Underwater photography workshops and training in Palau

Underwater photography is a common art form these days with cameras readily available for reasonable prices. A large proportion of divers now have housed cameras ranging from a cell phone to the latest flagship behemoth “HMS Nikon”. Many also find enjoyment in attending an underwater photography workshop as part of their dive vacation.

Underwater photography is art with a physical challenge too. The best photographer on land could be terrible underwater if they’re not a competent diver.

Underwater cameraman Palau
Sunbursts were the order of the day
Underwater photography should be fun

When everyone has a camera and is “happy” with what they’re doing it’s nice to be asked by someone to help them improve their shooting.

Underwater Photography workshop in Palau
A large school of fish offers the creative underwater photographer a multitude of imaging options.

On this occasion my student wanted help across a range of subjects. Here’s a run down of things we covered:

….and camera basics

Many issues that lead to dissatisfaction in underwater photographers are down to the inherent intelligence of cameras. Especially with point and shoots and the more automatic varieties. What I mean is that cameras are often thinking too much and because they are mostly not designed with underwater photography in mind, they can make it more of a challenge to get the best shots out of them. Auto focus is a big one for this.

underwater wildlife, Palau
Once you find a cooperative subject shoot it in as many ways as possible

Dissecting what the camera is trying to do for you is the first step. Turning off “intelligent” facets of it’s character often requires reading the manual and a little experimentation. Get to know your camera.

Next comes the basic shutter speed/ aperture/ISO balancing knowledge that all photographers worth their salt should have a rudimentary understanding of. It’s not always available but being able to control them in the camera is so much more rewarding….. and challenging…. but that’s what I’m here for.

underwater photography palau
Subjects that don’t move too much and will allow you multiple attempts are good to start with

What will absolutely ruin a good underwater photography dive is when the housing doesn’t perform so I always advocate spending as much time as you can on preparation. All it takes is one o-ring or one connecting rod out of place and you have a camera that won’t work on the dive or worse is flooded. Be prepared.

After that we have the lighting and strobe positioning that is so important underwater. Correct or incorrect strobe use will make or break a shot, so developing the mindset of creating a studio  and moving your lights within it and around your subject will reap great rewards.

Bespoke one on one workshops

Often the student photographer has a certain shot in mind or wants to improve on certain elements of underwater images in general. This time we were going for sun beams through the water as a background to our perfectly placed subject so we focused on that when possible.

underwater photography student palau
Spending the safety stop shooting sun bursts and beams

Overall, it comes down to patience and practice, but with an hour of preparation and coaching before the dives we had the set up and basic operations down, after a few trial shots underwater on stationary objects we have a better feel for strobe power and ball park exposure settings. Then after that it’s about looking for subjects and having fun. A few over the shoulder views by me allows a real time feedback for the student and quick adjustments when necessary. Between dives a more in depth discussion as we review results.

Certainly a faster learning curve than the old slide film days………

Contact Lightning Strikes for availability of courses or workshops, individuals or groups are welcome.

For more underwater media articles follow this link

Cheers

 

Richard

 

Behind the scenes of Marine Sanctuary Enforcement in Palau

Palau Marine Sanctuary enforcement is not a simple task. The EEZ is over 600,000 km2, roughly the size of France. The effort to enforce Palau’s National Marine Sanctuary is stepping up a notch to meet this demand.

The worlds oceans are overfished to the point of species extinction and ecosystem collapse. It becomes increasingly important to prioritize sanctuaries and no take zones. But there are those that will fish illegally regardless of the laws in place. In response to this the Republic of Palau has continued to increase it’s capacity for Policing it’s National Marine Sanctuary.

My Role

In my capacity as a media producer I can help document this effort to raise awareness.

Now with the latest surveillance operation concluded I thought I would share some photos of the aerial component.

The Mission

We fly with Pacific Mission Aviation in a Beech Queen Air Excalibur. Daily sorties go out and conduct searches over vast tracts of ocean within Palau’s EEZ. The patrol boats are in the area but cannot cover such a huge area in the same time. Having a spotter plane greatly increases the effectiveness of the patrol boat.

The hatch in the tail of the aircraft allows an observer to take high resolution photos of suspected illegal fishing boats. The photos of suspected vessels can be used as evidence in court. Each flight lasts about 6-9 hours and does an expanding square pattern out from a central point determined by visibility and altitude. Alternatively a parallel search pattern is employed  along the edge of the EEZ.

All eyes are pealed as we search
Aerial observation from 2000ft

My job apart from being an observer is to provide documentary evidence of these missions. In an attempt to obtain compelling B-Roll  we employed GoPros attached to key parts of the aircraft.

See some examples of footage from that here

Part of this media production is for promotion. For one particular joint exercise the remit was to include the aircraft in a shot with 3 patrol boats in formation. It was proposed that we have a GoPro attached to the wing looking back at the aircraft. The plane would then fly just in front of the boats in formation.

We trialled it first with just the housings attached and found the mounts were not strong enough when the aircraft flew above 150Knots. The result…we lost both the housings. So we took to bolting the cameras directly to the aircraft. This time around they survived and did so with minimal vibration and rolling shutter issues. We are continuing to develop this system to improve imagery with every sortie.

The above video shows how precisely the pilot maneuvered the plane for the shot. Before take off we set up a WiFi link to an iPad inside the plane so the pilot could see in real time the view from the camera. At one point the plane was close to 70 ft above the water doing over 100mph banking at 45 degrees…..quite a rush.

After the promotional flight, the three ships made way to different parts of the EEZ. Two apprehended illegal fishing boats loaded with illegally caught fish found and boarded.

The operations continue into 2018 with further successes and apprehended illegal fishing boats.

Using the 6K RED Epic Dragon in Palau

Richard Brooks shooting with the RED Dragon 6K camera
Filming Manta aggregations in the north of Palau for a cinematic documentary with the RED Dragon. (image: Pete Zuccarini)
Cinematic Palau

Lightning Strikes was called upon to provide location advice and be second camera for a cinematic documentary being shot in Palau. The best RED 6K cameras were used for this large budget shoot in Palau.

To provide amazing footage of Mantas we went up north to film them  aggregating in the northern channels. This is part of their annual migration that occurs at this time of year.

Make it a RED camera Palau

We have been using a RED Epic Dragon with the Arri 8mm prime lens on front for the widest, closest images possible and we were not disappointed.

Late in the day we had Manta barrel feeding in shallow water surrounded by huge schools of fish that reacted in explosive and dramatic fashion as the mantas looped through them.

This footage may well end up in the finish documentary or could find it’s way into other productions. Either way, the 6K sensor from the RED provides incredible Raw footage from this day and many others we have been filming throughout this shoot.

To see other work check out the main website here

Watch other posts in this behind the scenes blog here

Cheers

Richard

Ocean Warriors awarded

Award winning

In October 2015 the Ocean Warriors film crew came to Palau. We filmed for close to 3 weeks including 10 days on board Palau’s Patrol boat searching for illegal fishing vessels. A year later and the finished series is aired on Animal Planet across the world.

We got some great news this morning, Ocean warriors has been given the Genesis award for Outstanding Television Series.

The series follows dedicated individuals and organizations that have made it their calling to stand up and do something in the global effort to protect the worlds oceans.

Ocean Warriors Palau team
The crew of the PSS Remeliik and film crew from Animal Planet Ocean Warriors series upon return from patrol. Palau, October 2015
Our role

For our part at Lightning Strike, we provided fixing services for the 3 man film crew here in Palau. Richard was also Drone Pilot, time-lapse photographer and underwater cameraman. Additionally he was filming on the patrol boat PSS Remeliik. We joined the crew as they chased down illegal fishing boats near the South West Islands close to the Indonesian border.

The experience was a real eye-opener to see how a small documentary film crew works on location. And the work being done to protect Palau’s EEZ from illegal fishing.

For another insight into the fight to stop illegal fishing check out this article on the aerial surveillance effort.

A big thanks to Pete Zucchini for the opportunity.

For more info on services provided by Lightning Strike Media please check our main website.

Cheers

Richard

Plastic Pollution in Pristine Palau

Reality Check

Even in Palau Plastic Pollution is becoming a serious problem. Whilst filming on location in one of Palau’s most beautiful locations of  Kayangel the other day it was horribly apparent what a enormous issue it is. I put together this short film on what we found there.

 

We are killing our environment

Human activities are impacting everywhere on the small fragile planet, from the deepest oceans to the upper atmosphere. By far the biggest cause is the sheer number of people. Population control must be tackled immediately if we are to have any hope of bringing other environmental problems to acceptable or sustainable levels.

plastic pollution

Our species consumes so many natural resources and creates so much pollution, it is literally killing it’s own environment. Just like anything that lives beyond it’s environments ability to support it, we will die off as the environment we need to survive fails.

Our oceans are filling with plastic. So many millions of single use bottles. How many can you see in the above image alone?

Watch the film above and listen to the admittedly windy dialog, but the message here is that we should be aiming to cut down on those single use plastic containers. Bottled water or drinks are one of the biggest contributors. Please think about purchasing reusable bottles and taking them with you. If you think that the above photo is just a couple of square meters of one beach the unbelievable scale of this problem might begin to dawn on you. Please make the effort to cut down on your plastic use. This issue is not going away.

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post on her efforts to cut down on plastic usage, read it here.

Check out this link for positive thinking companies in Indo who specialize on lowering their impact on the World.

For more information about filming in Palau on location scouting visit our web page or contact us here

Cheers

5D3 and 4K with Magic Lantern…

4K Raw Footage

4K raw footage internally recorded in a camera is usually restricted  to high end cinematic cameras like RED and Arri.

But in this day of firmware hacks and open source programs the realm of Raw is available on cameras that cost  a couple of thousand dollars or less.

I don’t know how many out there are still using this combination, I feel….. I know, on my island, I’m the only one, and that makes me nervous but excited at the same time.

I love the bleeding edge. I don’t have the money to gamble a test on my own $2.5K camera body with new firmware on a regular basis, but will bite the bullet once some guinea pigs have gone first….

What gets me though is the latitude inherent in the 5D3. It seems that Canon put a C700 system in a DSLR body and restricted it, but at the same time left the door open…

That was what I was gambling on when I bought into this system because it does some incredible things to an already impressive camera. I use this combination almost exclusively underwater.

Check out this article I wrote for the dive photo guide.

If you’d like to see more insights into how to become a professional Underwater Cameraman see this article.

Super 35mm 4K comes to Canon 5D Mark III in new Magic Lantern module – IT’S REAL

Full credit to the guys who work the code. Hats off to you A1ex and co.

 

Regards and thanks

 

Richard

 

 

New film project started today in Kayangel

Film Palau

There is one place that I would like to film more than anywhere in Palau.

This is the northern reefs and atolls of Kayangel.

And I just got back from filming up there and wanted to share this with you:

Film PalauThis image is created from 7 photographs stitched together and was shot via a drone during our lunch break on the 2nd closest island. Great conditions prevailed after a stormy night but we went up to Kayangel to do some pre-production scouting and subject tests for a new project based on these northern reefs and islands of Palau.

I could not have asked for a better start.

Watch this space to see how this project develops and this initial film from our discoveries there.

If you’d like to find out more about the work being done by the Ebiil Society see this link

Cheers

Richard

Slow shutter speed using ND filters for Time-lapse

Why use ND filters for Time-lapse?

I’ve been struggling with creating a good panning time-lapse using Circular Polarizers since…well since I started using the combination. The sky is never consistent and the darkening effect uneven.. So I invested in a professional level ND filter system from Lee, a UK based filter company.

It’s not cheap to start but the quality is incredible. There is no colour cast on the image, all the filters do is limit the light. This means I can either open up the iris for really shallow depth of field or keep the shutter open for much longer and still have a properly exposed shot.

This shutter dragging is what I’ve been looking for with Time-lapse sequences and the Lee system allows me to stack multiple filters together to really dial in the effect. The system also allows me to start with say 3 filters then as the sun goes down I can remove them one at a time whilst adjusting the camera’s exposure to transition from day to night.

Yesterday was the first field test so I packed my gear and headed for one of Palau’s secluded waterfalls.

Using a 0.75 filter I could drag the shutter to 1.3 seconds blurring the water nicely.

 

Time-lapse photographyWatch this space for more insights into these freshwater environments or check out this section of my portfolio for creatures I’ve already filmed at other waterfall and freshwater locations in Palau.

This showreel contains Time-lapse footage shot with both the Little and Big Stopper filters from Lee, find their website here.

 

Cheers

 

Richard

Spawning aggregation dives in Palau

As natural events go, very little compares to fish spawning aggregations and it’s the time of year again to be diving Peleliu. Both the Sailfin Snapper (Symphorichthys spilurus) and Red Snapper (Lutjanus bohar) are starting to aggregate along the east reefs of Yellow Wall and Peleliu Express to the corner.

For those intrepid divers, early morning dives just before the full moon will find them spawning in their thousands. Also making an appearance are the predators such as Bull Sharks and Oceanic Black Tips.

How to find the aggregations

I joined Dari Divers for this trip as they know exactly where and when to jump in, even once on the reef they can interpret the fishes behavior and know how to approach them. Check out the edited short film from this year:

 

Check out last years showreel with footage from the Red Snapper spawning dives here.

Watch this space for updates as we return to document this impressive natural event.

 

Cheers

 

Richard

 

Dive Palau film

Promoting the best

Over the last few months I’ve been diving with Dari Dive Palau. Together we are planning on showing all the cool fish, sharks and mantas at new locations they know. They asked me to put together a short film of the regular features such as the spawning dives, aggregations, Blue Corner, Blue Holes, German Channel etc to begin with, which you can see here:

I have found Dari Divers to be particularly good. Apart from offering Nitrox, great lunches and taking small groups to the best sites, I’m finding that they have a deep understanding of the timing of natural events. This rich knowledge enables them to put their divers in the water at exactly the right time on the right day to witness nature at it’s best.

See another film I produced on another trip with them here.

After diving at a professional level for close to 20 years, in a wide variety of locations and shops around the world, I hope I can say that I have a reasonable amount of experience in the business of recreational diving. Many shops are very busy always running at 150% (great for business/bad for customer satisfaction), some cut corners and the customers are left with substandard guides, poor rental equipment, boats that break down etc. It’s a fine blend of personal attention and the excitement of discovery and adventure that for me makes Dari Divers stand out for a great diving experience in Palau.

Making the film

All the underwater stuff is shot on the Canon 5D3 running Magic Lantern  capable of outputting 4K Raw footage. For more info on this set up see this post

Aerials were shot using the DJI Inspire 1, hand launched and caught from the bow of the boat during the surface intervals.

For the editing I looked at a different aspect ratio this time. 2.35:1 instead of the usual 16:9 to see how it holds up over time and initially I like the look. To me it makes the screen bigger even though it’s actually smaller…..

Let me know in the comments section below what you think to the film and whether or not the 2.35:1 ratio works for this sort of thing.

Watch out for new media coming from this new collaboration as well as views from new as yet undisclosed sites around Palau.

See their website here

 

Cheers

Richard