Like me, I’m sure that there are many of you out there who have a love for the sea and its creatures and would love to be able to bring images from the underwater world back to land to share with everyone. Who hasn’t dreamed of snorkeling with schools or colorful fish and corals in the warm clear waters of Hawaii or the Caribbean? Of course those who have taken the next step and have become certified scuba divers have already experienced the beauties and mysteries of life beneath the sea. 

After more than 15 years working in the television industry in Hollywood as a video editor, video graphics designer, and director I became enthralled with this mysterious world that I had only viewed from above. While taking a vacation in the Caribbean, I took a 2 day resort scuba diving course and I was totally hooked. This experience did not provide me with the necessary certification to be able to dive without instructor supervision, so immediately upon returning home I enrolled in a 4 week PADI scuba course. Almost a year to the day ( and 300 dives later ) that I was certified as an "Open Water Diver" ( basic beginner ) I became a certified PADI Scuba Instructor and left the world of Hollywood for good.

In spite of leaving my old life behind, my interest in video and the visual arts never diminished and almost from the beginning I wanted to find a way to incorporate my extensive video experience with my diving. As an experienced video professional and PADI Instructor, my options were limited

Option 1: I could shoot tourist videos on daily charter dive boats, trying to sell short videos of the guests diving and snorkeling for $50-$75 each ( less commission to the charter company ).....not exactly the most exciting thing for someone used to working on music videos!

Option 2: Try and get work as an underwater videographer competing with the likes of Al Giddings, Howard Hall, or Stan Waterman, professional filmmakers and legendary figures who have been diving and making underwater films and videos for years. It’s like anything else, it’s not always what or how much you know, but who you know....and there was no way I would get work when these guys were available. 

Option 3: Try and sell footage to stock footage houses or video libraries. Again not much chance for any significant work as it’s hard to compete with those who have been shooting video or film for years and can supply images shot on 35mm or 70mm film or betacam. 

Finally, after several years working as a dive instructor and diveguide in Hawaii and the Caribbean I finally realized where my niche was going to be. The same technological evolution that is allowing you to read this article became the tool and the inspiration for finding the outlet that I was searching for. This was the development of computer technology to its current state, allowing for very sophisticated desktop editing and graphics AND of course the INTERNET! Since I had the diving skills, the video skills, and the knowledge of the needed hardware and software, specializing in streaming dive and travel industry web videos (as well as traditional promotional videos) seemed like a natural for me.

In discussing this topic, I will assume that anyone who is interested in pursuing this either as a hobby or professionally is already or will soon become a fully certified scuba diver. Consult your local dive shop for information. It is also possible with available technology to bring a video camera in the water while snorkeling but this is beyond the scope of this article.

BASICS OF SHOOTING UNDERWATER VIDEO:
 

EQUIPMENT: 

1) Video camera
Usually a Hi-8 for those who are beginning or budget minded or a DV camera for those who wish quality that is very close to Betacam. I believe that the development of the mini DV format has revolutionized video production at all levels, even broadcast. I use Sony VX-1000 3 chip DV cameras and Sony has several newer, smaller 3 chip DV cameras on the market make shooting underwater even more convenient. The smaller the camera, the smaller the housing needed, making shooting, storing, and traveling that much easier. Most manufacturers are making housings to accommodate the newest and smallest single and 3 chip DV cameras. (I do not recommend VHS-c or 8mm cameras )

Just a few of the cameras that have available housings

2) Underwater Video Housing
This is where some people get confused. They don’t know how we are able to take our expensive video cameras underwater without some protection. We need to have some sort of water tight, pressure proof "container" that has some way of allowing control of the various functions of the video camera, (record, zoom, color balance, focus, etc.). There are a number of quality manufacturers of underwater housings that are available for the most commonly used consumer and prosumer cameras. (Housings are also custom made for Betacam, 35mm and 70mm cameras but are extremely expensive ). Some of the most well known brands are Light & Motion, Amphibico, Ikelite, Gates, and Sea & Sea.
 

The base price for your basic model starts at about $1000, over and above the cost of the camcorder. The thing that differentiates the various models are: the housing material, optics, and whether the controls are manual or electronic.

The 2 most common materials are Cast Aluminum ( Light & Motion, Amphibico, Gates ) and some sort of Polyurethane ( Ikelite, Quest, Sony ). The cast aluminum models are more durable, better balanced for buoyancy factors underwater, have a greater depth rating and are slightly more expensive.

A "manual" housing has sealed controls that penetrate the housing body positioned over various buttons that control the camera functions. To start recording, for example, you "push" the record "lever" so it manually touches and activates camera recording. Manually controlled housings are slightly less expensive and their designers believe that since there are no electronic components to be exposed to moisture are inherently more reliable.

An "electronic" housing has a circuit board that plugs into the camera remote input and depending on the housing model and camera features, can control most all camera functions by simply pressing the correct button.  Electronic housings, I feel, are easier to use, especially in those instances where something happens quickly underwater and the split second lost in positioning the manual control can mean the loss of a great short.

I have owned and used both types of housings and have never had a problem with either and after a number of years of underwater shooting I find that I much prefer the flexibility and ease of use of electronic controls. One interesting "problem" using a manual housing is the effect of pressure on the controls. As we dive deeper the volume of water around us creates an increase in pressure. At about 30 feet the pressure exerted is twice as much as at sea level. This pressure increase, even at 10-15 feet, will actually "push in" the manual controls and if they are positioned directly over a function button, the pressure on the control will actually activate that feature of the camera. It is therefore necessary to position the manual control slightly off center and then turn the knob to position the lever only when ready to activate the camera. This is a small inconvenience, but is another argument for electronic controls.

HINT:
Not all cameras have housings available. Since each camera has different control locations and size characteristics a housing must be designed for a specific camera. Check with the housing manufacturers to see which camera models they support.

3) Lights:
Many budget minded underwater videographers choose not to invest in a light package, which is reasonable considering the expense. However, if you want the best quality video possible with your camera / housing combination, a good lighting package is a must. Water absorbs light AND more importantly COLOR. The low light sensitivity of our newest cameras is exceptional, but by the time we reach 30 feet most of the color spectrum that we ( and the camera see ) is gone. 
 

Red being the first color to be absorbed, followed by orange and yellow. At depth, objects that are red appear black, those that are orange or yellow appear black or gray. Obviously a good lighting package will compensate for this color loss and allow the beauty of underwater creatures to be fully recorded.
 

Another reason for adding a lighting package is for diving at night. Night diving provides opportunities to observe creates and behaviors that are not available during the day and it is virtually impossible to shoot at night without lights. Some of my most memorable footage was shot at night and the video included in this article called Hunting was shot on a night dive in Fiji. I found a morey eel that I had seen during the day just emerging from its lair as I entered the water. I followed the eel for over 20 minutes as it was hunting for damsel fish for its dinner.
 


    RealVideo:"Hunting" 28k|56k|T1

Even with lights, we are still limited. The maximum distance that underwater light packages illuminate is only about 10 feet so the good videographer will utilize both the lighted and unlighted area ( foreground and background to their best advantage ).

4) Filters and Lenses:
Every housing should offer some type of underwater red filter to add back some of the red that is lost as it penetrates the water. Some manufacturers such as Light & Motion have an internal red filter built into the housing and it can be flipped in and out as necessary. Others have an external filter 
( sometimes at extra charge ) that fits over the outer lens and can be removed or replaced while in the water.
I like the internal filter idea for its convenience.

The upper end housings usually have ground glass, optical lens ports which require no additional internal lens. Other companies will have a non-optical lens port, some glass, some plastic, and then add an internal wide angle lens adapter to the camera itself. Remember, objects underwater are magnified 25%, which requires a wider degree of optical coverage to obtain a normal view. I prefer a housing with an optical lens port which provides better optics.

5) What do I use:
Here is my current underwater video equipment list:

* 2 Sony VX-1000 cameras (one that always stays in the housing / one that is used for top side)

* Light & Motion Stingray Housing with Sunray Lighting Package w/Nickle Metal Hydride battery packs

* I also use a Light & Motion "UW Flashlight" which I velcro and strap to the housing as a pointer light and night diving light. I only turn on my video lights when I am about to make a shot. I feel that Light & Motion makes the best housing and lighting packages available today. There newest housings and lights for the smallest Sony cameras are incredible.

TIPS & TRICKS FOR SHOOTING UNDERWATER

  • 1) Carefully prepare your equipment BEFORE you get in the water. Make sure you have newly charged camera and light batteries installed FOR EACH DIVE. Make sure that everything is closed TIGHT and secure to prevent water leakage.
  • 2) Always use your red filter 15 feet or deeper if you are not using lights. If you have lights use them. Even if you are more than 10-15 away from your subject the lights can produce highlights of the reflective surface of many fish such as jacks and barracuda which school in open water.
  • 3) Never use auto focus. The refraction of light or particles in the water will fool the auto focus and it will constantly adjust itself causing unwanted effects. Use either manual focus if available or temporary auto focus, a feature that is found on the VX-1000 and other current cameras.
  • 4) Do not use image stabilization as is uses battery power and is not necessary underwater.
  • 5) Because of the properties of water and lens optics it is only possible to use the camera zoom to about of its maximum and still stay in focus.
  • 6) Do not use digital zoom as degrades the image.
  • 7) If you have a color viewfinder, experiment with color balance settings while underwater. Sometimes a nighttime setting works great for certain conditions.
  • 8) Think like a director. Shoot a subject from several different angles, wide, medium, close to give you a way to edit a sequence. Shoot cut aways and top side b-roll and get some sound bites to give your production that personal touch.
  • Don't forget to shoot B-roll ( see shots below )
    Walindi Plantation Papua New Guinea

These are my 3 main personal rules for making videos:

Rule 1: "Never fall in love with any piece of video if it doesn’t make the final project better"; 

Rule 2: "Shorter is better"; If they want to see more then you have a successful piece.

Rule 3: "Make it entertaining"; good music, sound effects and a little sense of humor go a very long way.

MAKING YOUR VIDEOS FOR THE WEB

With the increasing access to high speed Internet connections via cable modem and DSL the necessity to make certain compromises when making streaming video will, in the future, be unnecessary. However, for our discussion we will assume the fastest available connection is 56k since dialup modems is what most users are currently using. I will also assume that we are using some sort of analog or dv camera; video capture card and non-linear editor software; and capturing clips at full size ( either 640x480 analog / 720x480 / dv).

Editing Hardware and Software:

There are number of video capture card and software solutions available for both PC and Mac. Non-real time video capture cards are available in the $200-$600 range such as the Pinnacle DC-10, Truevision Bravado, or the Canopus DV Raptor; the $1000-$2500 range such as the Pinnacle DC50, DVMaster or, my personal choice, the Canopus DVRex. Real time solutions start at about $5000. If you are making videos exclusively for the web, then one of the lower price solutions should work fine. If you want to be able to have excellent output quality for videotape seriously consider going to the next level.

For editing I use the Canopus RexEdit software for simple projects and either Ulead Media Studio Pro 5.2 or Adobe Premiere 5.1 for more complicated projects. The Canopus Rex is a great choice for DV users as well as analog users as it accepts both types of inputs and I believe is the best non-real time board in its price range.

This board has proved to be unusually stable, with a very fast rendering engine; real time play from the timeline and great customer support. There are less expensive boards on the market, all great products, but my belief is that the best quality in gives the best quality out, even when encoding for the small frame and file sizes of streaming video. With editing software like Premiere and MSP the amount of complexity of your final project is only limited by your imagination.

Streaming Solutions:

As for streaming video software, there are a lot of choices out there: RealVideo, Vivo Active, Microsoft Netshow, and Quicktime are the most well known. I currently use both RealVideo Producer and Vivo Producer to encode for the web, but I feel that RealVideo G2 is currently the best available solution. In addition it appears to have the most recognition among users and its player is the most commonly used. Vivo does not require that you scale your avi or mov file to the final output size before you encode, as does RealVideo. But I find these issues to be very minor and if you output your final movie in your editing software at 240x180 for example, RealVideo encodes the file extremely fast. Quicktime is also a popular solution, especially for Mac users.


Click here to see Rod & Dolphin 56k

Using any of the streaming video encoders is easy and straight forward. Once a movie has been created in your favorite editing software all that is necessary is to open the encoder, select the file that you wish to convert ( usually an avi or mov file) via the normal "open file" dialogue, give it a file name and disk destination, select the encoding parameters and select start. Once the file has been encoded simply open it in its player. If the quality is not what you like you can change the parameters, but always remember the bandwidth limitations of your audience. Once encoded you will need to embed it in an HTML page for web publication. All of the encoders that I have used will have site activation information on their respective websites. What I like about RealVideo is it has a publishing function that allows you to imbed the player automatically in an a generic web page which then can be customized.
 


RealVideo
56k

 RealVideo DolphinDance Video
28k|56k|T1

Both Premiere 5 and Media Studio Pro allow you to create some of the streaming formats directly in their software. Premiere will encode to quicktime, Real 5.0, and Netshow formats, and MSP 5.2 will encode to Vivo and VDO formats. If you use another edit software package check its output format options or look on the software’s CD. Sometimes the encoders are not automatically installed and you may not know that they are available. Also check the version that is included. Premiere, for example, includes Real 5.0 Producer, but the latest version is Real G2 Producer which is their latest technology.

Rather than encode directly from Premiere or MSP as a Real Video file, I always make an avi movie first. Since I use the Canopus DVRex and capture directly via firewire, my original frame size is 720x480. Now I have a movie that I can output directly to tape if I’m doing a promotional video or commercial. If the client wants a section of their promo video for their website I will then convert the avi file from 720x480 to the output size, usually 240x180, that I will use on the web, and THEN encode it in Real Producer.
 


"Kona Mantas" RealVideo
28k|56k|T1

This may seem like an extra step but it saves time in the long run and I like to have a full frame version of my movies to show clients and be able to archive back to DV tape. I also prefer using the latest encoder version rather than the version that is included with my edit software. Also, Real Producer will not convert a large frame size to a smaller frame size, whereas Vivo will. But it takes much longer for the Vivo encoder to convert from 640x480 down to 240x180, rather having the file already scaled. It is always faster and better to render in your edit software with the same attributes as it was captured. This way the computer does not have to go through additional calculations to reduce the frame size during rendering. 

Whether you choose to make your clip’s frame size "encoder ready" directly in your edit software or as a secondary step like I do, getting the frame reduced from the it’s original size to web size will require additional rendering time somewhere along the line.

Considering our current bandwidth limitations, the type of images that we use in clips designed for output to video may not look as smooth when encoded for the web. Excess camera movement, zooming, panning, wipe transitions, and activity in front of the camera all require more data for processing than images that are less complex. Compare these 2 whale videos. Video #1 was part of a promotional video. Video #2 was modified to for web streaming. You can see that the first part of Video #1 is not very smooth due to the movement of the camera and more complex image information. In Video #2, I replaced all of the above water video which underwater whale footage. Since this footage is primarily blue with very slow movement the encoder is able to convert the original file in such a way so the video appears to play very smooth. So using the right combination of images can make for a nice streaming video.
 


Click here to see Whale Video 1 (56k


or Whale Video 2 (56k)

PAY ATTENTION TO SOUND

Finally, when encoding a clip for the web I always encode for the best possible audio. I know that if I watch a web video with poor audio I can lose interest very quickly. If the audio and music quality is good it can often make up for the poor quality video. Lots of information, mood, and general interest can be created by making the best quality sound track in the initial edit and then trying to keep then selecting the higher quality audio encoding rates when making the web version.

Check out the various websites for streaming video, find samples of what others are doing, and give web video a try. Check out my website at www.rhkuw.com or email me at [email protected] for further information.

Rodger Klein
www.rhkuw.com