Cheap Trick for Underwater Shooting

A few weeks ago we told you about specialty bags to prevent your camera, smartphone and other electronics from getting water damaged while you frolicked at the beach or poolside. Today let's talk about what to do if you deliberately want to get that camera in the water. Fishtanks – Not Just for Aquatic Beings! There are all sorts of options to protecting your camera while shooting underwater, from elaborate housings and bags designed for the use to cameras made to go underwater [more on those in a moment], but my favorite underwater shooting tip is so simple and inexpensive. Dig up an old fishtank that's taking up dry space in the garage and get it wet again![image:blog_post:12704]

  1. First – clean the tank as well as possible. I find that rubbing alcohol and newspaper work better than glass cleaner and paper towels to prevent streaks. (Really, you only have to clean one panel of the tank).
  2. Then prep your camera. If you regularly tend to shoot with auto focus or auto iris, turn these off. The camera going from above to below the waterline will tend to make the auto settings self-adjust, giving you a "breathing" appearance.
  3. Make sure you pre-focus your camera on the widest setting possible, so you won't have to deal with out-of-focus shots.
  4. Next, place a brick for ballast in one end of the tank, and your old camcorder (note "old") in the front of the tank.
  5. Set the camera's lens as close to the edge of the glass as possible, to blur possible particle bits in the glass and to limit the glass-to-lens distance.
  6. Then, slowly push the fishtank into the water so that it's just a bit less than half-way underwater. You'll get some fun close-to-the-surface and waterline shots that will give your summer videos just that extra POV edge that you can't get otherwise.
  7. [image:blog_post:12705]You'll note that I said "old camcorder", because we'd worry about attempting this with our best camcorder, but there are other ways to protect the camera even more.
  8. To further prevent splashed water from getting to your camera, encase everything except the lens in a strong baggie. Cut a hole in the baggie just large enough for the lens to slip through, then secure the baggie to the lens using a rubber band. Be forewarned! You can't keep your camera encased like this for any real length of time in the summer heat – locking a camera up like this is like locking a dog in a car on a hot afternoon. That baggie can heat the components on your camera to a dangerous level after an hour or two and condensation can build up inside the bag.
  9. Another tip: Coat the area of the fishtank you'll shoot through with products designed for car windshields like Rain-X that will prevent drips and spots from staying on the glass.

This "Tips and Tricks" segment we did a while back is a video that shows you how we set this fishtank housing up. Bags, Houses and Specialty Gear Fishtanks are only good for waterline and slightly below-the-surface shooting. If you are planning any true underwater diving, you'll need to invest some cash in either a camera designed to go underwater or an underwater housing. If you plan to buy underwater housing, research the housing first, before you get a camera. This is NOT a one-size-fits all device. These housings not only don't fit every camera brand, they don't fit every model in a brand. However, for the best underwater video shooting, they offer you the most control. They camera hooks up a LANC cable to the interior of the housing that allows you to focus, zoom, and use other controls on the outside. Other ways to shoot under water is with heavy-duty plastic bags made specifically for camcorders; some have clean hard-plastic lens covers and neoprene casing that fit over your camera like a glove.[image:blog_post:12706][image:blog_post:12707]Others, like those pictured from Ewa-marine are more robust, customized for your specific camera and have a glass filter for the lens, so no plastic to wrinkle or scratch and ruin your shot. Ewa-marine has all sorts of sizes to accommodate attachments like lights or flashes for your DSLR, too. Canon also makes a specialty waterproof case for the popular VIXIA HF20 and VIXIA HF200 Flash Memory Camcorders, check out Gizmodo's review of those. Underwater Video Cameras And if casings or fishtanks aren't your cup of tea: there are a few video cameras on the market that work underwater, and we've reviewed a couple of them. [image:blog_post:12708] Liquid Image makes an underwater diving mask that not only shoots nice images, but also frees your hands for other important things, like treading water. It has filters that balance for the color differences, a wide-angle lens and idiot-proof lights in the mask to let you know if you are shooting or on standby. [image:blog_post:12709]We just received and reviewed Panasonic's HX-WA2 underwater camera and we were impressed with it's abilities and design. Our reviewer writes: " Light passing through the lens falls on a 1/2.33-inch, 14-megapixel CMOS sensor. The HX-WA2 records in full HD at either 60i or 30p using the MPEG-4 format. Other options include lower resolution progressive modes and a Voice Record mode for audio only recording. Still photo options are plentiful with nine different sizes to choose from, options in either a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio, four burst modes, two panorama modes, ISO control, photo image stabilization and a built-in flash." Watch for the full review to go online in the next few weeks. Finally, there are disposable underwater cameras that you can buy at most resort venues, they don't give you much storage, you can't preview the video and they're expensive, as portables go, but they're at least something to give you that extra POV shot that will wow your friends. Last tip and a warning: The one thing you have to know with any camera designed for underwater shooting is to make sure you a-l-w-a-y-s close it up as instructed, don't pull out the card or batteries while it's still wet, and that in time, water especially salt-water from the ocean or chlorine from a pool will eventually corrode some of the rubber casing that protects it, so the might not have long lifespans. Also, with housings or cameras designed for underwater, you'll need to replace or grease the O-rings [protective rubber washers] so every season take time to look it over for cracks and wear. Search "underwater video" in the Videomaker forums for more tips and tricks; there's always a conversation going on in this category and if you're going to be in or around the water this summer – below you'll find a few stories to read that might help you stay dry, shoot well, and have a worry-free vacation.

Have a great summer!

Jennifer O'Rourke
Jennifer O'Rourke
Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy award-winning videographer & editor.

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