One of the most repeated questions on the Wetpixel forums relates to opinions about the best textbook for information about underwater photography. The good news is that the almost universal answer is the Martin Edges’s book: The Underwater Photographer almost invariably gets recommended as the best single source. Recent eBooks by Steve Fish and others also help to keep print versions updated and relevant.
Sadly, underwater video is not as well represented in print. Jeff Goodman has set out to correct this deficit. The author has been shooting video since the age of 22 and has worked for the BBC, Discovery and National Geographic and the book aims to provide techniques from setting up and choosing a housing, all the way through to editing and exporting your footage as a finished film. It is an ambitious project, and Jeff is also realistic in terms of its currency in the fast developing world of video cameras and technology;
“Even as I am writing this book, the technology of cameras and housings keeps changing. The camera I feature in this book has now, even before publishing, been superseded by the next model…..
There are a few things however that change very little, these are the basics of good camera work, story creation, editing, lighting and the abilities to locate and film great animal behavior.”
The book is divided into short chapters, with anecdotal stories about filming projects interspersed. This makes for a pleasant reading experience as the vignettes provide a respite from the large amount of technical information that is presented. The book initially deals with most aspects of camera and housing selection, including formats, monitors, buoyancy, resolution, one chip or three, controls and focus. It then starts looking at underwater camera techniques, with reference to pulling focus, pets, zooming through, condensation, zebra patterns, fps, white balance and filters.
Moving on to lighting, Jeff spends some time discussing underwater lighting, including available light shots, before moving on to specific underwater techniques. He covers macro techniques, before talking about other diving specific tools and techniques. Perhaps uniquely, he talks about using rebreathers and free diving in consecutive sections!
Drysuit use, diving with scooters and underwater communications all form part of this section too. It is followed by a discussion about the difference between shooting stills and video and key concepts including shot length, 16:9 framing, framing in general, perspective and composition. He then moves on to pre-shoot planning and talks about storyboarding, dive planning, sequence structures and ethical considerations.
Throughout the book, the author repeatedly reinforces a strong environmental/conservation message, with a very strong story about the harpooning of a basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) during the making of BBC production provoking this reaction:
“It was once noted that we seem to have an infinite capacity to justify our actions of cruelty on not only ourselves but all other species. We can be seen to take great pleasure in watching animals die, especially if it is in a spectacular way. Why? I don’t know. We have evolved into a harsh predatory species and I truly wonder when we will get beyond this basic human trait. Of course there are many individuals among us who are not part of this collective trait, but self-righteousness is no excuse for complacency.”
The last twenty pages of the book are devoted to editing, which includes a fairly comprehensive look at editing with Adobe Premier Elements. It is impossible to complete an entire review of video editing techniques in a book of this type and, in truth, if you have specific technique issues when editing using Premiere or any other NLE, there are lots of resources that are more comprehensive than this. That said, this is a fairly complete overview, and within the ambit of the book, completes the process from planning, capturing, ingesting, importing and finally exporting footage. The book aims to be a complete reference, and it is hard to see how it could be so without including some information on the editing process. It is not a replacement for specific tutorials or textbooks about individual NLEs though.
A guide to Underwater Wildlife Video and Editing is a remarkably good read! Jeff’s enthusiasm and experience show as he navigates through what is really a very technical subject and this help make the book much more enjoyable that one might otherwise suppose. There is no mention of SLR video shooting, which may well reflect the authors background, nor any discussion of POV cameras like the GoPro. Both of these topics will, I feel, become increasingly important in the underwater filmmaking world in the future. That said, sequence construction is eloquently explained, and this process is the same regardless of the tools used to achieve it.
Jeff concludes his book with “A Tear for Common Sense.” He describes the frustration he experiences when he is on-board a conservation boat with guest scientists and watches them tuck into meal of tinned tuna and fresh fish whilst bemoaning the lack of fish in the sea. He concludes:
So why am I writing like this when at the same time I am trying to encourage people to experience marine life (and buy my book)? It’s simply because I love the oceans and want people to share in its wonder, and perhaps take a step back and look at what we are really doing to it.
It is the anecdotes and ideas like this in this book that make me recommend it. If you are a seasoned pro cameraman, you will know most of the technical information, but Jeff’s personality and stories will make the book worth a read. If you are a relative video neophyte, there is a wealth of information, technique and experience in its pages.
A guide to Underwater Wildlife Video and Editing by Jeff Goodman is available via Amazon and other online bookstores. It is also available direct from the author.
FTC Disclosure: The review copy of A guide to Underwater Wildlife Video and Editing was purchased by the reviewer from the author at a discounted price.