Back in the day when I made television commercials, my first movie was quite an undertaking. It was 1980. I used a huge Panavision 70 camera, involved a lot of people with specialist skills, it cost £250,000 and lasted only thirty seconds, yet a lot of people bought a certain brand of tea because of it. A decade later, video cameras made things more economic. I shot the first commercially available instructional video for scuba diving. It only cost £10,000 to post-produce. Things have moved on apace since then and costs have plummeted. Now everyone can afford to shoot video. Some of you will only use your cameras for video clips, the moving equivalent of a snapshot. Indeed, often these clips get no further than being viewed on the LCD of the camera, never to be seen again. Others want to produce something more ambitious, in the form of a viewable programme. Whether you shoot on a Red Epic camera, digital DSLR, a compact or a little POV mini action camera like a GoPro Hero 4, air-side or underwater, the rules of move-making are the same. Still pictures can stand-alone whereas movies rely on the shot shown before and the one after. It’s a sequence that forms an event that might not have actually happened but it’s got to be believable to work. So gather your shots to tell a story. Look for an opening shot that will grab your viewer’s attention, something dramatic and something that can be used to bring your sequence to an end. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Think of each short shot as a brick that will go with others to form the architecture of your final result. Bear in mind that your viewers may not be as engaged with your subject matter as you are and consider twenty minutes as the longest time they’ll watch your completed production before they make their excuses and leave. Continuity is crucial. Underwater, we have to think in terms of continuity of lighting, mainly dictated by the time of day and if we feature divers in a sequence shot over more than one dive, they need to be wearing the same kit in exactly the same way. Inserting a shot from night into a broad daylight sequence will never look right. Gather the shots that will become useful when it comes to constructing your movie. Shoot a wide establishing shot, a middle-distance action shot and close-up of each subject. You’ll be amazed how useful the material so gained with be when it comes to assembling a production. The subject moves and the camera remains still. Often more easily said than done underwater, but professional film-makers go to extraordinary lengths to keep their cameras steady while the action goes on in front of it. Ironically, the latest generation of little action cameras are harder to keep steady whilst recording. Following an animal as it moves is seductive when you are actually there but don’t do it for too long. It gets boring to watch. Let the animal move into frame, follow it for a bit and then let it clear the frame. These will give you the moments to cut from a previous shot and cut to the next one. A cardinal rule on land it to imagine there is a line down the middle of the path your moving subject takes. Never cross that line with your camera or it will look as if your subject has changed direction and gone back the other way. Less crucial with underwater subjects, ‘crossing the line’ often gives the impression that there is more than one subject, and that can make the action busy. “Not another video of blue fish!” I can still hear the groans of my friends from my early days of underwater video-making now. Light underwater is filtered so that only the shorter blue wavelengths penetrate much more than a few metres from the surface so if you are shooting elsewhere than the shallows, when a colour-correction filter over the lens will work, you’ll need some independent lighting to give you a full spectrum of colour. Increasing the camera frame rate from the viewed 25 frames per second to, say, double the speed, gives a slow motion effect. This smoothes down the action and is especially useful with fast moving underwater subjects and avoids that juddery effect often encountered when panning the camera at a normal frame rate. Slow-motion is almost standard procedure with professional underwater wildlife films. A cut-away is a shot that allows the editor to cut away from the main action for a moment and comes in very useful when constructing awkward sequences. The effect is to imply that these animals so recorded are bystanders to the main action. Luckily, you can use almost any underwater subject as a cut-away but it’s important that the camera is steady if these shots are to be inserted in a moving camera sequence. Once you get to edit your material, be ruthless. The cutting room floor is as important as the retained material. Choose the essence of the action. Keep it brief. Keep your audience wanting more not less. When you’ve got a lot of footage, the cameraman can be too emotionally attached and that is why Hollywood movies are traditionally edited by people who were not present at the shooting stage. On the other hand, you might be just as happy collecting video clips that are the moving equivalent of snapshots. The choice is yours.
Ocean Leisure Diving and Photography Blog
It’s always nice to get something new. My favourite old mask had seen better days. Its silicone skirt had yellowed and stiffened with time and probably too much exposure to tropical sunlight so I got hold of a new one. The staff at Ocean Leisure avoid recommending any particular mask from the huge range they carry because a mask is such a personal item. Instead, they encourage you to come in to the store and try them all so that you go away with one that sucks on to your face nicely and thereby does not leak. I’m very lucky in that I seem to have a face that gets along with almost any mask despite my ill-groomed facial hair and the latest TUSA mask was said to have a super-flexible silicone skirt so fit was never a worry. They say that there are two types of people past middle-aged: Those who wear glasses and those who never read books. What was a worry was the fact that in common with many people over the age of forty-five (I’m well over that) my eyesight is no longer as good as it was. Similarly, many people suffer short-sightedness from birth and wearing a mask in conjunction with contact lenses can inhibit the freedom to take it off underwater. I still remember the time it took me to feel carefully along the bottom of a swimming pool in a desperate search after one of my trainees lost a contact lens during a mask removal exercise. Naturally, I found it. A good instructor as ever, I wasn’t ever going to let anything spoil my trainee’s day. When it comes to choosing a mask, if you are so afflicted by imperfect vision, you’ll want a mask that will take prescription lenses and that reduces the choice available. However, it’s a much better option than battling with contact lenses underwater. Now, I might add that you may not need lenses that completely match your prescription since even the clearest seawater is quite poor optically but an approximation with do and go a long way to getting you the maximum enjoyment from getting your head underwater. If you want to be good at something, you’ve got to practise. I took home my shiny new mask and a set of lenses with the intention of installing them. I’ve worked in the diving industry for a generation and yet I found difficulty in taking the mask apart. Even a phone call to the distributor who sent me a special tool for the job left me pondering how to get the old glasses safely out. It’s simply that every mask seems to be different and I’d only done this about once every five years. If I had been clever, I should have let one of the helpful staff at Ocean Leisure do it for me. They do it virtually every day. Well, I managed to successfully install the new lenses at the end. I then merely had to get rid of the inevitable and invisible silicone deposit that gets on to the inner side of the mask glass during manufacture. The safest way too do that it to rub a bead of old-fashioned white toothpaste around the surface to gently abrade the silicone deposit off. Otherwise, it gives an edge for tiny droplets of moisture to cling to, precipitated out of the damp air inside the mask while you are using it with the dreaded fogging effect. After that, each time before you go under water, simply spit on the inner side of the mask glass and rub the saliva around before giving it a rinse in seawater. If you don’t fancy doing that, there are proprietary products available that do the same job. When it comes to choosing a skirt, the choice is usually between clear silicone or opaque silicone. Some divers swear that a mask with a black skirt gives them better vision. I suggest that a transparent skirt gives you a better feeling for what’s around you. Just like driving a car and looking through the windshield, the side windows of the car don’t destroy your forward vision but certainly make the car less claustrophobic. That said, some like to look like Zorro or Batman with a black-skirted mask and who am I to argue with that? It’s a question of personal preference. My best advice is to get one that fits you well with lenses that suit your eyesight. Almost without exception, the people at Ocean Leisure can either fit factory-supplied lenses or lenses with specific prescription to any mask you choose from the wide range available in-store.
I used to be technical editor of Diver Magazine, but after twenty-one years as an active diving journalist, travelling all round the world and experiencing a wide range of conditions I decided to retire. I’d been going on dive trips every month and sometimes more often than that. I calculated I had made more than two hundred and fifty of these expeditions and that’s a lot of dives! After doing multiple plane journeys for dive trips to many different distant exotic sounding places, I was starting to feel jaded. Yes, you can have too much of a good thing – eventually! However the inactive life of retirement didn’t sit well with me and a year later I decided I still wanted to make use of the huge amount of knowledge I’d accrued about all manner of diving locations, technique and underwater photography and found an outlet for this at Ocean Leisure, probably the most comprehensively stocked dive store in London. Within the first week I was meeting some customers, old friends, that I had last shared a cabin with in places as far away and as far apart as Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica’s Cocos Island, as well as making a great many new friends too. What really impresses me about the people who work at Ocean Leisure and Ocean Leisure Cameras (a store within the store) is the vast amount of product knowledge that they have at their disposal. They are almost without exception young; many are multi-lingual and, of course very enthusiastic about their subject. In fact at first I felt a little bit out of my depth and that’s the first time in a very long time indeed. If you want to talk about diving, I’m your man, but I’m still learning about the incredibly comprehensive stock held at Ocean Leisure. This is especially true in the camera department because the advances in digital camera technology during the last couple of years are unprecedented. For example, that annoying lull between pressing the shutter release and recording a picture, experienced with older compacts, has more or less disappeared. Then there’s the ever-onward marching technology of GoPro. These tiny little cameras are suitable to taking places where you would never have dreamed of taking a camera before and they simply marched off the shelves as the must-have Christmas present for 2014. Ocean Leisure Cameras stocks a massive range of accessories that will allow you to combine a GoPro with your favourite all-action activity. When you visit, I’m easy to spot. I’m the older person. Please bear with me if I need to ask one of the young blades where to find something that you are particularly interested in. It’s an Aladdin’s cave of diving and underwater photography equipment!