for blue water and magenta for green. Get close, water isn’t as clear as air so you need to get that camera within three feet of your subject matter for better contrast and sharper images (the wide angle helps here with larger subjects), the smaller the subject the closer the camera needs to be (wide angle is working against you here, get closer so the subject better fills the screen).
Work on your personal diving skills, be critical of your footage continuing to seek ways to improve shooting technique, experiment with different perspectives and shoot lots of footage.
Getting into underwater video has never been simpler, and you’ll find it a rewarding experience that adds another dimension to your underwater adventures.