Getting the perfect underwater shot

By mnsmarine

The Marine Group’s talk on underwater videography (April 19, 2006) by MNS member and wildlife documentary maker Harun Rahman was attended by more than a dozen people including a very enthusiastic 11-year old.

Harun has been avidly combining his lifelong interest in photography and the outdoors. In the late 1990s, he pioneered Malaysia’s first televised marine life series for ASTRO – 26-episode “Warisan Samudera” was a 3-year journey to Malaysia’s remote reefs in the Andaman Sea, the Straits of Malacca, the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea.

Since then he has taken on more underwater filming projects – Sabah Parks, Turtle Islands Park, a series on Mabul, Sipadan, Pandanan, and Layang Layang, and a documentary about turtles and threats to their survival. His biggest fear while underwater has nothing to do with being eaten by a school of hammerhead sharks, but that he won’t get that perfect shot!

After screening his most recent underwater documentary for the Marine Parks of Malaysia, he talked about various housing options for cameras – from the reasonable EWA Marine SLR camera housing for amateurs to the astronomically priced electronically operated housings for professional videographers.

Taking questions from the audience, his talk progressively became more technical – touching on video formats, and the use of lights and filters. His tips were not only for semi-professionals but also for amateurs with digital cameras and throwaway underwater cameras.

Eleven year old Balakrishna M. Pillai had a question about how to take a picture of a jellyfish. “Jellyfish is very difficult to shoot as they are practically invisible,” answered Harun. “You have to position yourself with the sun behind the jellyfish, and then you can see it better.”

Rather than a shot of a pretty scene, he suggested capturing animal behaviour instead, like a fish eating another fish or turtles mating. He also warned against moving animals just for the sake of a better picture composition.

Underwater videography can be challenging as well as frustrating. Besides water currents which hamper movement, there is also the predicament of lens use – close-up or wide angle. “If I’m using a close-up lens, that’s the time when the manta rays and the school of hammerhead sharks appear,” he lamented.

On leisure divers, he said that he found people going too fast that they miss so much. “I dive for about an hour, in which time I travel at the most 40m in distance,” said Harun. “Other divers travel a long, long way and the boat has to pick me up about a kilometre away.”

There has never been a bad experience with wildlife – even with the infamous triggerfish. “I’ve been a foot away from them,” recalled Harun, “but I don’t go near them when it’s nesting season!” (Male triggerfish guard their nest zealously and have been known to bite divers’ fins that come too close.)

Maintaining neutral buoyancy is exceptionally important when videographing, so too is looking after your dive buddy, getting your underwater orientation right, and watching how much air you have left. Taking all these safety measures into consideration, underwater videography is one of the ways to truly enjoy Malaysia’s marine life.