me, Im 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 hasnt 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.
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:
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!
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. Its like anything
else, its 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.
Try and sell footage to stock footage houses or video libraries.
Again not much chance for any significant work as its
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
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.
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.
OF SHOOTING UNDERWATER VIDEO:
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 )
a few of the cameras that have available housings
Underwater Video Housing
This is where some people get confused. They dont 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 &
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ).
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.
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)
& 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
- 5) Because of
the properties of water and lens optics it is only possible
to use the camera zoom to about ¾ 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 )
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 doesnt make
the final project better";
"Shorter is better"; If they want to see more then
you have a successful piece.
"Make it entertaining"; good music, sound effects
and a little sense of humor go a very long way.
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
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.
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
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.
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 softwares
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
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 Im 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.
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 clips frame size "encoder ready"
directly in your edit software or as a secondary step like I
do, getting the frame reduced from the its original size
to web size will require additional rendering time somewhere
along the line.
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
Click here to see Whale Video 1 (56k)
or Whale Video 2 (56k)
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.