From The Grading Room – Grading Underwater Footage

March 20, 2016

Grading underwater footage is like grading footage from an alien planet. Dan shares his approach and technique for working in that world


I recently graded a music video that featured some beautiful underwater footage and after seeing some great discussion over on LiftGammaGain, I thought it would be great to share some of my personal experience and tips from grading underwater projects.

Underwater grading is very rare due to the obvious costs of shooting underwater not to mention, the techniques used are quite specific.

With all that in mind, I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts on a recent job and why I made the creative decisions that I did.

Why Underwater?

I’ve been quite lucky that when I have graded underwater footage, it has always been sort of for a fantasy type world so I could work with the natural blue of being on the water and enhance it, rather than trying to kill it or neutralize it somehow.

I know some people have had to normalize underwater footage to feel natural and very real, but in my own grading and with underwater shots, I am a big believer that if you shoot dozens of meters under the surface, you should keep it natural and allow shots to feel like your 10,000 leagues under the sea!

My first experience of underwater grading was just a single shot for a fashion commercial that you can view below.

I learned a lot about the quality and behavior of underwater footage on this job, but I consider that job a learning experience as there was no underwater matching involved.

Check out the commercial here:

Why Is It Difficult?

The main issue with grading underwater footage is that there is so many more variables.

Water greatly reduces contrast depending on how close to the camera your subject is and depending on natural light fall of (depending on depth) contrast changes much quicker than in a normal shoot.

The other area that is tricky is the separation between foreground and background can be very hard as everything is obviously in a strong blue/green wash.

This wash can make it very tricky to achieve the look that you are after and in this job I’m about to show you, it needed to feel both dreamy and like a beauty commercial – a hard balance for sure.

The Video

Before you watch my video Insight below please do watch the full video to get an idea of my final look on the video.

Now that you’ve seen it check out my approach below!


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