Updated: Aug 26, 2021
When I was organizing my first underwater shoot, everything seemed quite simple at first. However, I quickly learned that the first impression I got from stock photos and video hosting sites was incorrect, even though everything was shot like a documentary with very simple capabilities. Especially things that were shot in the clear waters of white beaches, usually on the islands.
If you need to shoot a staged scene, in controlled water (pool), then be prepared to take into account important factors that we will describe below.
First Consideration: The Pool
You need full control over the pool for 4-5 days. The water that was in it will most likely have to be drained and poured anew. It would then need to be filtered and a group of chemicals for transparency also added. It is also good if the location has the possibility of a reliable suspension for lighting. In addition, most likely you will need to mount the underwater background, cover the walls and the bottom of the pool. The fabric should be stretched, because if it is simply lowered into the water, it will start to wave because of the underwater currents and this can be seen in the frame.
The Transparency of the Water
You need to constantly monitor the transparency of the water. A slight external change in transparency can reduce the visibility in the camera from 7 to 2 meters. I had a project where, on the instructions of the director, I needed greenish lake water. If in the frames with portrait size we got what we needed, then in the general shot we could see practically nothing. Therfore, I had to wait until the water was filtered so it would be clear once again.
Immersing the scenery in addition to the background is a separate topic of discussion. You should keep in mind that painted decorations with unstable paints or applied to unstable surfaces cloud the water very quickly and make it impossible to remove. It is best to submerge the set several days in advance of the shoot to make sure the water remains clear and the set is not worn out.
The materials are also important. The foam, which is ften used in props, will be very difficult to keep under water.
I remember this one situation where the head of the decoration of an ancient statue was made of polystyrene, taking into account the immersion under water. The prop also had a metal tape that seemed to securely fix the head in place. 10 hours after the dive, this head flew out from under the water like a bullet, scaring the film crew. In addition to the ruined figure, we also received turbid water, which had to be purified for almost five hours.
Shooting in a pool or underwater certainly carries increased dangers,which is why you must have the following people present:
A lifeguard in the water, at least two people who will monitor the safety in the water and nothing else, because problems can happen to one group member at a time and the rest of the group may be too focused on filming to notice the problem.
A paramedic, with a set of resuscitation equipment to restore rhythm and breathing.
Another factor to consider is the lighting equipment that you most likely will have to place above and near the pool. It must be protected from falling into the water with reliable rigid locks, not just an additional loaded tripod. LIkewise, you also need to ensure that no lamp falls into the water as well.
If your actor tells you he can swim, that's not enough. You need a professional, former or current aquatics athlete. The actor will most likely have to dive without scuba gear for a long time. Such activity very quickly exhausts the actors. Also, even professional swimmers cannot be put in for a long time due to hypothermia since even warm water in the pool is below body temperature. Therefore, 2-3 hours is what you can count on with one actor and if you need more - involve stunt doubles so the actors can rest. For general shots, underwater stunt doubles work very well.
Here it is important to talk about the change in the appearance of the actors underwater for which you must be ready. You will need to use special materials for make up.
Warm water suits are a must for those who will be working. Like the actors, they are unlikely to be able to stay in the water for more than a couple of hours without warm dry suits. It is better to reduce the number of people who are directly by the pool. Remember, fewer people near the water means fewer accidents.
There are usually special sealed boxes in which cameras are placed along with lenses and electronics to control focus and the camera itself. These are rather large and heavy boxes. The cameraman often has to work without the possibility of video control and directing the camera manually by approximation.
In addition, video monitoring and camera control must also be done through wires since radio signals do not pass through the water.
A separate unit is needed for communicating between the surface and underwater group, through which commands are transmitted to the members of the group underwater. It is possible to transmit commands under the water, but this requires a special device and some training is needed, since only parts of the sounds pass under the water.
The Shooting Schedule
In my experience, it is difficult to count on more than 5-6 frames in a 12 hour shift.
I am not talking about shooting in special studios built for underwater walls, where the pool has already been prepared, there is a special underwater window for shooting. As a rule, such pavilions already have a solution for the required task, and everything is much simpler. Here I described the points that must be taken into account when organizing shoots in unsuitable pools.
In many ways, the difficulty of obtaining underwater shots, with staging and scenery, makes some videos unique, rare and incredibly beautiful. In my experience, all of these efforts are very much worth it, especially since Ukraine has both unique specialists in underwater shooting and the necessary equipment. There are deep pools allowing you to organize underwater shoots as well. Let's shoot!