Book review: Action Camera Underwater Video Basics

Essential new guide to getting big results from a small camera

Author: Pat
8th November 2021

Action Camera Underwater Video Basics book by Jeff Goodman

Once upon a time, not so long ago, you needed deep pockets and a van full of pelican cases to become an underwater videographer.

That all changed with the introduction of the GoPro, which launched the ‘action camera’ into the consciousness of outdoorsy folk everywhere, and spawned a million imitation cameras. Helpfully, most of those imitations and their vast array of accessories are compatible with GoPro (and each other), opening up many possibilities for filmmakers to shoot in wild and thrilling situations.

can sit on your shelf alongside those instructional manuals, rather than the guidebooks

There’s something pleasingly simple about the action camera, with its fixed focal length and easy portability. I have a DSLR camera, and placed into the housing with strobes attached it weighs a tonne, is bulky to wield underwater and has switches and modes as yet undiscovered. By contrast, an action camera fits in the palm of a hand, is relatively tough, cheap, and easily overlooked.

For this reason it’s easy to see the action camera as a mere recording device, akin to a dashcam or perhaps one of those police interrogation tapes: recording for posterity. However, the action camera can produce great results for newbies and experienced filmmakers alike, and now a new book from Dived Up Publications called ‘Action Camera Underwater Video Basics’ aims to explain how. This colourful and detailed guide takes a fresh look at these popular cameras and promises to help the underwater videographer get professional results.

Action Camera Underwater Video Basics book by Jeff Goodman

Author Jeff Goodman knows a thing or two about shooting underwater, having cut his teeth in the 1970s as a documentary wildlife cameraman. He has witnessed first-hand how cameras have shrunk and become more affordable while the challenges of capturing good footage underwater haven’t changed at all: light levels are low, visibility can be negligible, the subject matter is often walking or swimming away, and many other headaches to grapple with.

There are several elements to quality filmmaking, and Jeff isn’t afraid to tackle them all: the camera itself including the features and settings available; the techniques of shooting, including where you position and move the camera to get the best results; and finally, the edit suite and how you put the finished film together.

Action Camera Underwater Video Basics book by Jeff Goodman

This is an in-depth guidebook which won’t be intimidating to the newbie or novice filmmaker (I include myself in this category), largely thanks to the generous use of colour photos and right-versus-wrong example images to steer the reader.

Jeff begins with diving fundamentals, and stresses that being a good underwater cameraman relies on being a good diver. So if you’re frustrated by poor footage, make sure your buoyancy, weighting, trim, gas consumption and the rest are of the highest standard first. We then move onto Jeff’s obvious first love which is marine wildlife, and how to treat it with caution and respect. There are some wise tips here which you’ll be keen to emulate, such as not rushing around a dive site but stopping to allow the wildlife to come to you instead.

Action Camera Underwater Video Basics book by Jeff Goodman

We’re then taken on a tour of action cameras and accessories including corrective lenses, lights and trays to help you get better results. The full complement of gear available could fill a book on its own, so the author sensibly focuses on the mainstream models and crucial accessories you’ll want to invest in. Of particular interest is the section on lighting, which is bread-and-butter to photographers and videographers of all stripes who work beneath the surface. As Jeff puts it, “even a small, simple light is going to make the world of difference to your images.”

Action Camera Underwater Video Basics is laid out almost chronologically, from theory and equipment to planning a shoot, gear maintenance, expeditionary filming and cold water. The section on techniques was particularly useful, where Jeff opens up the vault on his years of experience to share a few trade secrets. Most of these aren’t unique to filming with action cameras of course, suggesting the author has judged that many readers are coming to underwater videography completely afresh. You can probably think of divers you know who aren’t interested in taking pictures, yet take an action camera on a trip. Well, this is their chance to get to grips with the rule of thirds… the photographic one, not the gas consumption one.

Former Scouts will be familiar with the mantra ‘be prepared’ which certainly sums up the chapter on sequencing, in particular where we’re introduced to storyboarding. My first thought was ‘why bother?’ – as the author himself identifies very often we don’t know what we’re going to see (or even, have seen) until we get back to the edit suite. However, planning a sequence in rough can help when thinking about the variety of establishing shots or close-ups required for a satisfactory film.

Action Camera Underwater Video Basics book by Jeff Goodman

In its later pages the book takes us through the editing process and how to chop your masterpiece together. It also takes a brief look at still photography, which can be tricky using an action camera but the author feels is worthy of inclusion – not least as it’s possible to salvage still images if the footage you’ve shot was decent enough.

I particularly like the closing chapters of the book which challenge the reader to undertake confined water and open water filming exercises. You’ll be encouraged to have a go at storyboarding your movie, follow a checklist, capture the shots and then edit it successfully afterwards. In this way, Action Camera Underwater Video Basics can sit on your shelf alongside those instructional manuals rather than the guidebooks.

Jeff Goodman and Dived Up Publications have produced the essential guide to impressive underwater video. Whether you’re a filmmaker on a budget, or prefer the apparent simplicity and portability of action cameras, you’re bound to get better results by following the advice it contains. Given the many thousands you’ve already saved on that DSLR/housing and lighting rig, the cover price of this book seems like a worthy investment.

Action Camera Underwater Video Basics by Jeff Goodman is published by Dived Up Publications. Available now in paperback, £20 RRP. ISBN 978-1-909455-44-3

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