The life of an underwater videographer is an unpredictable and challenging one as we attempt to capture what are essentially undirected, spontaneous moments. Specifically, the task of filming an Open-Water course as an underwater filmmaker on Koh Tao is filled with many variables and unforeseen challenges.
For any videographer or documentarian, being organized, on time, well prepared and fresh for your day is not all you can do to limit the number of difficulties you encounter but its a massive start. Have no doubt something will go wrong at some point, it's like an unspoken law of the universe, there will be curve balls. But by taking control of the things that are within our control, and making peace and understanding the things we cannot control, we can avoid unnecessary problems and risks, and more often than not hit that curved ball right out of the park.
As a victim of my own personal chaos I write this with first hand experience of how as a videographer rushed equipment maintenance/assembly, poor time keeping and miscommunication can ruin that perfect shot, destroy a days work, or worse lead to costly damage to your equipment. So, in the truest sense of "learning from your mistakes" I have put together my formula to battle through my personal challenges of working in a paradise where the only constant is change, in the hopes that it informs your practice. Whether on land or underwater the principles I adhere to will change little, the context in which they may be applied will.
Always be ahead of schedule, this will not only allows you enough time to do proper equipment checks and ensure you have all the gear you need but that additional spare time you allowed can be your saviour when you encounter a flat tire, oversleep, misplace your keys or any other variable of the kinds of thing I am likely to do!!!. (In faster paced world than the one I currently inhabit, this might mean your train, is late, your stuck in traffic, the heel of your shoe broke) Planning your day and visualising what your needs and time constraints will be, can only help to ensure that you allow more time than you need.
Check your equipment thoroughly, then check it again. Have you planned for the shots that you need have you made contingency plans, do you have enough spare batteries and tapes/memory cards, chargers. In other words do you have the right equipment for the right job and have you ensured that it is all ready to be used at a moments notice? A dirty lens at the moment you want to capture a whale breaching out of the water is not good news!
Specific to underwater videography is the need to check that all your seals and o-rings are clean and flush, even the smallest breach can spell disaster for your shoot and your pocket, systematic checks should be built into your dive plan.
Learning to roll with the punches is another key skill to master, on any shoot things are gonna change. When filming open waters the weather, logistics, power cuts, course size, instructor all change at a moments notice. The ability to stay level headed and more importantly to remain creative when things don't go quite to plan is the most important tool we have.
Know your limits. This is so important when diving, and with any other shoot. When diving with your camera and an undefined amount of ever changing and unpredictable students as your subject, we as underwater videographers need to be constantly aware of our surroundings depth, buoyancy control and light are just a few of the considerations we need to make not once, but a hundred times during each dive, not only to capture the best shot possible but to avoid the dangers of decompression sickness. Health and safety should always be paramount on any videography shoot.
Make sure you have a plan, and with that be flexible. By story-boarding our days or event, knowing your dives sites/location and the "creatures" that inhabit them we can begin to form our movies while still sunning on the boat. But as turtles move and tides change we often need to realize that both planning and the ability to "wing it" are equally important as we need to be ready for anything.
And lastly communicate, many people may assume being an underwater videographer is a rather solitary job as we dive, then edit with nothing but our own thoughts and music, it actually takes a team to get the job done, so ask for help when you need it!
Having learnt all these skills and so much more during my underwater film makers course with The Film Co, there are certain things in life that can only be absorbed through experience. No hand book could have prepared me for the months past while working on Koh Tao, these stressful, challenging, beautiful and breathtaking moments which ultimately have taught me what maybe the most important lesson of all is; who i am, what I'm capable of and of course, that you can't stop the rain, but you can pack an umbrella!
"Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change - this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress."