As a professional in any business, explanations and reasons for bad work are usually unacceptable to your client, as they are usually coverups for not being properly prepared, or alert and savvy enough to know what your agreeing to do or how to do it. As a professional underwater videographer you generally only have that one "shot" (excuse the pun!!) or opportunity to get it right and the chances to make up for mistakes are few and far between.
Technology can fail us at nearly every turn in video production, and guess what as underwater videographers the potential problems treble with the added housing, lighting and diving equipment - not forgetting to add salt water in to the mix!!! But your skills as a producer and talents as a visual artist can usually bail you out of most predicaments if you know what you are doing. The Film Company Underwater Video courses are full of techniques, training and advice that will help you to rid your professional video life of some of these problems that can rear their ugly heads all too often. But we detail below some simple techniques to help you in the new year to improve your video techniques.
Some common reasons for bad video that pop up regularly can be easily avoided either by proper training or by practice. I'm sure we all know the phrase "practice makes perfect" well it certainly makes a massive difference in these cases.
When your filming there are few reasons that bad lighting should be a problem, because you (usually) have options. If the sun is right behind your subject, you're choices are letting the background over expose, as you open up your aperture on your subject, or setting your exposure to correctly expose the background as your subject remains defined in silhouette. OR you can really think like a professional and move the camera, move the subject, or move the sun - well not quite so do-able but you can use the tools at your disposal to manipulate your light sources. You can easily change your angle, your position or the subjects. But I hear you say how do I move the sun? You can do this by diffusing the intensity of the suns rays on your subject and using a reflective method say, from the side to bounce fill light on the subject. By using methods such as this both above and below the surface you can create a better balance in the lighting of the shot between your background and subject.
You need to think about how to manipulate the elements with the environment and to create the best possible composition and use of the available light, use your knowledge to help you make the best out of a difficult shoot and underwater always remember to GET CLOSE.
Shooting handheld is a difficult skill to master but a great one to have in your repertoire. When you are shooting handheld think of yourself as a human tripod. Create yourself the strongest base possible using your body, plant your feet shoulder-width apart, tuck your elbows in to your waist or chest, and cup the camera with both hands. Where ever possible use something solid for support whether its a wall to lean against, or sitting or laying on the floor to gain stability, your choices are determined by the environment and your shot choices. But always ensure the you have one hand on top and the other one on the bottom of the camera. This way you always ensure that you can move your hands to balance the camera smoothly, even after you start to shoot.
If your shooting using hand held techniques and are attempting a pan put most of your weight on one foot as you move through the shot transfer the weight smoothly to the other foot when you shoot. With moving shots always remember that slow smooth shots will help you to avoid camera roll and where ever you can you should practice the shot first.
Always remember that zooming in intensifies any camera shake and unless you are well practiced at hand held the tight end of the zoom is not going to be helpful at masking camera shake. Instead try to get as close to your subject as possible, or don't zoom at all. Alternatively find a place to prop or support the camera.
The issues with zooming apply even more so, underwater, some of the considerations are different but are none the less as important; buoyancy, and breathing how well you are trimmed all play a factor and you must be especially aware and the environment around you. You are unlikely to want to let go of your expensive camera rig underwater to getting close and stabilizing your shots is paramount
Composition is what separates good professional video from poor or home video, we are not simply manipulating some electronic device to record events, we are aspiring to be visual artists to say something about our world. Our mission is to create beautiful images. With that in mind nothing ruins a beautiful underwater scene better than a misplaced diver or a coral fan growing out of the subjects head .
When you're shooting think about the entire frame, don't look just at the subject, check what's in the foreground, background and all around the edges of the frame for things that can lower the value of your shots. Again practice is the key to mastery, on land practice good composition within the viewfinder frame, use the rule of thirds or the guide frame, practice practice practice until it becomes second nature an image is generally much more interesting when your main focus isn't always in the center of the frame. Think about all the elements that make up composition, line, pattern, shape, texture and colour.
Framing and composition are generally; along with lighting, the areas where you are able to, think and create like an artist. Here you take your subjects: you contemplate their placement within the foreground/background and consider the purpose of each elements placement. Here you must ensure that every element in your frame counts.
My battery ran out, I didn't have enough tape. Really? Really! Really??!!!. Very Bad form. These are just excuses for bad preperation. As visual artists we generally have a Love-Hate relationship with technology because we work and operate in both right and left brian spheres of thinking. The right brain gives us the creativity and vision to practice our art, hone our craft, master our skills, and create the amazing images - The left brain gives us the practical ability to be able to operate and use the technology that allows us to create our ideas, the technology we use can fail us at a moment's notice, but as right brained artists we don't need to help it along!
Preparation is everything and being methodical, can only help your ability to perform the task at hand. As soon as your shooting day is done, depending on your work flow, log and capture your tape, transfer your data files, wipe it clean for the next shoot or file it safely with the date and job listed. If you are shooting to tape, always have a spare on hand; in your spares box in which you should carry all the kit that could potentially rescue from disaster.
NEVER go out without a fully charged battery, I always carry a spare, and if your 'trusty brick' isn't holding a long charge anymore, get another. Losing a shot to a dead battery or not having recording media happens to us all at some point but make sure you learn from it. It's the most painful of all experiences when you go through it and as an excuse it's probably the only thing that you can not remedy with creative tricks as you don't actually have the material. But as a professional it is the most inexcusable, you need to plan for the technology to be there when you need it.
These are all simple mistakes that can easily be remedied by knowing what you're doing when your doing it and how to do it. Technology demons will eventually raising their ugly heads but in comparison to the list above they are in different league alltogether.
Plan, Produce and Deliver!
Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance is a rule by which we here at The Film Company define our working practices. Always have a backup plan, always prepare for the worst, and always figure out an exit strategy when things fall apart or technology fails you. As underwater videographers, we need to ensure our on land kit, dive kit, our housings and air are prepared. It pay's to make lists and to visualise your day going through all the scenes, shots and actions that will need to be covered and the equipment and back up shots that will be need to be completed. If you need them make lists, because if you need to use any of the reasons listed above with your clients - it's usually just excuses for not planning properly.