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Top Tips for Underwater Filming

Exclusive to Debonair, Patrick Dykstra of Blue Planet II explains how to take the best footage you can when you go diving

When there’s a possibility of sharks, I always take a look around and make sure I’m not going to be the slowest swimmer.

Exploring the depths and shallows of the world’s waters is one of the best ways of getting close enough to nature and animals in their natural habitats. Diving can bring you close enough to understand that the precious and profuse life that is still supported by our little blue rock’s oceans needs to be looked after for millennia to come.

With scuba diving and snorkelling becoming ever more popular weekend and holiday pursuits, here are five sure-fire ways of capturing the best possible footage on your camera, whether it’s a GoPro or a more technical hand-held.

#1. Hold the shot much longer than you think

It's common for people to get really excited when they see something cool and whip the camera around. The shots always come out better when you relax, frame it up, and hold the shot longer than you think you will need. 

Maybe even try counting to five after you think the activity or behaviour you’re capturing has finished. It’s always better to have more to cut than less and miss out.  

When there’s a possibility of sharks, I always take a look around and make sure I’m not going to be the slowest swimmer.

#2. Film off-speed for stability

Because it’s almost never practical to have a tripod when filming underwater, filming at a setting that allows you to use slow motion (off-speed) is important for making your footage appear more stable when played back. Amateur footage often looks really shaky and erratic when it’s played back at normal speed. Slowing it down gives it an air of professionalism even if it’s not!

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Thomas Royall

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Bennett Winch

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#3. Film at a shutter speed that is double your frame rate

This holds true in nearly every aspect of filmmaking.  Unless you have a certain effect in mind, the rule of thumb is to always film at a frame rate that it double your shutter speed.  For those who are bad at maths, if your frame rate is 60, your shutter speed should be 120! 

#4. Allow your subjects to leave the frame for cut points

If you keep your subject in the centre of the frame the entire time, it is hard to then later make a video that has multiple clips in it because you have no obvious places to switch from one clip to the next.  Allow that fish, turtle or shark to swim out of shot; that way you can cut to the next shot when you make and edit your video. 

#5. Film for the story you are telling, not just what looks pretty 

It’s tempting to always go for the prettiest angles and moments.  However, it’s important to think about what you will do with the footage later.  A bunch of pretty shots can't always tell a story. It’s always a good idea to have some sort of narrative in mind, so do your research so you know what sort of behaviours to expect from your subjects. That way you’ll have a better idea of the story you’re trying to tell and have an idea of how you want to put it together.

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