10 things I’ve learnt from 10 years of Media Production in Palau

I’ve been a Media Producer in various guises in Palau for 10 years now, initially as an underwater cameraman with a little bit of topside work thrown in, then diversifying into Time-lapse, run n’ gun, aerials (drone and aircraft), interviews etc.

Palau has changed a lot in those 10 years and this has made me change with it.

Here are 10 things (actually 11) I’ve learned about Media Production in that time:

  1. Now more than ever people have cameras, as a dedicated cameraman I’m being squeezed by the ready availability of cameras. Everyone over the age of 5 seems to have one (gross over generalization, I know). So now more than ever I have to be inventive with my imaging, flexibility and the old cliche of thinking outside the box are more important than ever before. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques, think about a sequence or image you want to acquire, no matter how crazy or impossible it first appears to be, then work out how to do it. Dare to be different.
Go Pro sticky pads are very sticky….I’m in the cabin with a WiFi feed to my iPad directing the pilot for good framing…..
Underwater Time-lapse of Coral Bleaching using a firmware hack to provide my Canon with an intervalometer, repeat visits over a 4 month period.

2. Originally it seemed that the bigger the camera the better you were as a cameraman. Let me just say that this is Utter Bollocks. I mean yes true there are some great shooters out there with big cameras but a big camera does not make you a great shooter. After 15+ years of seeing thousands of people attempting to make great imagery with the biggest most expensive cameras out there and failing miserably, I can safely say that many of them are compensating for something with that big camera housing/lens.
Not only is that big camera wasted on you, it could also be dangerous for you. When you’re overburdened whilst diving, you are a liability, so don’t think that bigger is better. Your right arm is big enough already….

Shot with a GoPro on a selfie stick, not a RED Helium.

3. Beware the Black Hole of the tech. Oh lovely tech…. most cameramen are gear heads, it’s where all our money goes. New this new that, shiny bits with lights…dribble dribble. Things that fly, things that fly further with better cameras on them….oh lordy. 360 anyone? Thing that I’ve had to realize as a commercial business is “Do I need it?” If I buy into the next generation of camera that does this or that will I make money out of using it specifically or not? Are my clients asking me for 8K or 360 8K 360 bullet time even? Some people have more money than they know what to do with, rich relatives or silver spoons, others have worked hard and are now enjoying the fruits of their labors. But if you don’t fit into those categories don’t sink yourself by blowing all your savings on a shiny something that isn’t relevant to what your business is about.

4. Value your work. You’ve invested your time and money into producing what you do. Don’t give it away for credits. It’s been said time and time again by multitudes of people and I will say it myself. The people who will just take all your hard work in exchange for a line or credit that no-one will notice are not helping you, and you in accepting that line of credit are not helping every other media producer trying to make a living from it. Solidarity Brothers and Sisters! People who won’t pay for work should end up with amateurish content that befits their lack of appreciation for it. People who appreciate good work will pay for it, so don’t give it away and lower the standards for everyone else. Value your work and you will find other other people do too.

Ingredients for 1, 5 minute film: 1 MacBook Pro, 1 editing suite of programs, 1 Camera, 1 housing, 2 lenses, 4 lights, 1 dome port, 3000+ dives and 20 years training, 1 Drone and assorted peripherals, Tripods and motion control equipment + time….. Would I give away my work after paying for all of this?

5. Underwater work. Now….Something I’ve been doing for far longer than 10 years but something I’m still learning about. I will still say as I always have, because it’s still an issue… Master your buoyancy. Because until you do you will be a liability with a camera. Make your buoyancy control instinctive so you don’t even have to think about it. Don’t be the diver that needs to hang onto a plate coral whilst taking a picture, don’t be the asshole who crashes into other people because you need to take that one last crap picture and definitely don’t be that diver who gets bent because he’s chasing something vertically and gets into a runaway ascent. Contact us for one on one or group masterclasses. Read more on how to become a professional underwater cameraman here

Anyone spot the mistake?

6. Drone pilot and aerial imaging…. Hmm, where to start…..I myself started a couple of years ago after doing extensive online research. I didn’t want to spend over a $1000 and crash it straight away. I also didn’t want to crash it into anything or anyone. Even small drones/UAVs still have 4 spinning blades. So whilst the old adage of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” may exist, I don’t pay any attention to it and apply myself. Stay safe and don’t cut corners. Don’t fly over crowds, show-off or get into the mind-set that you’ll never crash. I personally ring the local airport before I fly and let them know where I am.

Read more about filming with drones here

7. Time-lapses. Research your location and if need be go back time and time again if you see potential but were not in the right location/ right weather/ right time to fulfill that potential. I guess the same thing applies throughout media production, unless it’s a once in a lifetime event and you only get one chance….otherwise get there early so you aren’t rushing. The other big one is don’t give up on a sequence too soon. Too many times I’ve called it and packed up thinking that nothing was happening only for the clouds to part and the rays of golden sunlight to shine down across the landscape and wag it’s finger at me for being impatient.
Get permission to shoot on a location so you don’t piss off the landowner.

8. Be ready. For crying out loud make sure your batteries (plural) are charged and your cards (plural) are empty before a shoot. If however you want to look like a total plum and miss something because of a simple mistake that’s easily avoidable, disregard this point. Prep the housing and camera the night before and take your time. All it takes is a rogue hair to ruin an otherwise productive day with a flooded camera.

9. Aim to go the extra mile for your clients. Fulfill your contract but also aim to give them more than they asked for, surprise them, make them think that you were the right choice for the job. Also don’t charge too much because you are the only person they can use at the time, you won’t be for long and then they won’t use you again.

Find out what other services Lightning Strike Productions offers here

10. Don’t be ashamed to promote your work. I was always very hesitant about that and was embarrassed by my film editing initially until I started to realize that people actually liked what I was producing. Balance it with humility, nobody likes a braggart.

Local ranger and guide Alson Ngiraiwet showing me all the cool sites whilst filming MPAs in the north of Palau.

11. Local knowledge is key, worth it’s weight in Gold. Find people who can give you tips on an area, listen to your dive guide, tell them what you’d like to see or ask what you are likely to see. Not only will they open up to you if you are courteous, as people love to show you all the cool things they know but they will watch your back when you are focused on your imaging. Don’t forget to tip!

 

Cheers

 

Richard

 

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