Choices choices !

Modern digital cameras are very sophisticated, and most of them now are capable of producing very high quality video alongside the stills you shoot.
You will need to first ascertain what your particular camera is capable of and check the manual to see if you need to access a specific mode or if it’s simply a matter of pressing a dedicated button.
I mention this because with my camera, currently an Olympus OMD-EM5 I am able to choose both. ie a specific dedicated video mode chosen on the main selector, which allows me access to shooting fully manually, or in whatever exposure mode I choose. Or I also have a quick video button that allows me to quickly shoot a bit of video without having to prep the camera first.
The second way is handy if something unplanned happens and I want to start recording immediately with no fuss or headaches about getting the exposure right etc.
Also worth checking to see if your camera will let you shoot stills whilst recording video.
This will probably have some limitations i.e. with mine it will only continue to shoot video and record stills in the Jpeg format, and denies you the extra editing options available with RAW files.
If you aren’t sure, or you want to buy a new camera and this functionality is useful to you then by all means drop me a line, I try to keep abreast of all the latest tech news regarding stills and video cameras.

Colourful diver shooting with a camera.
Colourful diver shooting with a camera.

All Fingers and Thumbs
It is important to learn to switch between the various modes on your camera, quickly and efficiently on land, well before you take things underwater, and I would also say that when fluent with the camera on land, you then put it in the housing and get used to using all the controls in the housing too. I cannot stress how important this is as even if things are second nature to you on land then the extra task loading imposed by being underwater can make things much less straightforward on your dive, so you will make your task even more difficult if using your camera isn’t second nature to you on land.

Decided to shoot stills or video can often be a conundrum.
Deciding to shoot stills or video can often be a conundrum.

Now what?
Once comfortable and familiar with things you can now set off on your dive and at the very least be able to switch between shooting stills or video, but for a lot of us this is the most difficult bit. What should I shoot? and when will a still picture be a more appropriate choice than a bit of video or vice versa?
What I feel, and “feel” is the right word here, is I look at the scene in most cases and think about the still potential first, this is just how it seems to work for me. Composition and framing are skills that need to be employed in both disciplines, so that will be my first thoughts definitely.
I will then take my pictures and then if it is what I consider to be a “kinetic” or dynamic moving scene then I will shoot my clips of video after.
This is all well and good if it’s something that is constant and relatively static, but the difficulty arises when it’s something that might only be there for a few moments.
All I can say here is it is up to you, I think the majority of folk will opt primarily for stills, but as I often use short clips of video for illustrating other people taking pictures on the workshops. I will opt to let them shoot their pictures first whilst I video them, and then I take my stills after they have moved on and all being well the main subject is still around
When I am shooting video I think and plan what I am shooting, getting a few different angles etc this makes it easier in the editing software for me making a little sequence that I can put together. I plan on doing a blog post at a later date covering more specifically the skills required to shoot for an edit, but for now all I will say on this issue is shoot enough but not too much. If you have ever edited video before you will know what I mean by this!

One or the other?

Some underwater photographers go so far as to say that you should make your decision prior to the dive, about whether or not to shoot moving or still pictures. The rationale for this is that you are not going to shoot either well and that your attention should be focused on one task at a time.

I don’t agree with this personally, for the simple reason that dives are constantly changing and it’s good to give yourself alternatives. It also keeps your options open. Why restrict yourself in this way? It’s well within most peoples abilities to learn both disciplines and apply them when applicable.

Some of the "tinsel" decorating the bottom boughs of Xmas Tree Rock in the Maldives
Some of the “tinsel” decorating the bottom boughs of Xmas Tree Rock in the Maldives

Here is an example where I got in the water at a dive site in the Maldives called Xmas Tree Rock. It is a very small Xmas Tree shaped pinnacle that you circle with your buddies and is absolutely covered with soft corals and swirling bait fish. I figured based on the briefing that this would be more a video than a stills dive, but at the start of the dive I wanted to try and capture some shots with divers in the background and the tinsel like baitfish glinting in the foreground.Like in the shot below.

The swirling movement of the baitfish and excited divers trying to shoot them,begged to be shown in a moving format so I spent most of the dive filming my buddies, who in turn were shooting the wonderful and very dynamic site that is Xmas Tree Rock in the Maldives.

Made a decision yet?

No thought not, there is no right or wrong with this except that you can do what you want and don’t need to make any compromises with either your video or stills shooting, your camera has the capabilities and so do you. All that differs is that you need to practice and hone your skills, and in most things in life there is no such thing as a free lunch, get out there be brave and shoot both.