“It’s unusable… (expletive) …drag clip to trash. Maybe I’ll remember everything if I make an acronym. How about: F.F.F.I.S.C.B… Frame rate, Focus, F-stop, ISO, Shutter speed, Color temp – and – are there Bubbles on the dome port lens?”
FFFISCB? Like I’m going to remember that….
I’ve ruined hundreds of otherwise great shots by forgetting to stay on top of any one of these seven variables. (Bubbles on the dome port? Happens most when diving white water. Sticky micro-bubbles usually aren’t the first thing you think about when you’re getting swept down a raging river…)
WHAT ARE JUMP SETTINGS? “I’m jumping into the water. What have I got dialed in – and what’s it going to get me?”
After seven years of free-dive filming in all kinds of conditions, my take on ‘jump settings’ is as follows…
1) FRAME RATE: Let the debate begin! Some shooters swear by 24fps. Their argument? “Theatrical releases require it and people are used to it.” Others feel that 30fps looks more ‘liquid and smooth’. Their logic? “This is going to be viewed in the digital domain, not in a theater – so go with 30fps…” Pick your flavor and take your lumps.
2) FOCUS: Fish-eye lenses are more popular than ever these days. Determine what the optimum distance is for pre-focusing the lens to achieve that result. You can use your fin, (held about four feet away) as a focus target. Magnify the image to 10X or more as you focus so you can see when you’ve nailed it.
3) F-STOP: Let’s not go there… It’s a convoluted balance of choices that affect depth of field. Underwater, the goal is usually ‘as much in focus as possible’, so higher numbers (F8 and close to it) are a safe bet.
4) ISO: Shoot enough test footage to determine where your camera begins to look noisy/grainy and use ISO settings below that number. Adjust ISO (along with F-stop) to brighten or darken the image on the LCD screen. Note that shallow, sandy, sunny tropical water can blow out your footage easily, so dialing down the ISO to its minimum value is often a requirement (unless you have neutral density filters at the ready to knock the light down a few stops.)
5) SHUTTER SPEED: Underwater, 1/60th of a second creates a smoothness that looks good to my eye. The downside? If you want to use single frames as stills, there will be a bit of smear and softness to the image because the shutter is open long enough to ‘blur’ the movement.
6) COLOR TEMPERATURE: I used to fret about it constantly. Every lake or river I’ve filmed in has a different tint. Some skew toward cool greens and blues, others toward nasty yellows and browns. (The brown is usually tannin. Logs release it.) Solution? Frame up a scene that includes well-lit water, green plants, brown rocks, and (hopefully) some fish. Then dial in a look that pleases your eye on the LCD screen. Lower Kelvin temperatures make browner water look more blue. (K4000 to K3000.)
7) BUBBLES ON THE DOME PORT: They are often impossible to see on the LCD screen, but flip the camera around and there they are. A quick wipe with your hand will clean them right off. If you forget, they obscure the clarity and composition of an otherwise great clip.
PRACTICE PUSHING YOUR BUTTONS: With your camera in the housing, practice making adjustments on dry land, over and over and over again until you can do it (almost) without looking. Do it until it’s ingrained as muscle memory. Why? When you’re deep underwater – holding your breath, looking through a mask, dealing with buoyancy and currents and bubbles and buddies and (hopefully) photogenic creatures – it’s easy to lose focus. We don’t want that.
See you in the water! ~ Steve Underwood