Filming underwater

Underwater filming in BBC's The Blue Planet

Deep Blue Sea, Titanic, Jaws, Free Willy, the BBC’s The Blue Planet – all of these feature underwater scenes. But how do you prepare for an underwater shoot? Our expert reveals all.

Filming underwater is no ordinary task and insurance companies often shy away from covering it. Compared to filming on dry land working underwater presents several major differences that make even the simplest task more difficult.

A good rule of thumb when it comes to working underwater is to multiply time, people and money by three: a task that normally takes one person 1 minute and costs £100 will take three people 3 minutes and cost £300.

On top of this you have to take into account that filming underwater also brings with it many potential hazards. The equipment is normally heavier because it’s built to withstand pressure and corrosion, surfaces are slippery, and everything needs to be made safe to prevent the risk of electric shock, especially when lights are involved.

In fact, various countries worldwide consider working underwater a hazardous activity for which a commercial diving qualification is required (so make sure to always check beforehand with your local film commission if this is the case).

Aside from the danger to the cameraman, the water also poses a threat to the equipment and tests – for example to check all the housing – are required every time you prepare for a new shoot or move your gear to another location.

Director of photography Franz Pagot, who specialises in underwater filming, provides us with the following extensive guide to underwater filming covering everything you need to know, full of very handy insider tips.