Suunto ambassador, underwater explorer and award-winning filmmaker Jill Heinerth shares her top tips on how to shoot and edit diving movies that will blow away your friends.
Jill exploring the Bell Island mine. © Cas Dobbin 2016
Today there are no barriers to entry for shooting underwater video. GoPro cameras have put awesome potential within easy reach both physically and financially. Even with this compact camera, 4K video can be shot, edited and uploaded to social media sites. However, with video capability in everyone’s hands, there are some key things you need to do to separate yourself from the pack.
First things first
General diving skills are critical with good buoyancy control being at the top of the list. Master this first!
Watch Jill's video of devil rays off the coast of Azores Islands.
Shooting underwater means you are filming through a filter. Colour and light are gradually absorbed the deeper you go. In many cases, visibility can be minimal. You need good quality, wide-angle video lights to help illuminate the scene and increase colour saturation. The closer you can get to your subject, the less filtering water between you and a great shot. Use a wide-angle lens for shooting or try macro work with a tripod – only if you can avoid damaging the environment.
Watch Jill exploring Devil's Ear cave system, Ginnie Springs.
Shoot for easy editing
Don’t try to edit in the camera. That means you should shoot long sequences with a long “tail” after the action has passed. This gives you room to edit and use transitions.
Move very slowly and deliberately and consider holding long stationary shots to let the environment and marine life flow around you. Most beginners get overly enthusiastic and move the camera around too much. They are eager to film the next shot rather than patiently working on the current encounter. That type of footage is not just tough to edit but can give your viewers seasickness!
Press play to see the shipwrecks of Bell Island.
When you shoot, try to capture a wide range of shot types. You need wide establishing shots that show context. You will want to capture things like jumping off the boat or preparing gear. You'll also need an endless supply of shots called cutaways. These short clips of a few seconds in length are the glue that holds longer shots together. When a diver is prepping gear we might see a cutaway of the pressure gauge needle popping up as the tank is turned on. We might see a quick okay signal close up on a hand. You can never have enough cutaway shots in the edit. You will use every single one you shoot.
Press play to watch Jill talk about her diving career.
Show the tranquillity
Remember, the beauty of the underwater world is best enjoyed drifting along rather than frenetically bouncing around from view to view. Let your shots breathe and allow your viewers to enjoy the same peace and tranquillity that you do on a swim along a perfect reef. The marine life will be more likely to cooperate and gracefully participate in your sequence too.
Keep it short
And finally, when you get into the postproduction phase, keep your edit short. Try to tell a story in less than three minutes. That is about the attention span of most viewers. Nobody wants to see the entire dive and the things you missed. If you only have 90 seconds of great footage, then keep your edit even tighter. You’ll get more hits and shares and enjoy watching your own masterpiece again and again.