Ever since Jacques Cousteau released Silent World in 1956, the first underwater movie in color, the public got a insight of a world that was unknown to them before. It showed them stunning underwater topography and marine life in their natural territory.
As recreational scuba diving swept the world the last 60 years, and underwater filming equipment became more readily available to the public, normal recreational divers got the oppurtunity to try and film their own “Silent World”. People doing a Interneship at a dive school, would try and learn to film underwater to film the courses the school was running. I myself starting filming underwater this way.
The advantages of learning to film this way is the experience, the repetition of filming underwater for 10-15 hours a week will make you a very good diver in general, but being a underwater videographer brings you a lot of challenges and requires you to take in a few considerations that I had to learn on my own.
The day has come, it might be your first day out filming with your new gear, first day at the job or the first day of your course. Either way preparation is key. I have seen many very expensive camera’s come up soaking wet or divers having to cancel due to forgetting something. Before the dive, pack your gear – preferably use a checklist and make sure everything is in working order. If you have not been diving for a while, take the housing apart and grease the O-rings that are allowed to be greased, and floodtest the housing afterwards in a rinse tank.
During this it can be easy to forget some of your dive equipment, so make sure you have that at your hand too, especially if doing technical diving, camera preparation needs to be sorted before the day of diving. Nothing like that can ever interrupt you while you analyze your gasses and so forth, all these things need to be kept completely separate.
Once you are in your water and have done your surface checks, go over your equipment – have the latches that hold the housing together gone slightly loose, you will see with the different latches that they have a security lock, however it is easy to press that security lock in and therefore making it easy to open the whole latch, make sure these are safe before you descend.
Do a operational check of your camera – take the cover off the lens and attach to the bottom of the housing, turn the camera on and make sure all the buttons and functions are operational, along with battery and memory/tape being fresh. It is crucial to have some kind of a attachment system on your housing so you can let go of it in case of emergency or during gas switches, constantly having to hold it throughout the whole dive will make you vulnerable to problems, we all know we would not throw our camera’s away and treat the problem instantly, you would first try with one hand!
most videographer’s that start filming on recreational gear are using equipment that is designed for no decompression diving with a buddy in a environment you are familiar with.
Unfortunately, as divers gain more experience and confidence, these guidelines and rules start to depreciate. UW Videographers always dive solo, the ones the say they don’t are lying. The general focus and task loading while you are filming results in it being impossible for the videographer to be a proper buddy as well.
Resort Videographers normally dive with a group of students and a Divemaster/Instructor, filming their development and enjoyment underwater as they finish their dive course, but during the dive videographers go away from the group and film the marine life. The videographer never has an official buddy, the students have theirs, and the Instructor is conducting the course. There has been more times than I can count where I surfaced by myself and went on the boat just finishing earlier or later than the group, I was never connected to them. UW videographers then also rarely carry spare air, which would with its minimal capacity would not be able to get you to the surface safely in most cases.
Doing a course like the Solo Diver and Sidemount Diver course will offer you the peace of mind when filming underwater. Now you can learn how to do effiecent and safe dive planning, carrying redundant gas supply, risk management and having self reliant equipment. Another advantage of being a Sidemount diver is that filming becomes easier, maintaining buoyancy and doing film techniques with the freedom of sidemount develops you further as an underwater videographer.
The videographer often only sees through the viewfinder, this can potentially lead to problems such as bouyancy control, ascending or descending while filming. This is dangerous in any environment, and something videographers need to keep in mind, especially as they go deeper and film with different mixes
Divers need to have a bottom timer attached to their video equipment, constantly showing them depth and runtime with secondary slate. The rule is to listen to your ears, if you feel pressure relieving or increasing something is definently wrong.
Being safe when something unexpected comes up
In your filming endevours you fill see amazing things every day to film, but sometimes some dives are just out of the ordinary, and that is where you need to be most careful. Many videographers have gotten DCS by doing shark tooth profiles – chasing a whaleshark up and down. Just think when this happens, go and grab a good shot, but have your safety in mind while you do. It is not that ONE shot, more will come, and if you start doing this, complacency and turning a blind eye to the consequences will catch up on you one day.
Checking your air
Something videographers have a terrible reputation of, having the task overload and focusing too much on the filming leaves little time to check the air, and many tend to take it by hunch. If you are filming on a recreational tank even with a Spare Air like they are called, think about these options.
Spare Air 300, the most common model around for recreational underwater filmmakers has 85L capacity, so if you found yourself running out of air at 40m with a average SAC rate of 20l for an emergency ascent you would require over 200l of air just for a emergency ascent, not including safety stop. Even from 20m you still would be using more than 100l without a safety stop, it is simply too small of a system to be redundant.
Filming always brings new challenges, whether it is deeper, longer or in tougher conditions. Remember to stay within your limit, and if you are introduced to an new enviroment with equipment you are not used to, do training dives, get used to the enviroment. The chance of you doing good shots in a area you dont know with equipment you are not used to is minimal anyway.
Following the PLAN
Even if you are filming on a recreational level, dive plans on slates and backup plans in wetnotes should be mandatory. Exceeding dive plans by depth, time or simply NDL or recreational levels leaves you in a situation where you can only trust your computer if you dont have a plan. A simple bottom timer: depth and timing device and a slate with a plan written on yellow tape along with backup plans in your wetnotes will give you a huge peace of mind. In the end of the day something might go wrong one day, and when it does having a backup plan with exact diveplan and emergency procedures to follow might one day save your life.
Filming on deco
Something I do not recommend, my experience with it is that no matter what you will either omit decompression one day, exceed the maximum operating depth on the deco gas your breathing or not stay on your level while doing decompression. These dangers simply dont justify filming that one shot that connects the storyboard or, that whaleshark.
Swimming while filming in a state where you are supposed to be resting your body under maximum partial pressure 1.6 is not an option either, so when deco starts – filming ends.
Keep breathing oxygen once you surface
Upon surfacing after a every technichal dive, give your body some time to relax. You have 5 minutes to unclip your camera rig, pass deco bottles to surface support etc, might as well do it while you breathe the rest of the oxygen. A UW Cameraman’s dive is usually more active since he is trying to capture every aspect of the dive, so let the body catch up on the surface.
By Aron Daniel Arngrimsson
TecRec/TDI Instructor and underwater filmmaker
Team Blue Immersion
Underwater Videographer Internship student Nick Lodge filming at Blue Hole and Canyons, Dahab.