Underwater Video for Senior Divers

By Jim Church

I've seen a trend develop during the past five years: Increasing numbers of senior divers (okay, senior citizens) are shooting underwater video. They enjoy capturing their underwater experiences and sharing these treasured moments with family and friends.

Older divers often want quick and easy results. They don't have the time or patience to master the mysteries of a 35mm still camera. They don't want the hassle of film processing, slide projectors or the time-consuming task of arranging photos in an album. They want images they can see immediately. Thus, underwater video is the obvious answer.

The fear of handling an underwater camera must be conquered before a beginner can enjoy shooting video. To illustrate, allow me to relate a true story: An older couple signed on for one of my photo courses. The husband stated, 'My wife has no interest in photography. She'll just follow me around.' After watching him shoot Nikonos close-ups for two days, she was obviously bored. Underwater, I had her hold my video housing a couple of times while I helped her husband. Then, without warning, I placed her hands on the twin handles, pointed to the record button, placed her thumb on it and gave her the 'headwaiter's gesture' with a sweep of my hand. Once she realized she had a live camcorder in her hands, she immediately aimed it at her husband, over to a passing angelfish, then back to her husband. When we surfaced, her first words were, 'Can I use it again?' She shot video on every dive for the rest of the course and had a fantastic time. After the course, I received a letter from her husband that said, while he had to purchase a video outfit for her, it was worth the investment because she now wants to do more diving.

Besides adding a new dimension to diving, shooting underwater video can help you improve your diving skills. Because holding the camera as still as possible produces the best video, you will learn to fine tune your buoyancy and keep your arms and legs still when you don't need them. If you are one of those divers who zips about and tries to see everything, you will have to slow the pace of your dives. You will swim slower, see more and decrease your air consumption.

GETTING STARTED

At this time, Hi-8 is the most common video format. You don't need the most expensive camcorder for underwater use. A basic model without flip-out viewing screens (which won't be used underwater) will suffice. Contact the video housing manufacturers and ask what Hi-8 camcorders they recommend. They often design their housings to accommodate the best camcorders. You can get by without video lights for much of your underwater videography. However, if lights are part of a package deal, it may cost less to buy the entire package than to add lights later.



SHOOTING TIPS

1. Practice using the basic controls; REC/STBY (record and standby), auto and manual focus, zoom and white balance; topside.

2. Test the empty housing in a pool or large container of water to make sure it is watertight before putting the camcorder inside.

3. Set the camcorder for automatic operation. (You may wish to use manual focus on later dives.)

4. Test REC and STBY before entering the water.

5. Don't jump into the water holding the housing; have someone hand it to you after you get your gear adjusted.

6. Descend to about 15 or 20 feet, hold the housing above your head and aim it down toward your face. If you see fog or water droplets inside the lens port, keep the housing nose down and take it back to the surface.

7. Have a subject before you trigger from STBY to REC.

8. Hold the camera as still as possible and let the subjects do most of the moving. If you swing the camera around, your video will make your viewers seasick.

9. After the dive, slow down. Don't open the housing until it and your hands are completely dry.