Vance Burberry is a seasoned director of photography with over 35 years of experience. He has a unique background, starting as a rock and roll touring lighting designer in Australia before transitioning into cinematography. Also a NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) diving instructor, Vance has a particular passion for underwater cinematography, marrying his land lighting expertise to the underwater world.
“Being underwater is a meditative experience for me. It allows me to really focus on the shot and the moment.”
Vance, could you share with us how your journey in the industry began and how you transitioned from being a rock and roll touring lighting designer to a director of photography?
It’s an interesting story. My journey began in Australia as a rock and roll touring lighting designer. I came to the US with INXS in 1984 and then got hired by the Go-Go’s. One day, I walked into a soundstage in Hollywood, and they needed help on a job. I started out as an electrician and soon moved up to a cameraman. My background in lighting design was a huge advantage, and I ended up designing big lighting systems for music videos and heavy metal bands, which led to me becoming a cameraman. I shot the Sweet Child o’ Mine video for Guns N’ Roses and my career blew up from there.
You have a deep love for diving and underwater cinematography. How did this passion develop, and how does it influence your work?
I’ve been diving for close to forty years. It’s a passion. Growing up in Australia, we’re a waterborne society — most of the major cities are on the coast. So I’ve always had a connection to the ocean. I initially got certified because I wanted to go cage diving with white sharks. Eventually, I even became a NAUI instructor trainer, and have been now for 20 years. So, it became a natural progression for me to shoot underwater, too. I bring my land lighting experience to the underwater side of things, which sets me apart from other underwater specialists.
You’re a major supporter of BlackMagic cameras. Could you tell us why you choose these cameras and your experience with the Ursa 12k?
I love BlackMagic cameras because they’re innovative. The Ursa 12k has blown me away with its high resolution that isn’t harsh like many high-resolution cameras. The user interface is intelligently designed, making it easy to change settings quickly. I recently used it for a project that required six cameras shooting simultaneously underwater, and the camera held up impressively, even in harsh conditions.
How does shooting underwater complicate your choice of camera and media?
Shooting underwater requires a high-resolution camera that can write quickly and has a large card capacity. On land, a reload takes about a minute, but underwater, it’s a different story. You’ve got to pull the camera out of the water, dry everything off, open up the housing, put the card back in, reset, reassemble it, vacuum seal it, and put it back in. So it’s a 20-minute operation. On a set, time is money. So, having reliable media like the ProGrade CFast cards is super helpful when working underwater.
Why do you choose ProGrade products, and how have they served you in your projects?
I choose ProGrade products because they’re reliable and reasonably priced. I initially bought a couple of CFast memory cards and found them to be very reliable. After using them for a six-camera underwater job, I was sold on their reliability and performance. I’ve put them through some of the most demanding conditions, and they still work flawlessly.
As an experienced cinematographer, what advice would you give to aspiring photographers or videomakers?
The most important thing to be concerned with is your media. It’s critical to have good-quality media when you’re shooting. Don’t cut corners with media. Your whole project, all the departments, cameras, people, and talent you’re paying for are all to capture the image on your card. So, find a reliable card at a reasonable price. From my experience, ProGrade cards are great value for money and right up there with any other high-end card out there.
Lastly, what do you love most about shooting underwater?
Being underwater is a meditative experience for me. It allows me to really focus on the shot and the moment. Everything becomes more graceful and elegant underwater, whether it’s animals or talent. Life wouldn’t exist without it. There’s something magical about that to me. It’s a beautiful world to work in, and to get paid to do that is a dream come true for me.
We were honored to speak with Vance Burberry and learn more about his journey into the world of underwater cinematography. We are inspired by his passion for diving, lighting design, and cinematography. His advice to aspiring photographers or videographers is invaluable: invest in reliable media like ProGrade cards so you can focus on capturing great shots without worrying about your equipment failing. Ultimately, we see why he loves shooting underwater — it’s a meditative experience that allows him to capture graceful moments from an entirely different perspective.