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A Guide to Underwater Wildlife Video & Editing: Part 1

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A part serialisation of a book by Jeff Goodman

Profile: Born in Devon, England, Jeff now lives in Cornwall where the horizons are clear and bright. He has been a freelance television underwater and wildlife cameraman from the age of 22, filming mostly for BBC, Discovery and National Geographic. With this book, Jeff takes the reader through all the basics of film-making and editing underwater wildlife video. How to choose a camera and underwater housing, finding and filming the subject, right through to the editing process on your home computer. Jeff enables the production of a quality video presentation with music and narration.

Throughout this serialisation of the book, Jeff shares some of his more poignant experiences from filming on location. His stories explore our relationships with the natural world and our place within it. His love of the oceans is evident throughout and so encourages any reader to look at the marine environment as a unique and magnificent ecosystem.

We will be looking at cameras, how to choose and how to use them. Lighting, editing and many other aspects of getting the very best video images and sequences will follow.

Forward by BBC TV Wildlife & Underwater Presenter Miranda Krestovnikoff

“A Guide to Underwater Filming and Editing” is a technical manual with a truly light touch. It enables us to begin to film marine animals, plants and habitats with confidence and care. The layout is based on the filming courses that Jeff runs, and is tried, tested and proven successful. The technical aspects are easily mastered by anyone, the compositional elements make a sound base from which to develop one’s own style, and the straightforward text guides the filmmaker right through to their premiere!”

PART 1: Introduction

Things have certainly changed since I began my career as a wildlife cameraman. Technology in all its facets has brought the capability of making good wildlife videos, especially underwater, within reach of most people. When I started, in the late seventies, professional and semi professional movie cameras were a very specialised item, particularly with any sort of underwater housing. Now, the modern day high street store or web shop can supply a whole variety of cameras and housings pretty well tailored to fit requirements and budget.

Technology has also made the process of shooting video easy. ‘Point & Shoot’ cameras are very good and the quality can be excellent.  A bit further up the scale we have cameras that give us the option of either using complete ‘auto’ or complete ‘manual’ with a few combinations in between.

So, why learn about equipment and how to make underwater films when technology has so many things placed in the ‘auto’ folder of life?  Basically ‘auto’ will only take you so far and while producing a very immediate image; it will not replace your mind as a thinking decision maker, with a sense of artistic ability. While many people are, quite rightly, excited about the first video clips they make, there soon comes a time when the desire to do better things arises.

Whether you are intending to make a professional broadcast film or a good quality hobby video, the basic principles of making that film are the same. A cameraman must know the camera and its underwater housing controls fully and be able to use all its required functions without any second thought.   Imagine the scenario of getting to a location  –  saving the money, deciding where to go, getting the tickets, passports, currency, excess baggage, travel to airport etc etc. You get the picture.  Finally you get to the location you have dreamed about. Now you organise the diving  –  where to go, what state of tide, what time of day, how deep, who to go with, etc etc. Finally after all this preparation and anticipation you are in the water and the conditions are good. Without any warning, there in front of you, is the animal you came to film and incredibly, it’s doing its thing! You are excited, you lift the camera up to shoot and then panic as you ask yourself  –  is it in focus, is the exposure right, what about colour balance and so on ???  –  and then in that brief moment while you are deliberating over the camera settings, the animal swims away, or buries itself in the sand, or simply stops what it is doing to look at what you are doing. Oh! the sheer frustration of not being prepared!  ‘I should have used auto,’ you may think to yourself, and perhaps you should have, but knowing where and when not to use ‘auto’, is part of the whole deal.

But let’s suppose you get some great shots, the next question is what are you going to do with them? Show your fellow divers  – show the family (and let’s face it, they will love anything thing you do)  – then what?   If that’s all you want to do then probably the ‘auto’ way of life is not such a bad thing, but, if you want a little more out of all your hard work, then perhaps this book is for you.

Most people with a modern video camera get to take some excellent shots now and again, but it takes a little more effort and thinking to be able to produce a video sequence that will enthral your audience and keep them entertained until the very last frame has been seen. This applies to the absolute beginner right up to the semi – professional. By the time you may become a professional, all these skills will be second nature, allowing more time to think about animal behaviour and to predict what is about to happen next. This is where research and knowledge of the species you are filming becomes invaluable and knowing what is going on, and perhaps what to wait for, instead of just shooting away only to achieve a simple catalogue of animal portraits instead of a good behavioural sequence.

So, being a good cameraman does not end with just knowing your camera and being skilful in getting all the best shots. As any video editor will tell you, every shot can be a masterpiece, but if there is not enough variety of material to make a full sequence, then all that effort can be wasted. A great shot is of course a great shot and this is most obvious when taking a still photograph. But with video, the story doesn’t end there. All the time you are filming you have to be thinking about your final video product. ‘I have a great shot, but how am I going to get into it story-wise and then how am I going to get out of it and into the next great  shot?’…….and so on.  Editing is a crucial part of film making and in my opinion no professional cameraman is truly worth his or her salt until they have spent some time in an edit room and seen how sequences are made and fitted together.

It is with equal attention that this book will look at cameras, how to get the best from them, how to approach filming your subjects and how to ensure you have enough material to make a good and full sequence. We will then look in detail at how to put your hard earned shots together with easy to use consumer editing software.

There are many skills and qualities that make a good wildlife underwater camera person. A few of these are confidence in their diving abilities, slow and easy going in movement while approaching marine life, a good degree of knowledge about the subject, being able to give the correct body posture and not to appear threatening. When filming wildlife there are often no second chances and so we discuss later a ‘whole new way of diving’.

The next part of this serialisation will look at how to choose a camera and housing.

Jeff Goodman is the Editor-at-Large for Scubaverse.com with responsibility for conservation and underwater videography. Jeff is an award-winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker who lives in Cornwall, UK. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

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Mantis Sub: The world’s first production 3D/360-VR underwater housing

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Mantis Sub opens the realm of 3D production to professional underwater VR producers. To date, underwater VR cameras and housings have been either monoscopic, or the price and size of a new car. The producers of the NZVR Project wanted an alternative that could meet demanding professional production standards, offer 3D stereoscopy, and do it in a compact, affordable, robust housing that was good to 90 metres.

An early decision to leverage the performance, reliability and huge feature set of Insta360’s Pro2 camera set the course.

“It made perfect sense to use the Pro2 camera,” says James Frankham, publisher of New Zealand Geographic and director of the NZVR Project. “We had already been using it for our drone footage, and the interface, control app and workflow offered quick and elegant solutions to an excruciatingly complex technology. It offers 8k 3D production with a log format, and means that users can deploy the same camera in terrestrial and marine environments. In the end, it was a no-brainer.”

The distinctive hexagonal geometry of the housing grew out of the desire for an uninterrupted 360-degree view with clean zenith and nadir. Even the latches are recessed into the anodised aluminium body, resulting in a perfect stitch.

The camera can be switched on and controlled using capacitive-touch buttons on the body, or connected via a waterproof ethernet bulkhead to provide control and livestreaming via the Insta360 app. (On the surface, operators can use wifi/bluetooth for configuration and control as usual.) There are additional ports for a hydrophone, a vacuum valve, and numerous threaded mounts for attaching lighting, tripods and other production rigging.

“This is a camera designed by VR professionals for VR professionals,” says Frankham. “We understand the production community wants­­­­ robust, capable tools that are good value, reliable and extensible.”

From the stable of Insta360’s professional range, the high degree of control allows producers to finely control the camera’s response to difficult underwater conditions, add artificial lighting and ISO-limit the exposure for clean blacks when shooting in dark environments, at night or in caves.

The Mantis Sub already has a product variation in the Mantis Spray—a weatherproof housing designed to provide 3D-360 coverage aboard foiling AC75 Americas Cup yachts. Rather than submersion it had to resist sheets of spray and the rigours of sailing at speeds approaching 100 km/h while delivering uninterrupted VR footage to the world. A powerful, filtered fan was required to keep the unit cool inside the housing. It’s available in lightweight nylon or anodised aluminium.

“With the acceleration of virtual reality technology, the advent of 3D stereoscopy, and the desire to create visceral experiences in the marine realm, these housings have an important place in the way we cover extreme sports and the underwater world. I can’t wait to see what producers can do with them.”

Development was funded by New Zealand Geographic and Global Dive—a technical diving outfitter also based in New Zealand. Global Dive will be the international distributor and first point of contact for sales and service of the products, says director Andrew Simpson.

“Global Dive is proud to be involved in this product development, and brings considerable sales and service experience to the partnership, from an extensive international network of dive professionals to the meticulous in-house service crew to assemble the products and offer uncompromising after-sales support.”

For more information visit the website by clicking here.

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Announcing the Winners of Scubaverse.com’s November 2020 Underwater Photo & Video Contests

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Another great month for entries in both contests – your underwater photos and videos are just getting better and better! Thanks to all who entered.

To find out who the winner of Scubaverse.com’s November 2020 Underwater Photo Contest is, click here.

To find out who the winner of Scubaverse.com’s November 2020 Underwater Video Contest is, click here.

If you’re not a winner this month, then please do try again. December’s photo and video contests are now open.

To enter Scubaverse.com’s December 2020 Underwater Photo Contest, click here.

To enter Scubaverse.com’s December 2020 Underwater Video Contest, click here.

Good luck!!!

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Sharks Bay Umbi Diving Village is a Bedouin-owned resort with stunning views and a lovely private beach. It is ideal for divers as everything is onsite including the resort's jetty, dive centre and house reef. The warm hospitality makes for a diving holiday like no other. There is an excellent seafood restaurent and beach bar onsite, and with the enormous diversity of the Sharm El Sheikh dive sites and the surrounding areas of the South Sinai, there really is something for every level of diver to enjoy.

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