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Becky Kagan Schott Talks About Underwater Videography

Interview with an Award-Winning Scuba Adventurer

By

photo of scuba diving with a bull shark

Underwater videographer Becky Kagan Schott in her office.

© Paul Spielvogel, 2012

Seventy percent of the planet is covered in water. Becky Kagan Schott is attempting to film as much of it as possible. Most humans never see what lies beneath the surface of our flooded planet. Becky brings the magical, and sometimes astonishing, underwater world into our home television sets, and allows those who will never dive in the Arctic or with humpback whales to share her adventures.

As exciting as it sounds, underwater videography isn't all fun and games. Of all the divers I have met, Becky is one of the hardest working and most driven. She has to be. A career in underwater videography requires not only excellent videography skills, it requires a business mind, extreme and varied diving skills, a journalist's ability to create and tell stories, an artistic eye, and sometimes, nerves of steel. It also requires the patience of a kindergarden teacher for long hours spent editing and mastering video after the filming is over.

Becky has a degree in journalism from the University of Tampa, worked as a photojournalist, and holds certifications in Cave, Wreck, Rebreather, Ice, and just about every other type of diving imaginable. Becky and her husband David Schott co-own an underwater film production company called Liquid Productions LLC. They have filmed documentaries in a variety of underwater environments, such as the shipwrecks of Truck Lagoon and the flooded caves of Florida. This year, Becky was honored with an Emmy Award for her work on a special about the Eagle's Nest Cave in Florida.

I had a great time cave diving with Becky this winter, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions about underwater videography for those of us who are (let's face it) a bit jealous of her adventures.

On Diving Adventures:

Question: What is one of the most unusual places that you have traveled to shoot?

Becky Kagan Schott: In early April, I received a call to film a documentary in the Bering Sea, which is in Northern Alaska. We filmed under six feet of ice in 28° F / -2.5° C water. It was certainly some of the most unique diving I've ever done. This was the first time that I had to pack gear on snow machine sleds, ride out ten miles, and then use augers (tools to bore holes in ice) and chain saws to get to the dive site

Question: Do you have a favorite video or documentary that you have filmed?

Becky Kagan Schott: Last May, we worked on a documentary called Project Shiphunt in the Great Lakes. What made this documentary so memorable was working with five high school students and having the opportunity to show them our world. With help from NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and some of the archeologists that helped map the Titanic, these students discovered virgin shipwrecks that were lost over a century ago! It reminded me that everything in this world hasn't been found and there is so much more to explore. It's important for us to mentor the next generation of explorers.

On Filming Sharks While Scuba Diving:

Question: You were recently in Playa del Carmen filming bull sharks for a Mexican sharks documentary. Was it scary to dive with bull sharks?

Becky: Mexico has so much to offer in the way of shark diving! For the Mexico Shark Documentary, we dove cage-less with great whites, bull, and tiger sharks. I'm not afraid of sharks but I also respect the fact that they are apex predators and that I'm in their environment.

Question: You mentioned that you wore chain mail for the shark dives in Playa del Carmen. How was it?

Becky: I wore chain mail for the first time in Playa del Carmen for the bull shark dives because I was filming next to the feeder and the bait. I'm sure I didn't need the chain mail but it was a precaution. I never felt threatened and was not bitten.

Question: How Do You Feel About Shark Feeding?

Becky: I have mixed feelings about shark feeding and it's a big controversy. I prefer when there is just a bait bucket in the water to attract the sharks as opposed to hand-feeding them. What I do like about these types of dives is that people who have mixed feelings about sharks walk away with a whole new respect for these animals. They can see that sharks aren't mindless, man-eating monsters but are very elegant and a pleasure to be in the water with.

Diving destinations:
Wreck Diving in Tobermory, Canada
Xcalak, Mexico
Mozambique, Africa

Advice for Underwater Videographers and Photographers:

Question: Does it help to practice videography on land before attempting to shoot video underwater?

Becky: I always tell future underwater videographers to learn their camera on land before they put it into an underwater housing. If you know your camera and what it can do, shooting underwater will be much easier! Learn all of the buttons and controls on land first so that you won't be fumbling with the camera underwater. Knowing your camera well will allow you to shift your focus from working the camera to filming shots, and will help you bring back the best imagery possible!

Question: What scuba skills are essential to being a safe and skilled videographer? At what point in his diving career should a diver consider taking up photography or videography? Is there a certification level you should attain first?

Becky: Divers have different comfort levels, but being a good diver with good buoyancy is key before task loading yourself with a camera. It will come through in your underwater video if you are struggling. Diving skills should feel second nature to you so that you don't have to concentrate on them, and can focus more of your attention on the camera. Having good dive skills also allows you to pay attention to your surroundings and be better aware of the environment, so that you won't damage the reef while focusing on shooting.

There is no rule as to what certification you should have before picking up a camera but I'd suggest taking an advanced diver course and being really comfortable before you bring a camera along.

Question: What helped you learn to take good video? Did you take a course?

Becky: I fell in love with the underwater world by watching documentaries on National Geographic when I was a kid. When I first started shooting video, I found one of the best ways of learning was watching others shoot and viewing documentaries on TV. Watch professional underwater videos to see what kinds of shots are being used and how the shots are being sequenced, and to get ideas for creative shots.

The best way of learning to make underwater videos is to get your camera out and go shoot! You'll make mistakes, but you have to make them to learn from them. I'd also suggest learning how to edit. By learning to edit you'll be a better videographer because you'll know what shots to get when you're in the field.

Aquatic life:
Dangerous Fish and Sea Animals
Seahorses and Pipefish
Jellyfish Stings: Avoidance and Treatment

On Airline Restrictions and Travel:

Question: Airports have recently increased baggage restrictions. Has this affected you, and what advice do you have for divers flying with photography or videography equipment?

Becky: I try to pack wisely, but I also don't let the baggage fees or overweight fees bother me. If you've spent the money on the expensive camera gear, then what's an extra few bucks for traveling with it safely? I typically pack my dive gear in a duffel bag because the bag weighs nothing and is super durable. I use storm or pelican cases for the camera housing because they protect it. I usually pack clothes last, and sometimes use them as padding around the equipment. I can always buy more clothes when I get there! I always carry the camera on the plane with me in a camera backpack.

On Future Dives:

Question: Name some places or subjects that you would like to film in the future.

Becky: I have a never-ending wish list of places to dive! I'd love to go to the Arctic and film seals, whales, and penguins! I'd also love to film the sardine run in South Africa and check out some caves in Australia!

Want to see Becky's work? Check out her website: Liquid Productions LLC.

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