STILL PHOTOS vs VIDEO? Used to be that everybody shot photos and virtually nobody took video because it was difficult and expensive. Now the advances in video formats and resolution and the availability of smaller cameras featuring high resolution video has changed an awful lot of what people shoot and how they shoot it. It all started when we stopped using film and everything went digital. The GoPro camera really "opened the door" to many people into video who would have never considered it
It still boils down to still photos show a very very quick moment as a "frozen" image and video shows a collection of these frozen images placed digitally one after the other. Only video truly has the ability to show movement.
START YOUR SERIOUS READING HERE:: Whether or not you're shooting photos or video there are some very basic rules to photography that you need to know. No kidding. They are all right here.
WHAT TO SHOOT:
You're out diving (or whatever) and see something but don't know what it is. The curiosity genes of your brain take over and tell you to go find out what that is. So...you swim over to it, look at it again and then decide if it's worth getting closer to study it some more. Then you'd take a picture of it if you had a camera cause' that's what photographers do. But you're not a photographer. You're a videographer and we think differently. We know that video captures movement and we try to tell a story with this movement every time we show a video series.
Consider what you just did when you first looked at it and got curious. That would be a WIDE (or establishing where you are) shot. Then when you got closer to it you could stop take a little more video (MEDIUM or recognition) shot. I think you can figure out the rest of this for the CLOSE or subject) shot. The final shot would be a CLOSE-UP or MACRO shot
Aha, if you put them in the correct order (WIDE to MEDIUM to CLOSE, etc.) what have you accomplished? You've told a video story.
HOW LONG SHOULD EACH SHOT BE? There's one thing that you have to clearly understand. Think about this:
You are riding in a car and notice a sign on th side of the road. How long do you think it takes you to actually decide you're interested in what it says, then read the sign and hopefully understand what it says? Every person that took Marketing 101 and didn't fail the course knows that the minimum time for all of this is five seconds. So that's the absolute minimum time you want to shoot video that's stable and in focus for every shot. Notice I said stable and in focus.
Now for the maximum time. Sorry, there's no perfect answer. But unless you're shooting something that's very rare and/or unusual I would recommend the maximum time to be about 20 seconds for each shot. In the scenario I gave you above you might consider about 6–8 seconds for the initial establishing shot, another 5–8 seconds for the swim over to it shot, and then use more time for the close-up and macro shots.
TO EDIT OR NOT? Yes, you need to edit video. Period. Photographers edit (delete, change colors, etc.) their photos so what makes you think that you'll produce somewhat pleasing video stories without a video editor. Take the time to learn how to do it and watch your videos improve dramatically.
PHOTOS CAN BE ENHANCED, VIDEO CAN'T. Absolutely wrong. Although most video cameras don't have all the bells and whistles like aperture and shutter adjustments that still cameras do you still have controls that you can work with such as frames rates, resolution, and color temperature.
ADDING COLOR: Unless you have a fetish for the color blue or are color blind you absolutely must have a colorizing filter for the video. If you don't understand exactly why go look at the photography basics section again. It's all explained there.
VIDEO LIGHT(S) are very important but most people don't use them except for close-up, macro, or night diving. Whatever you get make sure that they have a wide angle (at least 75-80 degrees) coverage and over 500 lumens output. Those should be the minimum standards for good closeup and macro shots. Don't be fooled by slick advertising.
Purchase Tip #1: Unless you have purchased more than one light that has a power rating of at least 1500 lumens video lights have very little impact on the color you'll get for general wide angle reef shots. A good filter will give you much better results. Video lights are great for closeup and obviously night shots.
Purchase Tip #2: And VERY IMPORTANT. The video light beam angle should match the picture width of the camera lens. Ex: If your camera has a 100 degree wide angle lens then you need a light (or 2 lights) with the same or greater overall coverage. GoPro cameras can have a very wide lens.
Purchase Tip #3: If you're buying a video light for closeup or macro shots get the lightest one with the features you want. You can then position the light within 2' of the subject and get a good light pattern that won't create hot spots. Read the next tip.
Purchase Tip #4: A normal dive light SUCKS for video. They have narrow beam angles and create a bright spot in the video that's called a "hot"spot. The camera lens "sees" this hot spot and then changes the overall exposure to compensate for it. The results is a bright spot where you aimed the light and darkness all around it. Don't embarrass your viewers by using one.
Purchase Tip #5: A video light also makes a great dive light. Because of the wider beam angles you get to see more of what's right in front of you on a night dive.
CAMERA TRAYS, POLES, HEAD MOUNTS vs HAND HOLDING the camera. Stabilizing the camera simply means getting the vertical and horizontal movement of the camera as still as humanly possible. Because you are taking video, which means movement, any movement of the camera can be highly magnified especially when you're looking at it on a large screen TV. The one part of your body that is the most stable is your mouth but unless you figured out a way to get the camera and the regulator in your mouth at the same time the next best thing is a camera mounted on a hand held tray.
The tray should have at least one handle, an ability to hold at least one small camera, and also a way that you can connect a strobe or video light to it.
A pole or extension arm heading out from your body with the camera mounted at the end of it really magnifies any movement that your hand does as it transmits that moving all the way down to the end of the pole. However, a pole can be useful when you can't get close to a small critter and you have some ability to lay the pole on a rock or the sand so you can get closer to the subject. It can also create some really neat videos of you by sticking it out to the side or in front and mounting the camera backward.
If you really want to make someone dizzy watching your video on a large TV mount the camera on a head or hand mount. Both move almost all the time underwater so forget the idea that they'll work well. They don't.
MY RECOMMENDATIONS for GoPro camera settings, selecting filters, lights, trays, etc. is currently being thoroughly revised. If you haven't bought any of these you might consider waiting as there are a number of surprises coming. Stay tuned.
The author of this article is Pete Peterson. He's been teaching u/w photography since the late 70's to this day. He also was the chief videographer and producer of the Aquaquest Micronesia and Diver Below TV series as well as many promotional videos. Some of his work can be seen here: Vimeo