A Day in the Life: An Underwater Videographer

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Ever since stumbling upon Alex’s blog a year ago, I’ve been enamored with her. She dedicated herself to a life of travel at age 19 while also finishing a university degree. A year later, she took a photography apprenticeship in Grand Cayman and learned underwater videography along the way. And at 21, she left New York for good to pursue a dream of becoming a dive videographer—and she’s succeeded, tenfold. Alex spent 6 months this year working dive seasons in Thailand, interspersed by 6 months traveling. Really, it’s a dream existence (though there’s no doubt she works her butt off to achieve such a schedule!). Plus, she’s got spunk and a knack for telling a story in a gripping way—and her photos only further enhance her blog appeal.

*****

It’s nearly impossible to describe to someone what it’s like to live and work on a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand. Believe me, I’ve typed thousands of words while trying. Perhaps the best way to explain my job as an underwater videographer filming private dive videos on Koh Tao is simply to take you through a day with me, minute by minute.

5am: The alarm on my cheap Nokia phone blares as I grunt to life. I stumble through the bungalow in a haze, cursing myself as usual for not packing my dry bag the night before.

5:25am: I manage to leave the house with two flip-flops and my bike keys—everything else is a bonus at this hour. The sky is still pitch black and so I turn to my trusty Nokia once again, this time as a flashlight. My bike’s engine breaks the morning silence on the mountain and I cruise into town, so grateful I overcame my fear of driving. The streets are empty except for some marathon party-goers just now making it back from the beach bars. I wonder how I ended up on the wrong end of this equation.

5:35am: I unlock the office of the small video company I work for and collect my arsenal of camera, batteries and supplies.

5:45am: I arrive at the dive school I’m filming for today, which prides itself on being the first school on the island that is out on the water every morning. I used to resent this, but it did once result in me having half an hour of uninterrupted whale shark time before the 20 other dive boats on the island arrived at the site, so I feel a bit more kindly toward them these days. We hop on the back of a pickup truck and make our way to the pier.

6am: The boat pulls away from the dock, and I meet the group I’m filming today: five Open Water students from across the globe doing the final two dives of their PADI certification course. The instructor is one of my favorites, always enthusiastic to be filmed, setting up shots and pre-selling the video to the students. Having a fun instructor who is happy to have a videographer onboard can make or break the day. A little joking here, a little flirting there—it’s all part of the job, when your job requires you to be in a bikini all day.

I love meeting and talking with the people I’m filming. They are always incredible enthusiastic about diving, and it’s fun to watch others fall in love with the thing you are so passionate about.

6:30am After filming the students setting up their gear and some general shots of the boat, I head to the top deck to wait for the dive briefing. I’m the first one up, and so I’m treated to a peaceful moment watching the sun rise over the island. My annoyance at being awake so early melts. I love this job.

7:05am: After gearing up I’m the first one in the water so that I can film the students jumping in. It’s a tricky shot but always one of my favorites of the day. Once everyone is together I descend down ahead of the group, as it usually takes new divers a while to get down. I love those first few minutes alone underwater.

7:30am: Chumphon, Koh Tao’s premier dive site, is stunning today. There are schools of batfish, endless barracudas and the biggest groupers I’ve ever seen. The groupers sit patiently while I film them, suspiciously eyeing my camera. It’s tempting to only film the fish but we have a saying in underwater video: “Fish don’t buy movies.” So my goal is always to get a shot that has both my divers and some amazing aquatic life. This is a deep dive site, so my camera struggles a bit with the lack of light, but otherwise it is a beautiful dive.

The second dive is a shallow one, so that the students can demonstrate skills to the instructor like removing and replacing their masks and regulators underwater. It’s always tricky to make this part look interesting on film but creative editing helps. My camera loves all the light coming through as we stay shallow and the sun brightens, so the footage from the second dive is always bursting with color.

10:05am: Back on boat. When we dock up we are tied up three boats from the pier, meaning we have to pass 40 empty tanks and full gear bags in an assembly line across the boats, while trying in the process not to fall in ourselves. It’s always a pretty entertaining sight.

10:30am: We’re in the pickup truck again, headed back to the dive shop. The students talk about retreating to their rooms for a nap and I feel some momentary jealousy. Many people think the day ends when the filming ends. Ha! Now the real work begins. I get back to the video office and start my routine: I begin the long process of footage capture, rinse my camera housing, charge the batteries I used.

11:50am: I sit down for a working lunch with the Thai takeaway lunch I grabbed from next door. Massaman curry, rice and a fresh-squeezed orange shake all for the equivalent of about $4USD. I throw on my headphones, open Adobe Premiere and sit down to edit.

3:30pm: Today is one of those miracle days where there have been no editing disasters. Everything captured correctly, no programs have crashed, and my footage was pretty smooth. It took me a while to get to this point but now it takes me about an hour of editing for every 6 minutes of final video. The problem with working at the speed we do is that there is simply no time to go back and do a second edit; you have to trust your instincts and get it right the first time. I set everything to render and export, and then I get on my bike and speed home to shower off the salt water and answer some emails—and work on my blog. This is my first real break of the day.

4:30pm: I head back to check the shop to burn the DVD. Everything looks good, and soon I’m on my way back out the door. I’m done early and decide impulsively to head to the afternoon Muay Thai session. Muay Thai is the perfect workout for me: I get in an intense workout in a short amount of time. Plus, it’s fun enough that I kind of forget I’m exercising.

After, I shower and get ready again, put on my best saleswoman face, and meet my divers.

6pm: Everyone meets at the dive shop with Chang beers in hand. I show the movie and we all watch it for the first time—myself included. Sometimes I cringe at an editing error (that of course only I will notice), but for the most part I love watching the students react to seeing themselves underwater on camera.

Next comes the hardest part of the job for most people: sales. I worked upscale retail in New York City while at university so I’ve gotten used to selling expensive goods, but it never gets easy.

Videographers work solely on commission, so there is always the possibility that I have now put in a full day of work and will walk away with nothing. Our pricing structure depends on how many people buy the video. If one copy is sold, it’s 2,500 baht (about $75 USD), if two copies are sold, it’s 2,000 baht each, and we discount steeply from there. It seems like a lot of money in Thailand, but a lot of people need to be paid. The instructor, the dive shop, the video company, and of course the videographer all need a cut. I work for the best company on the island, in my opinion. They give me 50 percent of everything I sell, which is unheard of. On my okay days I walk away with the equivalent of around $35 USD, and on great days I can walk away with up to $100 USD. It might not seem like much for so many hours of work and with such specialized training, but to put it in perspective, my share of rent is $175 per month. So, certainly no complaints here!

8pm: Today was a success. I had a fun time on the boat, I had two beautiful dives, I had enough room to squeeze in some personal time, and I sold three videos! After finishing up at the showing, settling the bill with the shop, and returning to the office and burning the additional DVDs, I am finally done for the night, 15 hours after waking. Next stop is dinner on the beach and a drink at the local bar—tomorrow, I’m sleeping in.

*****

A huge thanks to Alex for offering a peek into her rad life. Please show her some love in the comments, then head on over to her blog to immerse yourself in her adventures. Some of my favorites of her stories include exploring Angkor Wat by bike, falling in love with Santorini, diving in Cambodia and running for the Burma border.

COMMENTS
  • May 7, 2012

    So. Cool.

    • April 4, 2015

      Wow, beautiful photos, and it sounds super relaxing! I’ll certainly add it to my list!

  • May 7, 2012
    Kristin

    What an amazing—and TOUGH—job! I’ve always admired you, Alex, but after reading this, my respect for what you do has grown even more!

  • May 7, 2012

    Next time, I’ll buy the video. Great post!!

    • May 8, 2012
      Kristin

      Agreed! I never knew how hard it was to make a living as a dive videographer–from now on, I’ll support my fellow creatives =)

  • May 7, 2012
    SVV

    Awesome. Great narrative voice here.

    Umm, honey? When are we going to dive with Alex? Because right about now I’m feeling me some Thailand.

  • May 7, 2012

    Awesome post! I would love diving every day!

  • May 7, 2012

    Scuba scares the crap out of me, but I think this sounds so awesome! What a cool creative job.

    • May 7, 2012
      Kristin

      I didn’t think you were afraid of anything! It can’t be scarier than traveling alone to some of these countries you’ve visited =)

  • May 7, 2012

    An amazing life Alex has made for herself.

  • May 7, 2012

    I’ve been following Alex’s amazing blog for sometime now – it’s amazing to see all the behind the scenes stuff. Great post!

  • May 7, 2012
    Lauren

    Such a small world! Alex is the older sister of one of my student’s (and Evan Thompson’s friends) at NYU!

    • May 7, 2012
      Kristin

      Of course she is! You seem to know everybody who makes an appearance on this blog 😉

      • May 7, 2012
        Lauren

        Ha! Only the ones that are/are connected to students who are actively involved in NYU housing!

  • May 7, 2012
    Hundewanderer

    I wish when I was younger, I was a bit smarter and a lot more brave, I would have traveled the world and photographed every little thing I saw along the way. Alex’s life is wonderful, indeed.

    • May 7, 2012
      Kristin

      Yes, indeed–I hope she keeps it up so we can follow along with her journey! It’s so awesome having something you’re passionate about at such a young age.

  • May 7, 2012

    Oh man, I’ve been dying today thinking about diving.

    We considered staying in Utila to get my dive master but just couldn’t muster up the funds. I want to do shark photography so badly!

  • May 7, 2012

    I discovered Alex’s blog not long ago and have been loving it! I’ve been wanting to learn SCUBA forever and this piece makes me want to get to Thailand ASAP!

    • May 7, 2012
      Kristin

      I would highly recommend getting certified in a tropical place like Thailand. I did my checkout dives in the Bahamas, which were equally fabulous, but always feel bad for those who do them in some lifeless quarry in the US. If you’re going to pay the money to get certified, might as well do it right, you know?

  • May 7, 2012

    What a cool job! And a hard job.

  • May 7, 2012

    This sounds like a crazy schedule, especially when you aren’t even sure of making money ever day, but I guess that’s why it pays to do what you love!

    • May 7, 2012
      Kristin

      Hey, it’s sort of like being a freelance writer, come to think of it! =)

  • May 7, 2012

    This seriously made me so happy (and jealous:). I’ve always wanted to have such life, plus Thailand holds a special place in my heart so this was really cool to read first thing in the morning. I admire her lifestyle, it’s not easy but it definetely makes life interesting. Thanks Kristin for posting that!

    • May 9, 2012
      Kristin

      I’ve never been to Thailand, which is just inexcusable given my love for diving! And yes, following your passion often means a whole lot of work and not a huge financial payoff, but I guess the incentive is that you are doing what you love!

  • May 7, 2012

    Kristin, thank you again for the opportunity to share with your wonderful readers!

    I just got off an overnight train from Laos where I had far too much time to think, and I realized my parents would have wanted me to mention that I did in fact go to art school and receive formal training in video editing and, you know, aesthetics. Using my college degree, for the win!

    • May 9, 2012
      Kristin

      Well, I think it’s pretty obvious that you are both educated and talented! That just goes without saying =)

  • May 7, 2012
    Brandy

    What an amazing job and lifestyle you’ve created for yourself! I’ll be sure to check out your blog. Thanks Kristin for having Alex guest post!

    • May 9, 2012
      Kristin

      And thanks for reading–she definitely has a cool story…and life!

  • May 8, 2012
    Jack Brown

    AMAZING LIVE!!!!! Wanna Trade?

  • May 8, 2012

    What a fun look at the life of Alex! Like any dream job, there’s so much more going on behind the scenes, isn’t there?

    • May 9, 2012
      Kristin

      You and I know that better than anyone, I believe!

  • May 8, 2012
    Abi

    Ooh, not for me, all that in and out of wetsuits every day. Thank goodness there are enough of us in the world who like doing different things to make all of this possible! Gorgeous photos – those I love.

    • May 9, 2012
      Kristin

      I’m with you, sista. I went diving on Sunday, and it seriously took me 20 minutes to wriggle into my wetsuit. SIGH.

  • May 8, 2012
    JeJe

    Thank you so much. This was terrific. I always wonder how and what people do who work overseas, or in a tourist business.

  • May 8, 2012
    Mister Sister

    Wow. What an incredible post, and such beautiful pictures! Your job sounds amazing, Alex.

  • May 8, 2012

    Hmm…being paid a living wage to spend time in the ocean and do something creative with it. Yeah, I’d do that. I mean, if I had even a tiny bit of the skill sets required. (Especially the bikini part…I am so unqualified for that part.)

    • May 9, 2012
      Kristin

      I am unqualified to wear both a bikini AND a wetsuit. So, um, yeah…pretty sure dive photography/videography is not my calling! If I had Alex’s figure (and youth), maybe I’d rethink that.

  • May 8, 2012

    Freaking awesome. A part of me now wants to quit my job… dust off my dive gear… and do this very thing. Cool story.

    Dan

  • May 8, 2012

    Wow I feel so unproductive compared to her.

  • May 9, 2012

    Your photos are really amazing! I really enjoy stopping by to see what your latest shots are.

  • May 9, 2012

    Wow–what a cool job! I am not a big fan of getting in the ocean, so you can say I’m petrified of the idea of diving. The thought of little creatures swimming around me or nibbling me freaks me out. But it really is so beautiful…maybe one day I’ll give it a try!

  • May 10, 2012

    Wow! What a great look into an interesting life. There is always so much more work behind the scenes than we realize.

    I’m pretty jealous of her editing skills too… 6 minutes of video in 1 hour??

    Takes me like 4 hours to edit 3 minutes of video, and mine is crap. 🙂

  • May 10, 2012

    This is really cool to read! Kali recently got his open water certification on Koh Tao and an underwater videographer joined his class on the last day to film the dives. Watching the video afterwards was so neat, and it was clear that it takes a lot of skill to make those videos.

  • May 16, 2012

    Wow–I’ve worked as a videographer (above sea), but I never realized how much work it is for potentially no money to be an underwater videographer. If I ever go diving I will definitely be buying the video!

  • May 18, 2012

    I’ve known Alex for years and never knew she was a videographer, shame on me! GORGEOUS SHOTS!!!!!! The underwater world is magnificent.

  • May 31, 2012

    Just goes to show, that a lot of work goes in, even for the best job in the world!

    I’ve only done a dozen dives (and a few wrecks for good measure), and still struggle with monitoring my equipment and navigation… let alone all the tricks and skills for underwater videography.

    I’d love to see more posts like this, for travellers/bloggers who have a day-job or doing the expat thing.

  • April 5, 2013

    Hei please come to Indonesia. There are so many beautiful diving spots you will like.

  • October 9, 2013

    I have the same experience near the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand. Thanks for report. Perfect photos!

  • October 9, 2015

    This sounds like a dream job I have to say – it’s so different to what you’d expect!

  • March 9, 2016

    A dream job for the short time or…
    Idk well why you sold yourself that cheap actually?
    I have done the same job arround the similans and most dive sides at Phuket and was always able to find company’s accepting commissions of 20% of my income!?
    Of coarse having my own gear complete and my own working permit!
    Dreamlife….
    Na ja my experience is there little different after dive professionally several years here..
    It’s not like… ohh super i go diving and make a movie today, the weather is so nice and super all… it’s more like omg i have to jump again today for 3 times or 2 at least for 1 hour each dive…
    See the marinelife is nice but for the movie producer it’s
    just all about his product and more a haist to catch all the divers u need, shots from the specific animals they saw and situations with them, closeup shots here and open shots there..! Extremely dangerous depth-changes sometimes in and with or against strong currents and horrible visibility’s ;(
    Absolute exhausting and hardcore for any body after a while!
    From most people even instructor’s a completely underestimatet job!
    Still handle the dive gears-tanks after all would be some i would have never done due to no time for this as i needed also the end of the trip with the guests and collect info’s about hotels and stuff where i have to deliver to.. Rush back home to edit and convert all in to the specific format.
    Hard at the end a little todays days to sell, as so many people already have the go pro and wanna save that money to do other dive with or whatsoever.
    On top of all in a nice country (the land of smile ) where actually ppl just give a shit about much stuff and foreigner ppl in the personal way.
    So this means no one cares about you much and your conditions if you get seally sick for whatever reson accidents deco trouble or whatsoever…
    This is just a dream job for dreamers with wired dreamer imaginations in fact in my opinion.
    Luctrative it maight be as i mean professional with all own gear, excellent diving skills and on very spectacular dive sites but not here in Thailand for sure… mb just from mai to july at richileu rock-similan or then ko-bon island in january february…
    This is my true opinion and sorry if i have touched the feelings of some with all i wrote..
    My resume is more like this…
    Good amazing dives to all and jobsearch and all good luck on fullfill dreams 🙂

  • March 9, 2016
    Fredrick

    ohhh 🙂 and i still forgott to add 🙂
    Of coarse have to follow up the foreign country’s procedure’s and requests concern to visa’s requirement fo document’s and all this stuff like facking risky visa runs, like every 3 moths at least without an own company 🙁
    For the reference you might wanna cheack google about Thailand visa runs and traffic, accident’s rate in Thailand and so on…
    Safety first 😉 take care your lifes dreamers 🙂

  • January 12, 2017

    This is so cool and seems worth being up that early! Thank you for having Alex share her day in the life!

  • July 23, 2017

    Ask your videographer if they record footage through tapes or hard drives. With tapes, you always have permanent backup. If they use hard drives, ask what steps they take to back up their work.

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