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Tips for Filming the Ocean

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 9/10/2010

Here are some video production tips when trying to capture the ocean with your camcorder.

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    The Medium

    Digital video has democratized media in a way that allows most people the ability to capture beautiful images from the world they inhabit. The ocean has often been an inspirational part of our environment that sparks the creative imagination of artists in a whole range of mediums, and there are more than a few types of projects that may ask you to jump behind the camera and record images of the ocean. Here are a few tips for successfully filming this body of water for different types of digital video projects you may need it for.

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    Water Damage

    The first thing you are going to have to remember is not only that direct contact with the ocean water will damage equipment, but the general salt air and spray that is going to characterize the environment is going to cause problems with your digital video equipment as well. You are going to need to stabilize your equipment in a way that will prevent them from actually hitting the water in any unmediated kind of way, but you will also need to protect it from the more silent risk of what is just floating in the air. Make sure to use protective coatings and covers on all equipment, especially your digital video camera. There can be internal problems, rust formation, and degenerative breakdown that can occur over multiple shoots.

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    Reference Object

    Framing the image can be difficult as the ocean itself can appears so limitless and out of context. You are going to want to rely on many of the classic composition elements used in wide shots or master shots, but you may want to focus on relevant objects to provide context. This means having part of the shore or land mass in the shot to give a reference point. You may want to maintain the open appearance, but would like to dial in to a boat or other floating mass in the water. Whatever it is, you are going to try to get another object in there to add to the shot and to make it appear as though it has real weight.

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    Get Straight

    Image balance can also be a critical issue when filming the ocean as it can be hard to stabilize an image in a weather dependent area like the beach. You may find that your normal ways of finding out whether or not an image is straight, such as the level on your tripod or monopod, are not going to be enough. The main point is that when you are pointing out at the ocean you want to make sure that the horizon appears straight in the image. If the horizon appears as a straight line across the entire frame then this will tell you if it is straight or not and will be very obvious when the image is actually viewed in the final project. The horizon should act as the permanent straight line in your project, and when it is viewed across the ocean it is going to be the only time that it is completely uninterrupted, and therefore the perfect natural manifestation of this straight line. If you have another land mass here this is also going to not only give you the audience reference point, as mentioned above, but also a compositional one for basic image construction.

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    Light

    Light is difficult around all bodies of water, but of particular concern when filming the ocean. The ocean acquires its bluish tint through reflection and the light of the day really affects how it appears. You will not be able to affect the light around the ocean unless you are using the highest level professional equipment. Instead, you want to plan your shoot around the weather, and try to just light objects and subjects that will be filmed either in or near the water. The weather that you want is going to be dependent on what you are going to need, but you will want a relatively flat level of light if you want to film for a consistently long period of time. If you want a certain amount of light on the image, such as that which comes down straight in a "noon" fashion, then you will want cloud-free days to assert this. Remember, if you do not have a barrier like you do during an overcast day you will find that it is hard to match up shots that are taken at different times. Rain is always going to cause a problem unless you have the appropriate protective gear, and the light is usually going to have to be artificial.