5 Tips for Shooting Underwater Video

1: Hold Still
Avoid shaky movements. Sounds easy, right? After all, your camera is surrounded by water and should be nice and stable. While it’s true that most underwater footage isn’t prone to the kind of rapid shake that handheld cameras usually produce topside, any amount of wobble can be extremely distracting to your viewers. Hold the housing as close to your body as possible to help stabilize it, or use a tripod (see tip #3!).

Make sure you keep the camera steady on your subject for long enough to get a good, usable shot. Count to 10 in your head once you’ve got the subject in frame and don’t re-adjust where you’re pointing the camera or change the zoom during that time. A 60-second shot full of slight moves, shakes, or zooming isn’t really a 60-second usable shot, and it’s surprisingly easy to sabotage yourself by thinking you’ve been “on” something long enough when you never have more than a few steady seconds at once!

2: Move Around a Little
Videos are more interesting if they contain a variety of shots. So along with all your nice, steady, still clips, you probably want to have a few taken while moving.

Practice panning the camera by twisting at the waist to aim the camera all the way to one side, hitting record, and then slowly unraveling yourself back to the other side (don’t try to turn your whole body using your fins as this will introduce more shaking).

Each kick of your fins makes the camera wobble for a moment, so try panning over or past your subject by frog-kicking. If you get a strong enough start, you can film a nice long, stable shot while coasting after each kick.

3: Use a Tripod
It’s almost impossible to hold the camera completely steady – especially in the frequently-surgey waters here in Southern California. You can get rid of that last trace of shakiness by using an underwater tripod. Several manufactures make mounts for different housing, and tripod legs to suit your diving style and price range.

Using a tripod will kick your macro footage up to the next level. It’s also surprisingly useful when shooting wide angle. Extend one of the legs out to one side and use it as a handle to give your housing a wider, more stable platform. Or, extend a leg toward your own body to use as a monopod that braces against your chest.

You can also leave your tripod set up on your subject and swim away – fish are much friendlier to cameras that don’t have divers behind them.

Shot with a tripod while after we swam away (click to watch):

4: Follow the Action
When shooting a moving subject, keep it in frame and with plenty of “headroom” – just like shooting stills, you want to make it look like your subject still has room to move.

You can’t follow any critter forever, though, and if you try you wind up with a wobbly shot trying to “catch up” with it. After you’ve captured some amount of motion, hold the camera still and let the subject swim out of frame to “end” the shot gracefully.

5: Keep Rolling
Tape and memory cards are cheap – go ahead and take lots of footage! Some cameras take a moment to get rolling after you hit “record,” and that usually turns out to be the moment with all the action. If something cool is hanging around in the area, I just leave the camera recording, but put my hand over the lens so I can easily see later that there’s nothing “here”.

Of course, the flip side of this is that you’re going to have way, WAY more footage than anyone should ever be forced to watch. Keep in mind that the more footage you take, the more editing will be required. Some videographers truly enjoy the editing process, but those who don’t often learn to be better “in-camera editors,” only hitting the record button once they’ve got their shot all lined up and ready to go.