Two words sum up any photo or video shoot that happens underwater.
Cameras don’t like water; in fact, most electronics don’t. But with cameras, we’re sticking a very expensive piece of gear into an environment that will kill it nearly instantaneously. So when we’re adding in other factors, like the fact that we’re live streaming from the bottom of a pool, it adds an extra level of, “Well, how the hell do we do that?”
While we’re accustomed to using our Sony Alphas (no we aren’t sponsored and no they aren’t paying us, we just love our Alphas) for a live stream option, we were using GoPros with custom housings that allowed for a direct HDMI plug-in option. Null Gravity joined Underwater Torpedo League (UTL) for their playoff game in San Clemente for an attempt at a live feed of the game. The set up was two-goal cams and a roving scubacam manned by Jon.
We’ve been in the media business for over a decade and we have some experience with live broadcasting but the live underwater part was new to us. UTL has been working on getting their sport out there and a live broadcast helps not only outreach but the chance for the audience to see what’s happening under the pool’s surface.
It’s a work in progress but the progress is good.
Here are a few things we learned about broadcasting underwater:
- Floods. They’re gonna happen. Insure your gear or be prepared for floods. An old camera pro once told us, “It’s not matter of if but when” a flood will happen. We insure our people and our gear through DAN (Divers Alert Network) and H20 Insurance.
- Keep it smooth. Good peak performance buoyancy is a necessity for smooth, steady shots. Jon isn’t shooting from a tripod and he can’t just run on the sidelines to get into position. Knowing how to control buoyancy with his BCD and breath helped him keep things looking good on camera.
- Keep the wobbles down. A two-handle system is a must, a one-handed grip system is going to wobble leading to shaky footage. The resistance of the water and the movement of the players caused some surge-like water movement.
- Safety. Especially if you have people swimming around- there are always risks when working underwater. A kick to the face, camera, or tank could injure a player or pull the regulator (the part divers breath from) out of Jon’s mouth. From the scuba side, Jon is a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer and is prepared to deal with any emergencies on his side. I am a PADI Divemaster who is ready as a safety. However, Jon mentions he takes great care in avoiding the players- knowing when to move in to capture the intensity but also knowing when to stay back- to keep everyone safe.
- Stay with the action. Just like with any sport, you have to follow the ball -or in this case, a torpedo- you might miss a great moment or you may have a player dart toward you. Keep your head on a swivel, environmental awareness is a necessity. Jon’s experience as a U.S. Navy Combat Cameraman taught him not to be hyper-fixated on what you are shooting but also what is happening around you. Anticipating where the action will be is an important part of capturing the best moments.
- Patience. Live broadcasts are a marriage of skill, equipment, and (a little) luck. There will be tech hiccups and issues that come up, especially at first. UTL’s hard work with the live streaming means it will only get better.
Overall, it was a learning experience and a good one at that. The finals for UTL will take place at the San Clemente Aquatics Center on August 11 from 4-6 p.m. PST and live streamed on Underwater Torpedo League’s Facebook. Null Gravity will be there with Jon on SCUBA cam, once again.
Check it out! It’s definitely worth a view, it’s unlike any sport you’ve seen.
Lisa Swank is a PADI Divemaster and one of the founders of Null Gravity LLC. She enjoys hiking, camping, SCUBA diving (duh!), and taking along her camera to photograph the moments she discovers on her adventures.