by J Floor Anthoni (2005)
Making movies under water does not just consist
of taking a film or video camera on a dive. In addition to the knowledge
and skills required of a still photographer, the movie maker must master
a few more. In this chapter we'll explore what these skills are and how
they apply to underwater movie making. These skills also apply to the makers
of slide shows and they can also help the still photographer.
introduction This chapter is not about professional moviemaking
but about what an amateur can achieve. Moviemaking is the art of the ancient
story teller (raconteur) in a modern setting. It consists of the tried
grabbing attention: something must happen
before people sit down to listen. Attention must be grabbed and fast. Children
give you five minutes to grab their attention. Should you fail, you've
lost their co-operation, necessary for sustaining their attention. The
opening scenes of a movie are of critical importance. They are not for
your ego but for grabbing attention, and it begins with the title.
keeping attention: in this modern age of communication,
people's attention span has shrunk from half a day to less than half an
hour. This doesn't mean that a movie should be short but that it must change
tempo and content to keep grabbing renewed attention at intervals not exceeding
15-20 minutes. It is done in many ways such as overlapping themes, parallel
stories, action alternated by love scenes and so on.
feeding curiosity: one of the main attention
keepers is that you have something to say the audience does not know. Have
you ever wondered why gossip is so widely practised? Story telling has
over the ages been used extensively for teaching new knowledge. The most
powerful movies will leave you with something learnt forever. Learning
is a very gratifying experience. Story telling has also been important
in religious teachings. In underwater movies you have a lot to say that
your audience does not know.
stirring emotion: the human being is still
mainly primitive, governed more so by emotions than the mind. Telling stories
that stir emotions, are winners that bring in the money. In modern society
where all freedom and risk of living has been regulated away, people hanker
to live the lives of others, the idols of their listless lives. As a diver,
you live such an adventurous life, and your movies have something to say
that your audience does not know, so from these comes your main strength.
springing surprise: surprise is the most sudden
break of continuity, a moment that wakes your audience into horror or laughter.
The good story teller knows how to lead up to his surprise, but do not
underestimate the difficulty and skill needed to master this.
spinning an ending: many movies seem to forget
this most important final element as they fizz out into the scroll. Your
ending is as important as your opening scene as it gives you the opportunity
to wrap it all up. What is it that you wish your audience to remember?
What is the final and most important message? It is the last bit that will
be remembered best. Give it your most creative attention.
This is the general framework of any movie or slide show you will make,
and you must commit this permanently to your memory, because you will need
to find the shots to fill this framework. Before you pull the camera trigger,
you must have a general idea of the story you are going to tell and where
this shot fits in. It makes moviemaking much more difficult than still
photography where this really doesn't matter.
Before you can begin putting your film together, you must have all the
shots that complete the above framework, which is a lot more complicated
than you may think. It means for instance, that during your holiday, you
will need to complete all missing shots for that holiday movie you planned.
You will need to put your opening and ending sequences together and you
must have all your surprise moments ready. Towards the middle of your holiday
you must have a good idea of the entire story.
required One of the most satisfying aspects of moviemaking, but also the most
disappointing, is that you must master a number of skills that are not
easy to acquire. In the professional world, each of these skills is a professional
specialisation which is mastered to perfection. The film director chooses
his script writers, actors, cameramen, soundmen, stagemakers, editors and
so on from a wide choice of professionals and forges these together into
a team that works in synergy. As an amateur you are all these professional
skills, embodied in a single person and you are the director as well. Here
is an incomplete list of these skills, to give a general idea:
script: the story is adapted to a film
script which chops the continuity of life (or the novel) into distinct
scenes like the sets of a stage play. The continuous idea and narrative
is chopped into dialogues and sound bites.
visualisation: artists draw story
boards to visualise the story, paying attention to angle and
of the 'eye' (camera). This is the most important part of the project,
as the team can now proceed.
special effects: special effects are planned well ahead, requiring
different sets and stuntmen. In this digital age, many special effects
are applied at the editing stage, but they must be produced earlier on.
Many special effects still require the actors to act on empty stages.
sound: the music for the movie is decided
on at an early stage.
stage & sets: the story may move from country to country, requiring
new sets wherever needed. The shoot happens often in countries that are
able to provide the service needed, as moviemaking is a very busy world.
props: props have their own importance in a movie as a recurring
item, a possession with special meaning.
dress making: dress makers know well ahead of time what is required.
camera: the cameramen have a good idea of what is required and work
ahead of each shot. Often the camera setup takes much longer than the shot.
makeup: while a shoot is prepared, the makeup artists do their job.
acting: actors rehearse the dialogue to be ready for the shoot.
Many changes are made on the fly once the whole comes together. Re-takes
are needed to improve the effect of the shot.
continuity: continuity between shots
is needed to establish the impression that the film was shot without interruptions.
Dresses, make-ups, props, lighting conditions and much more must be kept
the same between shots.
pre processing: nothing is more telling than the first look at the
developed footage. It may prompt a re-shoot.
editing: in the editing room a new
interpretation is added to the storyboard. Cutting is not just removing
the bad and superfluous bits, but subjecting the images to the 'language'
of our eyes and minds. It is a most fascinating aspect of moviemaking.
Much has been written about this, and you should master it to a high degree.
Editing the sound is often the most difficult bit.
narration: narration is particularly
important in documentaries, and it is most likely that your movie will
run like a documentary. So the narrative and how it is spoken is an important
production: once the movie has been completed, it must be taken
in production, which is a major and expensive activity for cinema. In the
case of digital video, it means just running another copy.
language adaptation: subtitles in various languages and resynchronising
with foreign language actors is a major business.
marketing: for the money to come in, your movie must be seen by
the highest possible number of people. It is a frustrating business, dominated
by the big players and movie festivals where entry is prohibitive.
Of all the above skills, you will most likely need some of the ones marked
in blue. Don't feel inadequate or let
the ideal requirements overwhelm you. Moviemaking begins at modest efforts
and remains a pleasure, indeed an obsession, for life. Seeing your results
improve from movie to movie is very gratifying. For me the moment of birth
of a movie when for the first time you sit back and roll the completed
movie, complete with sound and narrative, sweeping you away, is a very
emotional moment, akin to giving birth. Yet every frame you have seen many
times and you know every glitch and imperfection - amazing and intoxicating.
moviemaking Underwater movie making is essentially no different from that above
water but when viewing amateur underwater movies and videos, a pattern
of typical mistakes becomes clear. We'll deal with these in this chapter.
So what are the most important things to do for amateur underwater moviemaking?
image quality: it seems obvious, yet moviemakers do not have the
discipline of the still photographer and they end up with mediocre images
which then become the very basis of all further effort. The image is
the basis! Underwater video usually ends up with endless footage of
boring images, excessive use of zoom, instability, lack of colour, lack
of contrast, sharpness fading in and out, and exposure changing uncontrollably.
They are an insult to moviemaking. So what should you do?
theory: swat up on the theory of underwater photography such as
this course. Do not accept that the image you get is the only image
you can get. Don't accept that the majority (of mediocre videomakers)
must therefore also be right. Apply all the principles of lighting, lens,
angle and opportunities. Use the sharpness test pattern to determine the
effective resolution of your camera (don't believe the salesman).
three-CCD: for modern cameras the one or three CCD issue is no longer
relevant since the serious cameras have three for most accurate colour
rendition. They are also digital (DV) and no longer interlace the frames
stored on tape. This essentially improves image quality and makes you independent
of the confusion of broadcasting formats (NTSC, PAL, etc). It also facilitates
editing. My advice: don't waste time on any other type of camera.
settings: be in control of the camera's settings. Don't accept that
autoexposure and autofocus will give you the best results. Your camera
was never designed for underwater use. Control your colour balance manually.
Aim for the most colour and signal information for later post processing
in the editor suite. Keep working on the quality of your image as there
is always room for improvement. I have to confess that I made major mistakes
here, mistakes that I later regretted.
lighting: movie and video depend on external lighting as much as
still photography, but you are at a disadvantage. The power of the strobe
light during its one millisecond duration is still many times that of a
movie light. The position of your movie light is also more critical. Learn
to work with filters to optimise the light intensity you have available.
You must also have an efficient bracket system to do this.
stability: it is true that camera movement can add to the feel of
the underwater world but more often a swaying or shaking image is rather
annoying. The camera is your viewers' eye, and the human eye is an extremely
stable platform. A tripod (often used as monopod) is an absolute must,
so use it wherever possible. When shooting above water, get a fluid
head and a very stable tripod because this improves the quality of
your shoots beyond belief. On the other hand, keep an open eye for the
moving camera where this adds to creativity or the feel of the image. You
must make use of your own head's stability and view through the viewfinder
rather than the LCD image held at some distance.
depth of field: because the film or CCD size is so small (typically
6-8mm), your camera produces a depth of field that still photographers
can only be envious of (twenty times better!). Even so, keep an eye on
the iris (aperture) setting and the amount of light available, for optimal
zooming: because you have a zoom lens, does not mean that you must
use it as such. The zoom is more important as a lens of variable focal
length, so that you have an arsenal of lenses in the one zoom lens. The
zoom allows you to focus critically in order to film in the zoomed-back
position (for movies). When the camera sits on a tripod, zooming in simulates
the diver moving closer (interest) and likewise zooming out simulates moving
back (fright, end). But the moving closer is a more natural dive maneuver.
The problem with zooming in is that at no point in the shot do you have
a satisfactory composition and you cannot easily cut from a zoom to something
else and it ends up as a waste of time and opportunity. A problem with
electric zoom is its rather jerky start and end. So if you use it, make
sure it has a specific purpose with limited range, and remember that it
will most likely be cut out in the cutting room.
panning: panning a shot simulates an eye or head movement and can
be very natural when done from a stable platform. It is very powerful when
leading a scene in by surprise as the subject of interest comes in sight.
But it can be very disturbing and wasteful. Panning belongs to the eye
and mind 'language' referred to above. When following a fish moving
through the seascape, panning is natural and powerful. Keep the frame slightly
ahead of the movement such that the fish is moving into unoccupied space
(not easy). Remember that it is very difficult to cut from one pan into
another (it is a no-no) unless it is a smear. Remember also that
a pan gives you footage that is continually unsharp and of low quality.
starting/stopping: someone who shoots expensive film has no problems
stopping his camera, as every second costs. A film camera starts immediately
and exposes correctly on the very first frame but a video camera differs.
Video is a dynamic image of a single spot traversing the image many times
from left to right for each frame. Starting the camera means that this
motion must be synchronised with what is already recorded, and this means
a period of delay (2-4sec) and a doubtful transition that usually must
be redone in the cutting room (always do this as a matter of principle!).
So many videomakers just keep their cameras running, believing that tape
is cheap. However, in the cutting room these endless amounts of overburden
weigh heavily in the time needed for cutting and storing. Learn how to
start and stop your camera for a minimum amount of footage with maximum
ending a sequence: letting a fish swim out of the frame is a very
important shot that makes cutting to the next more natural. Likewise panning
the subject in or out or smearing out (fast pan). Once you have
shot the quality shot, think of the beginning and ending shots necessary
for smooth cutting. You may still be able to take these even though the
subject has left (the diver is still there and so is the surrounding).
gradual improvement: nature photography has its frustrating moments
because wild animals cannot be directed. Their most natural instinct is
to flee. A sequence is therefore begun at a safe distance after which one
can move in, gradually improving impact and quality. It is not a good idea
to keep the camera running. As you approach (very slowly), improve your
shots with different lens settings and angles, remembering where each fits
in, such as beginnings and endings. Then think about the cutaways.
cutaways: a cutaway is a short shot to be used as glue between other
shots that cannot be cut together easily. It also has extreme powers in
the language of eye and mind. When you have done your very best
to get the footage that really matters, it is rather frustrating to discover
that the cutaways you did not shoot, are actually more important!
Cutaways are usually shots of onlookers, suggesting that the scene just
shown was what they were watching, and their expressions their reactions
to that scene. It is a very powerful tool in moviemaking as it draws the
viewer inside the picture. So make sure you have ample shots of divers
looking, coming, going, looking left, middle, right, up, down, opening
eyes, closing eyes, breathing hard, etc. etc. Also that fish suddenly taking
off, or just watching. These will be your little gems in the cutting room.
Make sure you have too many to choose from.
beginnings and endings: make sure you have alternative opening and
ending sequences. These are best shot mid-way your holiday or expedition
when the story has become sufficiently clear.
slide shows: people who use slides for slide shows often do not
have the same editing facilities as the moviemaker. For them it is often
necessary to think about their editing while shooting. This is not the
place to recount the many tricks known to this most interesting aspect
of photography but the points made above still apply. Slide show makers
spend more time on sequences of various exposure settings to simulate a
or fade-out. They are also interested in combining images either
by projection or by placing two slides inside one frame. A bird silhouetted
against a smooth white sky (shot at 1/250s) allows them to put the bird
inside a sunset (shot at 3s) for instance. They are interested in evenly
dark parts of images at opposing ends of the frame, projected together
by two projectors, with suitable transitions in between. It is an entirely
unique art and skill that can be very satisfying and the effects they achieve
equally apply to moviemaking.
We are not going to review the many good books that have appeared and are
still appearing. Moviemaking is now so old that the ones shot as early
as fifty years ago, are as good as the ones seen today. Visit a second-hand
shop to get those books that disclose the very essentials of moviemaking
without the modern gadgetry.
The eternal compromise In movies and to some extent
video too, the small image is projected on a large screen and there is
never enough light. So the temptation is high to expose film on the bright
side for it to project brighter. But as we know, this bleaches the colours
too. And once overexposed on diapositive (reversal) film, there is no way
back as quality is lost forever. The solution is to shoot originals on
negative film which has a large degree of tolerance and which is particularly
tolerant to over exposure. But this requires a two-step process and more
expense. For the video enthusiast, aim for a slightly underexposed image
(0.3 - 0.5 fstop) which can be corrected in the editing room for optimal