PhotoCall Competition - JANUARY
A compact camera set up with video lighting.
Certain underwater scenes lend themselves better to moving pictures than still images, says Mark Koekemoer
LOOKING BACK OVER THIS SERIES of articles, which began in March 2010, it’s clear that the compact camera has become an invaluable tool for underwater photographers, beginner or otherwise. With manual over-rides and accessories, it is perfectly capable of achieving good results in the realm of stills photographs.
However, the feature that often gets overlooked is the ability to capture a motion picture. Found on most compact cameras, usually indicated by the Cinecam symbol, the Video mode tends to be forgotten during all the excitement of shooting still images.
In this, the penultimate article, I want to explore the art of shooting video with your compact. But there are a few technical aspects to be grasped before venturing into the blue, or emerald, world.
Different countries have adopted various methods of encoding and retrieving data for viewing. Consider from the outset where you will be most likely to view your footage through a TV set.
For example, North America and some parts of South America use the NTSC encoding system, while the UK and most of Europe, along with Australasia, India, China and parts of South America, make use of the PAL system. Make sure your camera settings are set accordingly.
This is the frequency at which the camera produces unique consecutive images called frames. Frame rate is expressed in frames per second (fps). There are currently three main rates found in cameras, 24, 25 and 30fps. The higher the frame rate, the more seamless the video will look.
Recorded as pixels; the higher the resolution, the higher the image quality. Standard definition (SD) traditionally consists of 640 x 480 pixels.
More popular today is High Definition (HD), consisting of 1280 x 720 pixels. Quite a few compacts on the market now feature HD-quality video. You may also have seen reference to Full HD, which is 1920 x 1080 pixels.
As with stills photography, videography is very equipment-dependent, so we need to look at the accessories you may require.
Interested in small critters Last month’s article Little Wonders explained in detail close-up lenses. Attaching and shooting remains the same in principle with video.
If your camera housing does not support lens attachments, you can try using the Macro mode to focus closer. Some camera models allow access to Macro while in Video mode, and others don’t.
In July’s issue I emphasised the use of fish-eye lenses, but this is not such a big deal for video. The distortion at the edges caused by fish-eyes makes divers or marine life swimming into or out of frame warp considerably, rendering it unnatural in appearance. For video a wide-angle lens with around 100-130° field of view may be more aesthetically pleasing.
The zoom function is seldom used in the final production of a video, as it usually appears contrived. For colour and quality retention, zoom with your fins. This gets you close to your subject, reducing the total light path.
When filming with natural light, you need to be aware of the direction from which it is coming. For maximum light transmission, shoot with the sun behind you, and for silhouettes face into the sun.
For colour reproduction, it is helpful to know whether your camera has access to the Underwater mode, or manual white balance while in Video mode. Some cameras will allow you to colour-correct, but not all. If not, it may be worth investing in colour-correction filters.
Sunlight is good only for certain shots taken in shallow water on a sunny day. Dive deeper, or on a cloudy day, and you may need to take advantage of another light source.
Unlike stills photography, you do not need a flash for shooting video. The motion capture is constant, so your light source needs to be constant. Achieving this comes in the form of specialised lights that are daylight-balanced and specifically designed for restoring colour in video.
When choosing a video light, take into consideration the lumens, burntime, angle of coverage and type of batteries required.
You will be free to employ your creative talents to the full if you know your camera
and can operate it in its housing by feel, and without hesitation.
Keep the camera steady to ensure that the end result on the TV is easy on the eye. Your buoyancy skills should be perfect.
When following a moving subject, fin smoothly and follow its general direction, but don’t echo its every twist and turn. Allow the subject to swim out and back into frame if need be, to keep the sequence smooth.
When panning the camera, decide in advance in which direction the shot should start. Twist your body to the starting position and begin your pan. By slowly untwisting as you pan, you ensure a much smoother result.
Always begin recording about 10 seconds prior to the action and stop roughly 10 seconds afterwards to allow for any lag on the camera, and for editing purposes.
Good video stories not only have a beginning, middle and an end, but rhythm, drama and humour. The aim of a successful movie should be to entertain, so imagination, creativity and the ability to see the unusual is vital.
Next month - (February issue): Micro Four Thirds, the next generation.
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