Anyone who's been faced with a looming deadline and a dwindling budget on a video shoot knows how improvisation and ingenuity can be pushed to extremes. Sometimes, solutions can be found in the most unlikely of places, so here's a collection of inexpensive, ad-hoc solutions to video problems - if you're prepared to trust your camera with them.
If you're looking to shoot a "half-in/half-out" frame in the water (like the "shark's-eye" view of someone swimming, for example), but can't afford a waterproof enclosure for your camera, some enterprising videographers have suggested that a fish tank can be a handy stand-in for partial immersion shots. Make sure you have the camera lens pushed straight up to the edge (fit the lens-hood if you have one) as this will help to avoid telltale reflections. I haven't tried this one myself, but I'd imagine that some kind of ballast would be required to keep the tank level, not to mention a shooting platform (a cushion and some gaffer tape is another cheap solution, here) to keep the camera in place. If you have a remote control for your camera, you should be able to use it through the glass without difficulty, just make sure you keep it in a Ziploc bag to keep it dry.
Alternatively, get an Aquapac (www.aquapac.com.au, see Figure 1) for your camcorder - they're only about $160 - and this is something I can vouch for. These are good for depths up (or should that be down?) to 15ft, though you may find keeping the lens lined up with the clear window slightly challenging, depending on the fit of your camcorder. Just remember to flip your LCD viewfinder out and take the lens cap off before you get into the water.
I've talked before about chroma keying (green- or blue-screening), but professional keying material or paint can be an expensive purchase if you're only playing around in Premiere Elements.
If you own the wall that's going to be the background for your shot, then head down to Bunnings and get them to make up some matt-finish paint that's colour-matched to Figure 2. Use a white primer and make sure that the surface is clean and flat, and give the wall two or three coats.
If painting your living room wall bright green doesn't sound like a good idea, and you need to chroma key a large area, try buying some cheap plastic tablecloths from a party accessories shop. Party Products (www.partyproducts.com.au/shopping/shopdisplayproducts.asp?id=19) has a pack of 12 emerald green table covers for $32 that should be enough to cover a pretty large set. To avoid unwanted reflection, use a matt-finish transparent adhesive tape, or better still, use double-sided tape underneath the edges of the plastic sheets. Try and keep the sheets fairly taut, as wrinkles and creases can ruin the key - a useful tip here is to warm them up with a hairdryer as you apply them. As they cool down, the shrinkage should reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles even better than Oil of Olay.
Be aware, though, that some plastics actually contract when exposed to heat. If your sheets do this, then put them up first, and then use the hairdryer. As always with chroma keying, keep the light bright, even and well-diffused to avoid shadows. If you can, place your subject as far away from the background as you can, and shoot with a narrow depth of field to blur out any differences in the green screen behind.