Underwater Video Basics

Underwater video is an incredible way to present the ocean world to fellow scuba divers and marine life lovers. Video captures the movements, sounds and motions of the sea, making the viewer feel like they are part of the action. In this video tutorial and companion article we’ll review underwater video basics.

Shooting video may appear daunting at first, but with some practice you’ll soon master the best underwater video settings and techniques, bringing home great clips to wow your friends.

These underwater video basics apply to divers with any type of camera, whether a GoPro or a more professional camera system.

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Underwater Video Basics

Types of Underwater Video Shooters

Before we jump into settings, it’s important to understand that there are different types of underwater video shooters. Each type of shooter will look for a different result from their efforts while filming, so there will naturally be some different settings.

Which underwater video shooter are you?

Clip Shooter: Your primary goal is capturing clips of incredible moments underwater, most likely that you can share with friends via social media.

Storyboard Filmmaker: You have planned out a longer form video and the shots you need to create the story. Your dive trip might start with travel shots, then establishing shots of the dive resort and gearing up, and then lead to your underwater video footage. You check each shot off your list throughout your dive trip.

Run and Gun Filmmaker: You shoot everything you might possibly want, including lots of b-roll. You organize all the clips diligently and once home from your trip sit down at the computer and start putting a film together.

Best Underwater Video Settings

There are many different strategies behind underwater video settings, and each depends on what you want to accomplish. We’ll review the basic settings that will work for most non-professional video shooters.

What are the best settings for underwater video?

I recommend shooting at a resolution of 1080p and 60fps (frames per second). These basic settings provide great video quality, are easy to work with across your computer and/or mobile phone, are universal across all cameras the last few years, and even allow you to create 50% slow motion while editing.

Underwater Video Resolution

I recommend shooting 1920x1080p resolution, also known as Full HD. Most TVs, computer monitors and mobile devices are limited to this resolution, which would immediately mean that extra resolution is not necessary.

This is quickly changing, however, as we see more 4K TVs and see more online streaming (think YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, etc.). And 4K does oftentimes produce a crisper image even if you lower the resolution to 1080p before sharing the video (although this really depends on the camera). And you might even be able to crop in and reframe.

So why is 1920x1080p the best resolution for underwater video?

Because as a casual shooter, 4K files are very large and difficult for your computer to process. Most pros shooting in 4K resolution or above will downres their files to a lower resolution to edit, then export their final video in 4K (a process involving Proxy files). This can be challenging if you’re not an experienced video editor or simply don’t want to spend the time doing this.

What about 2.7K resolution? This format works for a number of purposes and has many of the benefits of 4K, but also the major downside in terms of file size.

Underwater Video Frame Rate

Underwater video frame rate recommendations will vary a lot depending on your goals and the specs of your camera. The main benefit to using a faster frame rate is that you can create smooth slow motion. Fun fact – this also reduces camera shake. A fast frame rate also reduces the light entering the camera and can help when shooting macro with black backgrounds.

So what is the best underwater video frame rate?

I recommend shooting a 60fps (frames per second). This setting is compatible with nearly all editing software, including various apps on your mobile devices. This means you won’t need to adjust framerates just to view the footage in different apps.

A frame rate of 60fps also will allow you to create a 50% slow motion effect (when editing on a 30fps timeline), so you have that ability built into your footage.

In addition, you will generally use a shutter speed of 1/125s at 60fps, which will help you to capture nice blue water color during wide-angle shooting without needing to increase the ISO (whether manually or automatically).

Basic Underwater Video Tip #1!

Keep your video stable. This is essential for capturing great footage. You need to have great buoyancy and be very conscious that you’re filming.

I’ve written a full tutorial on How to Keep Your GoPro Steady Underwater, which is useful for all video shooters since the concepts also apply to compact, mirrorless and DSLR housings.

Basic Underwater Video Tip #2

Be sure to include Handles on your video clips. Handles are seconds of footage before and after the action in your clip you want to feature. They become useful when editing and applying transitions. If your clip doesn’t have this extra footage, you won’t be able to dip to black or crossfade between clips.

Clip Handles in Premiere Pro video editing sequence
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Brent Durand

Professional writer and underwater photo instructor. Brent is an avid diver and surfer, and has led many intensive photo workshops around the world. BrentDurand.com.