The Australia-based marine-image specialists of Undersea have only been with Shutterstock since June, but in that short time, they’ve joined the ranks of our strongest footage contributors, with over 11,000 clips to their name. As our latest Shutterstar featured contributor, Undersea owner and videographer Josh Jensen took time out from his amazing underwater adventures to provide some insight into his daring methods and aquatic success.
How did you first get involved with marine life and the ocean?
I’ve been fishing, snorkeling, and exploring the coastline my whole life. I became a certified diver at 15, and that really launched me on this path, from a degree in marine biology from James Cook University to a career in the recreational dive industry.
How did underwater video production and stock footage enter the picture?
After working on dive boats for a decade or so, I eventually took a job as a photo/video pro and started building my footage collection. It was a few years later, while running a boat in Fiji, that our boss told us he had sold some whale stock footage through an agent and suggested we give it a go, too.
Tell us about your production company, Undersea Productions.
Undersea Productions specializes in filming marine life and underwater habitats. We charter boats that go to the world’s best dive locations and collect footage that targets as many different species as possible. Any unusual behavior or interaction between species usually takes priority. More and more, it’s damaged reefs and habitats that we’re documenting. We also teach others to shoot underwater through our on-board workshops. Back on land, we edit our own films and DVDs, as well as making films for corporate and scientific groups.
Do you have any tips on producing underwater footage for those interested in exploring it?
It’s more about dive skills than camera skills. You need hundreds, if not thousands, of dives under your belt to get the best out of every shooting opportunity and survive to tell the tale. Filming in the open ocean can be extremely challenging and potentially dangerous. Always hire good safety divers and competent boat crews, rather than extra camera handlers. Your life is in their hands.
What kinds of extra equipment are needed to film in an underwater environment?
Scuba gear is the most common, although re-breathers are very popular among the top pros for extended bottom time with no bubbles. Lights are important for most shoots, and, of course, a housing for your camera. Wide-angle lenses allow you to get closer to the subject, reducing the amount of particles between your lens and what you’re shooting, for optimal clarity.
Do you have to behave in a certain way to get close to a marine subject and capture it on film?
Controlled, steady breathing is the most important thing. Scuba is very noisy, and most animals, especially all the big ones, are frightened off by the sound. Perfect buoyancy control allows you to hover motionless and helps the critters relax. Mostly, it’s just patience — most of them will come out from hiding after just a few minutes of waiting.
What are some things divers can do to protect the underwater environment while shooting?
Stay off the bottom, minimize the amount of sediment you stir up, and don’t feed the fish.
Do you have a favorite moment from filming underwater?
Spending three or four hours with a group of three juvenile humpback whales in Tonga is certainly up there. After enough time passed, a special bond formed, where we each trusted that the other meant no harm and we could swim together calmly and enjoy the interaction. When humpbacks reach out that enormous pectoral fin and pass it over your head — or 1cm in front of your lens — it’s nice to know you can trust that its 2.5 tons will pass safely without contact. Being eye-to-eye with graceful animals the size of a school bus is a pretty memorable experience.
What are the defining characteristics of a successful underwater clip?
Number one is a steady camera. Getting close enough to show the amazing detail on most subjects is a big help. Another important thing to do is balance the natural light (the blues) and the artificial lights (all the color in the foreground). This is both important and difficult. Capturing the natural behavior of any underwater species is a challenge, but the results are almost universally fascinating to viewers.
Are there any other photographers/videographers whose work that you admire and follow?
Howard Hall is my hero and the best in the game.