MY AWARD FOR THE WORST-EVER underwater filming to be inflicted on me goes to a late middle-aged couple from New York. I met them on a liveaboard trip. After every dive, the husband would plug his camera into the television in the saloon and share with us the great moments of the last dive.
     And they were always the same. Like an obedient husband pushing the shopping trolley around Tesco behind his wife, he would dutifully swim behind his ample spouse, whose out-of-focus, fluorescent pink, diveskin-clad buttocks filled most shots.
     Occasionally there would be a moment of excitement. Wife would bang her tank and point. The camera would leave the fleshy bottom and search for a focal point towards some hard-to-distinguish sea creature desperately trying to get as far from them as it could, before panning back to the wifes flailing finning.
     But in fairness, at least theirs was raw unedited footage. I have seen almost as bad films that someone claims to have finished, and for that there is no excuse.
     If you are editing a piece that you intend inflicting on your friends, have some mercy and at least try to produce something that they might enjoy watching. To spare your friends and family lots of pain, here are 11 tips on what not to do when editing your underwater videos.

1 Trying to prove yourself
Its natural to try to impress on your audience what a great film-maker you are by showing that you have filmed every creature under the ocean. Dont do it. One of the most common mistakes - even at the level of competitive film festivals - is for film-makers to seek to prove themselves by showing that they have images of the big three - turtles, rays and sharks.
     Just about every promo film for a dive centre, and every holiday video, will build up to a grand finale showing these three subjects. Why Not because it adds anything to the story but because, like a train-spotter, you simply must add these shots to the collection.
     Sure, if they are powerful images that progress the story, use them. But more often than not, the shark or turtle will be a mere smudge, while the ray will be a rear shot as it swims away from you as quickly as it can

2 New age music
Someone sometime decided that any underwater shots should be accompanied by plinkety-plonk elevator-style music. Since then, almost every underwater video has been given such a soundtrack.
     Why Explain to me what relationship wind chimes have to an underwater reef scene
     New age pseudo underwater music is one of the biggest turn-offs in underwater videos, yet a whole industry is out there producing tacky tracks to be lapped up by film-makers.
     There is no reason why an under-water video should have any music at all, and certainly not from beginning to end. A general soundscape - perhaps some gentle background breathing, a simple rhythm, a few odd sounds or beats that emphasise a particular action or movement - can be far more effective than a blanket of tinkling wind chimes and bleating pan pipes. Minimalist use of sound and music is the way to go.

3 Your favourite track
Bruce Springsteen didnt have a Red Sea wreck dive in mind when he wrote Hungry Heart, nor were Queen visualising a colourful tropical reef when they wrote We Are The Champions, yet I have seen both songs used as soundtracks to accompany these images.
     Why Because they were the film-makers favourite song at the time.
     Apart from the obvious copyright issues, do these tracks really complement the images and add to the viewers enjoyment of your film No way.

4 Poor-quality shots
To edit successfully you have to be cruel, and it is harder to be cruel to yourself than to someone else.
     It is far easier to edit someone elses footage, which can be viewed with clinical detachment, than to view those shots of your own to which you are so personally attached.
     When editing your own work, try to become distanced from it. You know that you worked hard to get a particular shot - rough boat ride, harsh conditions, difficult dive and much searching for your subject. But does that give it any value, or are you including it simply because you worked so hard to get it
     Shots that should never appear in an edited piece are those that are out of focus, or search in and out of focus. Bubbles and dirt on the lens are simply a sign of a bad videographer. If you cant be bothered checking that your camera and housing lenses are clean before a dive, why should anyone bother to watch the product of your laziness
     Another temptation is to try to capture a subject by using the zoom of the camera. You may occasionally get away with a small amount of zoom magnification, but the more you use this function, the lower the quality of the shot, and the more the slightest camera movement is magnified. Zoomed shots are generally low-quality and unsteady, so if in doubt, cut them out!
     There is also the dust-cloud effect, when there are too many particles in the water. This may be due to surge, plankton, or the fact that your buoyancy skills are not sufficient to stop you kicking up a storm whenever you settle to take a shot.
     You wouldnt take a family video above water in fog, so why include shots of the undersea equivalent in your film If the shot is of poor quality and doesnt have that wow factor, dont use it.

5 Badly lit shots
Lighting and colour balance are the most critical skills for an underwater videographer to master. Water absorbs the colours of the spectrum at different rates the deeper you go, so you must compensate for this effect by using a combination of lights, filters and white balance control.
     If you fail to get this right, dont show the footage. Your shots will either all be varying shades of blue, perhaps too red if taken in the shallows using a red filter, or burnt-out and over-exposed due to over-illumination by the camera lights.
     None of these effects will reveal the beauty of the underwater world, and will have your audience wondering just why you are showing them this rubbish.

6 The sea-sickness factor
A steady shot is generally a good one, yet people include shots in their films that wander everywhere - up, down, left, right, hunting for something... yes, there it is... whoops, now Ive lost it... where can it be Try watching this footage on a TV screen, and it will have the same nauseating effect as a cross-Channel ferry in a force 10 gale.

7 A film without a theme
A film must tell a story to keep the viewer interested. It can be the story of a dive, a location, a wreck or a particular creature. It can be a musical voyage through the ocean.
     What it should not be is just a random jumble of shots patched together for no other reason than that you actually have the shots.
     You cant adopt the still cameramans slide show approach to film-making, where one image follows another with no link between them.
     The video camera is the greatest story-telling tool you can have, and to be able to share your underwater experiences can be very satisfying. It can also be very enjoyable for viewers if you take them on a journey or adventure, and tell them a story illustrated by your images.

8 Dwelling too long
Watch any wildlife documentary on television, count the average length of shots and you will learn the basis of the six-second rule. Though not a rigid rule, unless it is exceptional six seconds of any one shot is usually enough.
     Just because you managed to keep that wrasse in centre frame and clean focus for 90 seconds is no reason to include the whole shot in your film, however proud you may be of your technical prowess.
     Think what you are going to say over it: Look, already 30 seconds and its still in focus... whoops, the little bugger almost got away then... 45 seconds and there it is still...
     Your audience will be racking their brains for a polite excuse to leave.

9 Irritating narration
So you have excellent images of an angelfish. How does the narration go People make three typical mistakes when writing scripts for their films:

  • Narration that tells you what youre seeing. Your script must add something to the images. Poor narration detracts from what may otherwise have been an enjoyable sequence of underwater shots, and can irritate the viewer: And here is an angelfish. The angelfish is a very pretty fish. It is blue and yellow and is shaped just like this. Angelfish are very beautiful fish. We know, we can see it!
  • Narration that tells you what you would be seeing if only the shot wasnt so poor: The fish in the hole is an angel- fish - look, you can just see it peering out. These are actually very pretty fish and if you could see the whole fish you would understand how it gets its name...
  • Narration that gives more information than we want or need: We saw this angelfish on our afternoon dive on the third day. We were diving Burger King Reef. I was almost out of air because we had been to 20m and the guide was ready to surface when I saw it...
     The golden rule is that narration should add value to your film, make the images even more interesting and the whole viewing experience more enjoyable and satisfying. If it doesnt achieve this, keep quiet!

10 Tacky effects and titles
Every editing package has an effects component, but dont feel obliged to use it just to prove that you can. Overdone effects are worse than none at all.
     Avoid at all costs anything that looks as if it was used in an 80s edition of Top of the Pops or an early episode of Dr Who.
     Effects should be used only to enhance your shots. So, for example, subtle short dissolves between shots or sequences can smooth the viewing experience. Over-long dissolves, where both shots can be seen for seconds, are simply irritating.
     Its a fine line, but if in doubt, use less rather than more. The film is about your underwater shots, not your cleverness in using a computer.
     The same goes for title sequences. So many look tacky and home-made. Watch and learn from films on television, where the title sequences are often simple but stunningly effective.

11 Cheesy shots
So often, a video will end with cheesy shots of you/your partner/your mates. Please take it from me that no one wants to see them. It is totally unoriginal.
     Nor is my enjoyment of an underwater film enhanced by seeing a line of hairy-arsed divers mooning at the camera!