The Art of U/W Video
Tips & Props

by Roger Roth

So, just what can we do to make our shots really stand out on their own without the embellishment of the computer? Like still photographers, being as close to the subject as possible will give the best results. This will diminish the amount of particulate matter between the subject and the camera. Resolution will improve the closer we get and once within 5 feet or so, our lights can be used effectively to bring out more colors as well as illuminate our subjects better.

There are other general rules of thumb to follow like trying to include pretty backgrounds and colors, having good buoyancy, holding the camera still, panning slowly, and establishing a good non-threatening relationship with marine creatures. But there are also some tricks and props that can be utilized to enhance our shots.

How do we capture good shots of garden eels that disappear when we get too close? Obviously, lay the camera down in front of one or two or three, focus the camera on where they will pop back up, turn the camera on record, and back away! It won't take long for them to realize the camera is not moving or making that loud bubble noise and therefore probably won't hurt them. They'll be out feeding in the current in no time!

When shooting video, I like to be weighted a little heavy so I can lie in the sand when necessary. I also wear ankle weights when I shoot to counter-balance my housing when I hold it out horizontally. I have taken these weights off at times and used them to help hold my housing down in stronger currents and surges.

Another trick with skittish critters like mantis shrimp and small gobies and partner shrimp is to have our video lights turned on before approaching them, and leaving the lights on for shooting. I was once told a story about Paul Humann trying to film the gobies and shrimp. He would lay in the sand for a long time until they came out of their burrows, then turn on his lights…which would cause them to immediately retreat. He did this time and again until he thought about leaving his lights on beforehand, which was finally successful for him.

Placement of your model will help change size perspective in your shots. A model far behind even the smallest bowl sponge can make that sponge look enormous. When the model is up closer to the camera, a whale shark can look small. If positioned correctly, a model could hold out their hand in just the right place (with your direction) and seemingly hold the whale shark in their hand!

If you are shooting alone, without models or a helper, there are still a lot of things you can do to add perspective or get yourself in the shot. When adding perspective, our own fingers can point at small objects and creatures while still holding the camera still. Using a quarter or a spoon for perspective will also work well.

If the camera can be set down and left alone, then turn it on and swim into the picture and begin to look at your subject with your face close to it and eyes open wide for the camera. Shots without a mask on are also quite pleasing! And if swimming, we can turn the camera on ourselves by holding it out at arm's length and pointing it in our direction while we swim!

What about wanting to shoot something underwater, then follow up with something above water in the same shot? We can surface where we want to do this shot and spit on our dome port so that the water will not stay on the port once we pull the camera out of the water, then descend and start shooting. This works just like spitting in our masks to alleviate condensation (but won't last as long).

Crossing the line is another effective, artistic way to shoot. For instance, when showing a diver ready to enter a wreck and swimming towards a door, be sure to also get a shot of them from inside that door as they swim towards you and through the door, then get shots of what they will be seeing inside the wreck.

Besides using props to show perspective, they can also be used to add a touch of class or humor. Putting a mirror in front of a territorial damselfish will many times illustrate its territoriality, making for an educational shot. Releasing a biodegradable water soluble food coloring at the base of a vase sponge can show how quickly sponges filter the water, as the food coloring will immediately begin flowing out of the top of the sponge.

For more humorous shots, putting a fish ID card or book in front of a curious fish can show how fish go to school! Sitting at the wheel reading a magazine in the wheelhouse of a wreck may hint at how the wreck occurred. Wearing a sharkfin beannie on a shark dive or a Santa Claus hat during Christmas break can also break up a trip tape with a little humor.

Secretly setting up a buddy can also be a real hoot. Salting the sand with some "gold" coins, then having an unsuspecting diver swim over them could lead to some real interesting footage! Using rubber toys can do the same thing. Imagine a diver finding a baby shark sitting in the sand at the base of a coral head. Think about the reaction of divers who notice a squid, octopus, or turtle "caught" in mid water by another diver!

The videographer who thinks ahead about the story he will be telling is much better prepared to tell the story and will have the right shots to use. The days of point and shoot are long gone. Now we are learning the art of shooting UW video and then the art of utilizing our shots in an effective way. Don't forget to turn the camera on early and leave it running after the action to have good headers and tailers for editing purposes. Sea Ya!

Critter corner: When wanting to shoot a conch, turn the conch upside down so that its foot and opening of the shell is facing upwards.  Then patiently wait.  It will eventually begin to emerge and try to turn itself over.  After doing this a few times, the conch may turn itself over, but remain out with eyestalks looking around and proboscis possibly hunting for food.  Once it is comfortable being out around divers, it can be picked up and held without disappearing into its shell, making for more good shots.  Be sure to put it back where it was found. 

copyright © Roger Roth, 2002 - 2011

Photo Competition

Roger Roth is a roofer by trade and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. But his passion is underwater vidiography and after several decades of learning how to shoot and edit he has evolved into a teacher and a photographic philanthropist. Roger is the founder of the annual international Underwater Images Photo and Video Competition. You may contact Roger at