Underwater camera scenes are often a powerful addition to all sorts of visual content. They’re certainly a great addition to films of different kinds, but can also be successfully added to other forms of visual content including television, documentaries, commercials, corporate videos, short films, trailers… you name it.

There are certainly many films where underwater scenes have been prominent. We’ll examine some of these, trying to articulate their impact on the work they’re a part of. We’ll also check out how underwater camera moments may relate to more general story principles.

Why Underwater Camera?

A filmmaker or content creator may use an underwater camera for a variety of reasons. Now then, we need to understand that when we’re attempting to use an underwater camera in film, such use will vary depending on genre. Let’s take a look at different uses of underwater camera scenes and sequences…

Monster’s Underwater Milieu

If the film is entirely based underwater, then the use of an underwater camera would be a natural addition. There are several films or television shows which may take place underwater. Think ‘Aquaman’, to name one example. In these cases, underwater camera work would be a normal addition. Such content could very well span across many different genres.

Another typical use of underwater cameras is in the creation not only of a milieu or environment, but in the depiction of the monster as a stalker. This type of shot or scene makes use of the monster stalking the character or protagonist. This time though, instead of using the point of view of the monster, the shot is wide and shows both characters.

Jaws (1975)

Perhaps the classic ‘monster-in-the-water’ film. This film, as we know, is a very tight and scary story about the fight to eliminate a huge shark that is living in the water near a community.

This film is a great example of the monster as a stalker, with a lot of water scenes. These not only depict the water as the milieu or environment of the shark. They also go a step further and depict the monster actively stalking characters, and indeed attacking them too.

Monster’s Point of View

The use of an underwater camera is a typical addition in several genres including horror. Remember, for example, the ‘monster of the week’ episodes of The X-Files. It was not unusual to have a camera that was meant to recreate the point of view of the creature or ‘cryptid’. In certain instances, this took place underwater, such as in the case of the episodes ‘Quagmire’ or ‘The Host’.

What the use of an underwater camera achieves here is point of view. We are seeing what the monster is seeing and this is often powerful. Such a situation is recreated in a series of films.

Anaconda (1997)  

Although admittedly not a favorite of critics, ‘Anaconda’ is a good example of using an underwater camera to recreate the point of view of the monster. This is usually a great addition to a film, serving several purposes.

For one, underwater camera scenes are a great way to build suspense. It’s not unusual for them to be created from the point of view of a monster or creature uniquely for this purpose. As such, the use of an underwater camera is often featured in horror shows or films.

Apart from suspense, recreating the point of view of the monster is ideal because it strengthens the role of the monster as the enemy. As we know, good dramatic writing requires several things. Lajos Egri identifies certain basic elements that create great dramatic writing: premise, character and conflict. A simple way to create conflict in a film (and more so in an adventure-horror film such as ‘Anaconda’) is to set up a monster as the most formidable opponent. The use of an underwater camera to create the monster’s point of view can go a long way in achieving this.

Protagonist vs. Monster

A typical use of an underwater camera in film occurs when there’s finally a confrontation between the character (and often the protagonist) against the monster. As such, this confrontation makes extensive use of underwater cameras: some of the action is filmed outside the water, some of it inside the water. Astute editing usually intercuts one with the other.

Such a dualism and battle usually signals a turning point in the script as well. Often, it’s the end of the film, where the final battle between protagonist and monster takes place, though this is not a hard and fast rule.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)  

An interesting example of a confrontation between characters and aquatic monsters takes place in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’. There’s a particularly interesting scene here that exemplifies the use of an underwater camera and a character vs monster battle. This time around, it’s a crew against mermaids.

What About Other Content?

You’re possibly reading this and thinking: ‘This is great, but I’m not going to create films. Can I use these principles for other content?’ Well, perhaps we should point out that these uses of an underwater camera can absolutely be applied to other work.

Whether you’re aiming to create content like television, commercials, short films, and more, these uses of an underwater camera may still help you. The idea is to take the story principles shown earlier and apply them to other pieces of content.

It’s also quite possible that other pieces of content may require even more extensive use of an underwater camera. These include documentaries. There are, we’ve seen, documentaries that feature sharks, for example, and which require extensive underwater camera work.

The point to remember is that we may replicate the principles we’ve seen throughout this article, creating similar underwater shots, scenes and sequences.

Troubleshooting Underwater Camera Scenes

It’s vital to note that underwater camera scenes shouldn’t be used to cover for story problems in our content. Let’s try to analyze some situations and examples.

Story Structure

A three-act structure is often used in most visual content. It certainly is a hallmark of film. Using this traditional structure, a film is divided into three acts. Act 1 finishes with a turning point which propels the action into Act 2. This act is usually the longest one, and it’s often divided in two: the middle of the act is also the middle of the film and it’s usually called the midpoint. Act 2 ends with yet another turning point, which sends the film into Act 3, where the film ends in a climax and resolution.

When using underwater camera shots and scenes, we need to make sure that these are not added to make up for weak structure. Some creators, unfortunately, use things such as underwater camera shots and scenes as a sort of gimmick, to cover for story structure problems.

An ideal use of underwater camera scenes is to make use of them at story turning points. They can serve as guideposts to finish one story section and begin another. Underwater camera scenes may therefore serve to highlight each of these sections of a film and its script.

underwater camera

Too Much Marzipan!

Occasionally, the use of underwater camera scenes may prove to be excessive. Indeed, we need to try to understand if using such type of scene is necessary or not. The best way to do this is to ask ourselves if the use of an underwater camera is thematically relevant.

A film, and indeed most forms of dramatic writing, live or die by their premises. The premise, as taught by Lajos Egri, is really the foundation block of the whole dramatic edifice in a script. The idea is that every moment of the story should serve the premise. This is the best rule of thumb to cut out excess from a script.

In the case of adding underwater camera work, we need to ask ourselves, does this serve the story? This basically means, does this serve the premise? If it doesn’t, then its use is too weak and it should be left out.

The Issue of Genre

Perhaps the most basic use of an underwater camera is to create an atmosphere of suspense. This is certainly true of shots, scenes, and sequences like those we’ve described in this article.

An underwater scene may allow an audience to look deeply and see different details. As such, it may generate a sense of atmosphere and suspense. Apart from that, it allows the audience to admire the work of the below-the-line artists who’ve worked in the film. If we have the time to look into the scene, we’ll discover many things that would’ve been lost otherwise. Another added effect of underwater work is that such emphasis on aesthetics and background often illuminates character. As we know, it’s character that drives films.

Sometimes though, the use of an underwater camera may create unnecessary tension and atmosphere. In fact, such ‘atmospherics’, so to speak, may be useful in certain genres but not in others. There are films that showcase water in a particular way. In fact, they portray it as more than just water, or a physical element, and turn it into something akin to a character as such. Other films and content, however, need not go to these lengths. For them, underwater camera work may prove to be unnecessary and unrelated to the story goals.

Creating Underwater Camera Moments

When considering the use of an underwater camera, think Bunny Studio! Our talented pros can help you create underwater camera moments for film, television, documentaries, commercials, short films, you name it. Go to the Bunny Studio website, click on ‘Chat With Us’ and let’s get started today!