How to capture marine life behaviour on film

Action and story are essential to any underwater documentary. Videographers aim to tell a story with their films. In fact, it’s a short representation of the ocean and its creatures. In order to tell a good story, they need to capture unique action shots of marine animals. Here are some important tips on how to capture marine life behaviour.

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Research the subject

Knowing a little more about the animal will help you know what to look out for while filming underwater. One example of behaviour you’ll want to capture is reproduction. This means mating, egg-laying, courting or nesting. Other interesting behaviour includes feeding, fighting and cleaning. These are things you can research beforehand. You’ll then be able to identify exactly what’s happening while on a shoot.

Visit interesting sites

Some dive sites are known for being the home of specific wildlife. A great way to capture marine life behaviour is knowing where to find specific species. If you’d like to film sea turtles, for instance, then Hawaii, Barbados or the Great Barrier Reef are great places to go. If you like ragged-tooth sharks, the Aliwal Shoal of South Africa is the perfect spot for filming them.

Look for action

Some exciting moments of animal behaviour are the unexpected ones. While you’re filming, you might come across a fish eating a smaller fish or a piece of shrimp. Alternatively, you might find two species fighting or interacting. You should always be attentive to capturing these types of behaviour. They will make your photos unique and captivating.

Try to find a pattern

To capture marine life behaviour, be attuned to the environment and wildlife. This way, you will pick up on important details. For instance, the behaviour you’re looking to film might not happen immediately. It’s best to take the time to wait a while and watch your subject. Often, animals follow a certain pattern of courting, mating, looking for food, or returning to their shelter. Learn to read these recurring patterns and use it to set up your shots in certain spots and at a certain time of the day. Read wildlife behaviour to see recurring patterns and movements. Then, choose the right position, lighting and timing to take photos.

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Be invisible

Marine animals often flee or stop their normal behaviour when you get too close with the camera. Animals will relax more and behave naturally when you become invisible and non-threatening. See which animals allow you to come quite close before hiding. Then, focus on keeping very still and staying in that same spot for a long time. Eventually, the creature will become comfortable. You’ll then be able to film it going about its usual activity. Be sure not to kick up sand or stir the water too much with your fins. Be as unobtrusive as possible to your marine life subjects and their environment. 

Dive multiple times

If you can’t get a lot of footage of marine life behaviour on the first dive, it’s worth coming back a second or even third time. Underwater environments are always changing. You might not see the same creatures in one place every time. On the other hand, you might capture the same species doing something different or more interesting. 

Keep these basic tips in mind on how to capture marine life behaviour. With time and experience, you’ll become an expert at locating the best dive sites, finding marine life and filming fascinating marine life behaviours. Have your first marine life behaviour film experience with Africa Media’s Underwater Videography program

Rouzne van der westhuizen

Blogger Profile - Rouxne van der Westhuizen

Rouxne has an Honours degree in journalism and media studies. She specialises in wildlife conservation writing, travel journalism and blogging.

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