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Introduction to DSLR Underwater Video: Making Movies People Want to Watch
By Evan Sherman, June 1, 2016 @ 06:00 AM (EST)

Back when I first got into video production, the only way to share my work with friends or family was via a VHS cassette. (Being relatively young, I never had the privilege of enjoying the 8mm or 16mm film “revolution.”) VHS was a tangible medium that required a separate deck and viewing device—a TV. You couldn’t just spontaneously “show your work”; you had to go to someone’s house, office or an event where they had necessary hardware. Even if I showed my work at dive clubs or family holidays, I was lucky if 100 people ever saw a particular project.

Remember these? For better or worse, physical media like VHS tapes are a thing of the past (Bejim | 123RF)

Fast-forward 25 years and technology has changed dramatically. Video is now essentially just bits of data—no film, no tapes, no discs. And it’s not stored in a cardboard sleeve on your bookshelf; it’s up in the cloud, accessible anywhere at anytime. With today’s smartphones, everybody (even your mom) has a portable TV in their pocket. We filmmakers have an infinite opportunity to share our projects. Load a film onto the Web and presto, you have thousands of viewers clamoring and commenting on the quality of your work.

That is, of course, if you created a video that people watched.

As a photographer, the portfolio you show people is a small, carefully-edited selection of your best images—a similar philosophy should guide the presentation of your video (video frame grab)

Grabbing Your Audience

You’ve been there. We’ve all been there. You know, that moment when the phone rings and it’s your buddy on the line, the one who just got back from that dive vacation. You’re hoping he just rambles for a while about it, but then it happens: He invites you over to watch his video from the trip. A myriad excuses race through your head, but you reluctantly exhale the fateful words, “Ahhhhhhh, okay.” That’s right, you’ve committed.

Sound familiar? Watching other people’s dive videos can be painful. Rarely are they entertaining. More often than not, they’ll bring on a fit of fatigue, or worse, irritation. It can’t be the subject matter. As divers, we love the ocean and its inhabitants; images of the underwater realm never get old. Then what is it? In all likelihood, it’s the way the video is edited and presented.

People have short attention spans: Even with only five minutes to fill, you’ll need to think carefully about maintaining the interest of your audience (video frame grab)

Dodging the Pitfalls

Dive videos are mostly the same: maddening music, lots of really long shots, and way too many images of animals swimming away. The most common mistakes amateur videographers make are one, showing raw, unedited footage (that’s not just painful to watch—it’s a sin to show), and two, showing too much. A viewer’s attention span is short: A five-minute presentation will leave them wanting more. A 15-minute presentation will make them pray for a power outage.

Common mistake number three: including footage that is out of focus. You didn’t nail the shot; accept it. Common mistake number four: showing repeated shots of the same subject. How many times do you have to show that same fish from the same angle and the same distance? Wasn’t there one clip that was the best from the rest?

Making a movie the best it can be is a brutal process: Get used to rejecting the majority of the footage you captured, leaving in only your most impressive clips (video frame grab)

Making Watchable Videos

Attention all underwater video enthusiasts: It is time for a change! In this DSLR Underwater Video Series, we will examine what it takes to make a video that people actually want to watch. From planning to shooting, editing to sharing, we will discuss the key components to making an entertaining underwater video that really grabs your audience. We’ll cover the equipment, settings, techniques, subject matter, and all sorts of other factors that will help you create cool, edgy, unconventional, original films.

Assuming you already have your video-capable DSLR at the ready, here’s what you’ll need to do first:

  • You’ll need to make a conscious decision that you want to shoot video with your DSLR. To get good results, you can’t just flip the mode switch from photo to video every once in a while.
  • You’ll have to be willing to learn the strengths and limitations of DSLR imaging. You’ll have to dedicate dives or even full trips to ensure you get plenty of worthy footage.

The performance of your gear—your video lights as well as your DSLR—will ultimately dictate the quality of raw video you’re able to capture

Where the magic happens: Creating an engaging movie requires an even bigger commitment after you’ve acquired the raw footage

  • You’ll need to invest in some good video lights. I like to say, “I cast light upon shadows.” The bigger and brighter your lights, the better the potential for quality imagery.
  • Finally, you’ll need to understand that editing is where the magic happens. The acquisition of the image is only part of the equation. You won’t need Hollywood-caliber editing software; only the desire to be creative and passionate about your work. If you aren’t computer literate or don’t have hours to spend editing your video, this probably isn’t the right endeavor.

Still want to pursue the art of video production? Then above all else, keep one goal in mind: making movies that people want to watch. The first time, and then again.

Keep an eye out for future installments in the DSLR Underwater Video Series!



About the Author: Evan Sherman is the owner of Seasick Productions, a full-service multimedia company that specializes in underwater imaging. Based out of Orange County, California, Seasick Productions provides on-location and studio production services around the world. His professional underwater credits include television networks, Fortune 500 companies, and numerous entities within the dive industry. Evan’s recent film, “Bali Close Up,” earned top honors at the World ShootOut Underwater Photo Grand Prix in Germany, Video of the Year at the ADEX Voice of the Ocean Competition in Singapore, Best of Show and Stan Waterman Legacy Award at the Turquoise Bay International Underwater Film Festival in Roatán, and Silver in the video category of Our World Underwater 2016. He is a contributor to DivePhotoGuide and a Sea & Sea Alpha ambassador. Throughout the year, Evan conducts dive expeditions and imaging workshops.



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