Great underwater footage without being a pro!
So you’re going somewhere that has an abundance of marine life, meaning there’s plenty of cool stuff to see. Like us you probably want to return with great photos/video of what you got to experience and share them. But maybe you’re not an expert diver/snorkeler and have never dared to take your SLR in the water? Good call, it can’t swim without a housing that lightens you wallet and weighs down your bag. Where, with what and how are the questions? We have a few tips that will make your aquatic experience much more enjoyable and leave you with high quality lasting memories.
First you need a location that has stuff in the water to see, so where? It really depends on your budget and how much you like to travel, but somewhere around the ocean is a good beginning. If you live in the states, Catalina Island off Southern California is always a start, especially if you’re strapped for time. A larger step is Hawaii, try Molokai and Lanai or on a budget Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island. Want to go somewhere a bit more exotic? Try the Andaman Sea around Thailand, with crystal clear water and 572 islands to choose from, not to mention great food. If you have a bit more money to spend try the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. These Islands were the proving ground for Charles Darwin and the birthplace of the book that spawned the Theory of Evolution. They are quite a unique archipelago and are home to species found nowhere else in the world. Being so isolated there’s been minimal human interaction with the flora and fauna. Therefore they hold a wonderful opportunity to be extremely close to both marine and terrestrial animals. Just do a bit of research and decide where is best for you.
Next you’re going to need something to capture the trip with. The options are as endless as your budget, but there are a few standouts. First, what kind of traveler are you? On a two-week trip do you bring everything you’ll need to survive on a dessert island? Or are you one of those people who throw one pair of everything in a backpack and if you need more you’ll buy it along the way? Maybe you’re somewhere between? No matter how you travel there are a few fundamental things to think about: weight (nobody likes to give the airlines more money), cost (things happen when your on the road, meaning only take what you can afford to loose) and quality (will your camera preform to the standards you expect and hold up to all the bumps and thuds). Lets take a look at three cameras: the Infinity CamOne, the Sony Action Cam and the new GoPro 3. All are compact, waterproof and built to hold up, so which one’s right for you?
The CamOne closely resembles the innovator of action sports camers, the GoPro, but boasts an interchangeable lens and a 1.5 inch display. It hosts two separate buttons, one for video and one for photo for easy switching, has a built in flash and is small/light weight. But, it lacks a tight fit in the housing, meaning you either need to pad the case or put up with shaky footage (for high impact sports). It also comes with the same domes housing the GP 2 had, making underwater footage blurry (unless you buy a flat lens).
The Sony Action Cam is built in much the same shape as the Contour camera, but smaller and lighter. It comes with a waterproof plastic housing, has an easy to navigate menu that’s displayed on a small LCD screen (doesn’t support playback) and sports a Carl Zeiss lens/16MP Exmor R sensor. The upside is the weight/shape, there is less drag in the water and it has a great lens. The downsides, you can’t switch between shooting modes while it’s in the housing (meaning you need to choose whether its photos or video before your bobbing in the bathtub) and there aren’t that many mounting options (incase you wanted to use it for other parts of your trip).
The GoPro 3, which was released about a month ago, is from the original creator of action sports cameras. This is their third showing and the line boasts three camera options depending on your needs. The Black edition, which is GP’s top of the line, has a powerful 12MP sensor that can shoot bursts of 30 frames per second with 11MP quality. What does that mean for you? That you can shoot quality photos quickly to capture those animals that are a bit flighty, like sea lions, sharks or manta rays. They also improved the two things that matter most when taking it for a swim, it no longer fogs and the new flat housing delivers crisp underwater footage. The down side to GoPro is the price of the camera and any needed extra accessories.
For us the choice was still the originator, the GoPro. But you need to choose the one that’s right for you and your budget, based on an educated decision. We felt the GP not only out preformed the others, but has many more accessories, after market add-ons and the entire GoPro team behind it (check out the website for DIY ideas and customer service). Being so wildly popular it’s easy to find cheaper extras (batteries, chargers, mounts, replacement parts) on sites like eBay and amazon. Another great idea for traveling with any of the cameras is to get a small pelican case (light weight, durable, waterproof), a good size memory card (32GB) and a few backup batteries. These will ensure that your stuff not only gets there, but you have the power and space to document everything on the best of days.
Now that you know where you’re off too and have your cameras sorted, all you need to do is get up close and personal with nature. When it comes to capturing marine life on film there is are few important things to know; the animals need to be around! Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people think there are fish everywhere in the ocean. Ask around, see where people have been snorkeling or look on the internet. Fortunately coral, sponges, fans and other marine plants are stationary and extremely colorful so don’t forget them. Next, clean water and sunlight makes a huge difference in how your footage turns out. Try and find places with clear water (15 ft. or more visibility) and try and go on sunnyish days. If you jump into water that resembles chocolate milk not only will you have a hard time finding what your looking for, but the pictures will be dark too. Last, go diving in smaller groups and move slow and smooth around the animals. You need to get pretty close with all the smaller cameras we discussed and fish don’t take kindly to something franticly kicking towards them. With fewer people along there’s less movement in the water and you’re more likely to encounter something really special. When you see your first target, kick your legs up over your head and slowly kick in its direction, avoiding flapping your arms like a windmill. When you get close shoot away, you’ll be amazed at what you see.
You’ve chosen the location that’s best for you, a camera that fits your needs/budget and have a few ideas on approaching your subjects. With a larger memory card you could shoot all day and not fill it. So take as many pictures as you can, you’ll find out that there is a difficult side to shooting exactly what you want. It’s worth the satisfaction you’ll get from the perfect image and with more photos your odds are better! Also with this type of multimedia the photo/video files build up quickly. Go through them every few days and delete the ones that aren’t up to par. Enjoy the fun of reliving your dive day that night and well into the future.
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