Ten underwater videography tips from Bobbit Suntay

We want everyone who comes to El Nido Resorts to go home with memorable underwater photos and videos of their trip, but shooting underwater is a very different experience compared to shooting on land. The unpredictable critters and shooting environment combine to create a challenge for both beginners and professionals alike. To prevent disappointment because of situations that are easily avoidable , underwater videographer Bobbit Suntay shares with us his top ten tips for beginners to get great underwater videos.

1. Be very, very patient.
“Whether it’s waiting for your subject, waiting for your subject to do something, [or] waiting for the proper conditions to shoot.” With patience, the animal you’re trying to shoot will get used to your presence and start going about its business again.

2. Check all your camera settings before you start shooting.

Most people tend to use just one camera for both land and underwater photography but land and underwater photography require different camera settings. “Sometimes, you can very easily make a mistake especially if you were using your camera the night before to shoot on land with one set of settings and you bring it underwater to shoot video and you forget to set it for underwater…”

3. Observe the SEA – shoot, examine, adjust.

“Even if you read all the books and study all the lessons, nothing with substitute for actually looking through your camera and seeing what you see and examining what you see. Do I like it? Is the color weird? Is the focus off? And then adjust your settings to make it look the way you want [it] to look. And then you do it all over again.”

4. Shoot upwards or at the same level as your subject.

Divers dive horizontally so they tend to look downwards. Because of this, the tendency is also to shoot down. “Sometimes, especially if there’s a lot of coral [and] your subject is small, it’ll get lost in the coral and you won’t see too much of your subject. But if you’re shooting at the same level, or better yet, if you’re shooting upwards with the light coming down, then you get a better-looking view of the subject you’re trying to shoot.”

5. When you’re shooting, always make sure that there are no bubbles on the port that’s covering your lens.

The bubbles will look like tiny spots and can ruin what could have been a great video.

6. If you’re the forgetful type, put sticky reminders on your camera.

“I like Leucoplast [adhesive tape] because it’s easy to stick, it’s easy to write on, and it’ll stay there for a long time before it fades. Put reminders on your camera for the most important things you don’t want to forget.

7. Let the subjects and the currents do the work.

Each time you fin to get closer to the subject or to get a different view, your camera is going to shake. “But if you just maintain neutral buoyancy, just point your camera, and just let the fish, octopus, [or] coral move and do its stuff on its own, you’ll get lots of good action without the shakiness. If you’re shooting other divers and other subjects you want to move closer to or away from, try to see ahead of time which direction the current is going and position yourself so you let the current move you to or away from whatever it is you’re shooting.”

8. It’s all about light.

“Natural light is the best but if you can’t use natural light, then video lights are the next best thing, especially once you’re past 10 meters.”

9. Adjust your white balance constantly.

“That [adjusting your white balance] is telling your camera what the color white looks like underwater, and the color white can change very quickly. If suddenly it’s sunny then it gets dark, or the waves are strong, or clouds come overhead, [then] that will change what white looks like to the camera. Each time you change depth by about 5 meters, the color white changes again. So you have to keep telling your camera what white is by adjusting the white balance constantly. Some people use a white slate [as a reference] for white balance but that doesn’t always work. Sometimes your hand is better, or the sand, or a coral, or sometimes even shooting into the blue water. So that’s part of SEA – shoot, examine, adjust.”

10. Make sure your camera is prepared.

“Make sure the lens cap is off, the batteries are charged, your memory storage has space, and most important of all, you’ve taken the time to prepare your housing to accept your camera. Because once it floods, it’s a flood of tears.”

See more of Mr. Suntay’s work at his personal website.

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