Video: Manta Flight

Berkley White, owner of Backscatter, shares his meditation on mantas and top shooting techniques.

Q: Where did you shoot your short film Manta Flight?

This sequence was shot in the Maldives a few years ago. I’ve been running small group expeditions to the Maldives over the last five years to photograph hundreds of mantas that gather in the atolls every fall. I made this edit to open the Monterey Underwater Film Festival. I wanted to get people into the zen of underwater so I focused on the slower paced and graceful maneuvers mantas perform around the shallow cleaning stations. Swimming along side these animals is a magical experience. It’s simply amazing how they can glide with such little effort.

Q: What are your secrets for shooting such steady video?

I almost always have lights mounted to my system. I don’t always turn them on, but I find the extra mass slows down camera movement and gives the camera a more solid feel. I helped design the XIT404 Tripod Plate and keep it mounted to the bottom of my housing. When shooting subjects like mantas, I only mount one tripod leg to the plate. I keep this leg extended on the left side of my housing and it allows me to maintain a wide grip with my hands. If your hands are wider than your shoulders you’ll naturally maintain more stable and fluid camera movements. I also use relatively short full foot fins and use a flutter style kick. Large freediving type fins require a long kick stroke and I find this can add a slight left to right tilt of the camera when swimming fast.

Q: What camera and lenses did you use?

This footage was shot on a Canon 1Dx with a Sigma 15mm fisheye lens in a Nauticam Housing. I’ve since upgraded to the Canon 1Dc camera as it offers 4K video recording. I’m a big fan of Canon DSLR cameras for video as they offer excellent white balance underwater. Both of these larger camera bodies allow you to store five different manual white balance settings and I find this invaluable when the action heats up. You can shoot excellent 1080p video with the Canon 5D mkIII, but it does not feature multiple white balance options.

Q: You mentioned lights. Did you use lights for this footage?

I had lights on camera when shooting this footage, but I only turned them on for the long intro sequence to light the glassy sweepers. The majority of the footage is shot with just a manual white balance. I didn’t color correct this sequence it’s just as it came out of the camera. My current wide angle lights are the Keldan Video 8M Lights. They feature a 9000 lumen output and a soft wide beam. 9000 lumens might sound ridiculously bright, but if you shoot much in shallow water you’ll find times when even 9000 lumens can’t out compete the sun. For macro I typically use Sola 2100 Spot / Flood Lights in spot mode. It’s a little tricky to aim a spot from behind the camera, but a spot light doesn’t light up a cluttered background and keeps focus on the subject.

Q: What underwater camera would you recommend to a new photographer on a budget?

You don’t have to spend $2K-$10K on a camera to get great footage and have fun in the process. Good technique is most of the battle. I recommend divers on a budget to read our Best Underwater Compact Cameras of 2015 Review. It helps break down the difference between GoPro cameras, compacts, and mirrorless options. I shoot both stills and video and prefer a camera that handles both modes well. GoPros are a good option for video on a budget, but are less functional when it comes to photos. Thus, I typically recommend people consider compact and mirrorless camera options for better performance and flexibility for both video and photo. Lower cost cameras have more limitations, but great shooting techniques will create amazing results with even the simplest of cameras.


Berkley White

Berkley White, owner of Backscatter, shares his meditation on mantas and top shooting techniques.

Berkley White is the founder of Backscatter Underwater Video & Photo which has grown to be the largest underwater photographic equipment supplier is the USA. Since 1994, Backscatter helped develop a community of local cold water divers and has now spent years supporting a thriving tribe of international artists, film makers, and first time shooters from it’s locations in Monterey, California and Derry, New Hampshire in the USA. For more about Backscatter or articles on equipment and technique, please see

Berkley’s images and technical articles are regularly published in international magazines and he regularly serves a photographic judge or technical editor on publications. He is also a major promoter for educational events designed for both industry and consumer users such as the Digital Shootout and the DEMA Imaging Center. To learn more about his intensive educational events, please see

Berkley runs a limited schedule of exotic photo safaris each year. From the warm diverse waters of Indonesia to the cold adventure of Alaska, Berkley’s shared adventures are always scheduled to be at the best time with the best local knowledge for image makers. For a complete schedule of events, please see his travel company at

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