Underwater Cameraman for Scientific Expedition to Phoenix Islands

Expedition Cameraman

First quarter 2018 and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute asked me to work as an Expedition Cameraman for their trip to the Phoenix Islands.

Fast forward  and we arrive on Christmas island and board the “Sea Dragon” a 72 ft sailing boat. That afternoon we set sail for our first destination; the Atoll of Kanton.

Aerial photo of sailing boat, Kiribati
The Sea Dragon at anchor near the main dock of Christmas Island, Kiribati

For a week we sailed along a 240 degree heading, crossing the equator. Sampling water from the Equatorial Under Current as we went.

Underwater cameraman expedition
Getting in the water when you are hundreds of miles from the nearest land…..
Kanton

The atoll of Kanton has 56 residents. They live a quiet peaceful life but long for visitors and welcomed us warmly. During WW2 it was very different. Kanton was a US and British air base with over 1200 servicemen present. The abandoned wreckage from that era still litters the atoll.

Aerial Photography, Kanton Atoll, Phoenix islands, Kiribati.
The Atoll of Kanton
To work

We went to work almost immediately in a baptism of fire. My first task as underwater cameraman on this expedition was documenting the deployment of scientific instruments in a tidal channel to the inner lagoon. Easier said than done when the current barely stops moving and can get as fast as 6 knots….

Marine Scientists deploying underwater instruments, underwater cameraman
The heavy instruments were deliberately placed in an area subject to the strongest current. Slack tide lasted 10 minutes.
Diving in a Pristine environment.

Working in strong currents is as any diver who has experienced it, a struggle. Filming stable footage is especially challenging, but after two dives we had achieved our goal. A large and heavy scientific package was positioned and activated, gathering important data on the tidal dynamics of this near pristine environment.

The SS President Taylor. Ship wreck. Phoenix islands, Kiribati, World war 2, underwater photographer,underwater cameraman,
The SS President Taylor looms large in shallow water. Kanton Island.

The next few days flew by as we dived on some of the most pristine reefs on the planet. The Phoenix Islands are in one of the largest marine protected areas of the world.  It’s obvious as soon as you slip beneath the waves. It’s likely that these reefs are only dived maybe once every two years by a handful of people. In that situation the local fish find divers very interesting. Within seconds the fish start arriving and continue to follow you, circling for the whole dive.

You can read more on Marine Protected Areas here

Expedition Kiribati Underwater cameraman
The reefs of Kanton are especially healthy and colourful
Expedition Cameraman

Being the underwater cameraman on this expedition meant I was charged with documenting everything the scientists did. This meant diving sometimes 9 times a day, retrieving scientific instruments, conducting scientific surveys, shooting everything in fact. The end products will be used to promote the work done by WHOI.

With there being so much diving, battery management and data wrangling was especially important and by the end of the trip I had over 3 GB of data which I had been backing up daily. On top of that I was also flying a drone and shooting anything happening on the boat too….Much of what I shot is still under wraps so what I have been able to release so far is a tiny fraction.

At this stage I should mention how good the crew were on Sea Dragon. Eric, Shanlee, Charles, Shannon and  Jess were there for us the entire time. They tended the boats, cooked, filled our tanks and remained positive throughout. It made our jobs that much easier and the experience onboard wholly enjoyable. I can’t thank you enough!

Onwards to new horizons

After 5 days in Kanton we set sail again, this time for Nikumororo.  Two more days pass.

This small atoll was where Amelia Earhart hopefully ended her round the world attempt in 1937. The romantic end to her valiant effort has yet to be verified and what we find is nothing short of miraculous.

Aerial photo Nikumororo Atoll Phoenix islands, Kiribati
Nikumororo Atoll. The lagoon is full of very hungry Black-tip reef sharks

 

We arrived to be greeted by Sperm Whales, and on almost every dive by Dolphins who immediately disappeared as soon as we hit the water…. We even were escorted by a Killer Whale at one stage….

Orca
The female was tail slapping to warn her calf to keep away. She was around 18 feet long and dwarfed the RIB. Pic by Mike Fox
Isolation

The reefs here are again incredible. The isolation palpable.

The fish take turns to swim around you and check you out. Even in environments devoid of corals and only covered with algae there are still thousands of herbivorous fish.

One morning we locate the one reasonable landing spot on the island and go ashore. Beforehand we have to have our clothes sprayed with heavy duty disinfectant to minimize the chance of taking any invasive species with us.

What strikes me is that there is no plastic on the beaches. Compared to somewhere like Palau where there is huge amounts on practically every coastline, here at last we are free from it.

The inner lagoon supports a huge number of Black-tip reef sharks. The scientists take water samples but it quickly becomes apparent that this is a dangerous activity. Numerous sharks come in very close to check them out. One scientist even gets a nip on his heel. The love bite opens up 3 surgical cuts on his heel. We decide that it’s not worth trying to retrieve a logger submerged in the middle of the lagoon….

One of the nicest aspects that highlighted our isolation was how tame the birds are. Boobies nest on the beach here and are completely unafraid of us.

expedition cameraman
The nesting Boobies were easily approachable.
Orona

We again departed before we had really scratched the surface and after another day of sailing we approached Orona. This atoll had a different feel to it. It had been inhabited up until only 15 or so years ago but the colonists disliked being there so much they left. When we made landfall, there were still buildings in good condition but the amount of trash and leftover rubbish from those inhabitants really bought home how isolated they were and yet how much of an impact humans have, even just 30 people….. The reefs too had seen better days and were still recovering from the most recent warm water event.

In preparation for this trip I had looked at maps of the proposed atolls and of them all, I wanted to fly the drone over Orona the most. It has what is called “Hoa and Motu”, Polynesian words for channels and small islands sometimes found on Pacific Atolls.

Drone photography
The Motu and Hoa of Orona Atoll, Kiribati
Rawaki

Our next island was Rawaki, about 1km square, treeless and covered in seabirds. We dived and cored here for two days before making our way back to Kanton.

Drone view of Rawaki, Phoenix islands, Kiribati
A drone’s eye view of Rawaki. It’s amazing it wasn’t attacked by the thousands of Frigate Birds that were also there…..
Homeward bound

After a couple more days we are back in Kanton to pick up the scientific instruments we had left there previously, it goes without a hitch but the feeling we are on our way home is both happy and sad. Sad to be leaving this incredible place that we have only just scratched the surface of, happy knowing that in about 10 days we will be home again with our families. And so we say goodbye to the our friends on Kanton and set sail for Christmas Island and our flights back to civilization.

That was the easy part

For the next 7 days we sailed into a steadily increasing wind. The sea state worsened, the progress slowed. The Sea Dragon, whilst having been designed to do just this sort of passage handled it all in the capable hands of the crew and Skipper it was still a struggle. The main sail developed a tear and had to be replaced with a storm sail, and for about 5 days we were tacking into 25+ knot winds meaning the whole boat was heeling over at an impressive angle. Squalls hit us and night watches were particularly hard especially for a Green horn with practically no sailing experience. Our spirits were challenged by our slow hard going but camaraderie prevailed.

Sailing the Pacific
With the storm sail up and squalls bearing down on us
It’s Christmas

And finally after a week of bad weather and hard sailing we finally arrive at Christmas Island. Almost as soon as we drop anchor we crack open a celebratory beer. Even now I’m laughing at that moment of relief. Damn that beer tasted good.

We had a couple more days of filming and diving and coring left as we were joined by the Laboratory head Dr Anne Cohen. So the very next day we were out again, rounding off the research and ensuring the money shots were in the bag. For all the basic amenities available on Christmas island the diving was still phenomenal and the Dolphin population huge.

Pacific Dolphins
Huge numbers of Dolphins rode the Sea Dragon’s bow at Christmas Island.
It looks idyllic…

Looks nice doesn’t it and postcards do, but what doesn’t come across is the heat, the flies, the heavy pack on your back, the blisters on your feet, did I mention the heat? Being an expedition cameraman is hard especially if you are a sole shooter. Even if you do have a team of sherpas to help carry your gear, you are still concerned about that gear. Is it packed properly? What if it gets dropped, will it survive that drop? Is that packing case properly waterproof? Insurance for your gear is of course something only a fool would avoid, but a busted camera in the middle of nowhere is still busted without a hope of being replaced for weeks. So, taking two of everything important is something you really need to consider doing. I had two drones, 4 cameras, extras of so many things just in case….

Expedition filming
Carry on. Filled with your most precious possessions (cameras and lenses)
Extra Luggage

It means you don’t travel light, it’s impossible. If you are aiming to get aerial, underwater and topside shots at a professional level and have backups in case of accidents or failures…that’s a lot of equipment.

On this trip I nearly lost a drone, and one of the Underwater camera sensors had an obvious dust speck that I couldn’t clean. As it was I had a backup for both. Things could have been worse but thankfully the gear was packed well and stowed well on board a boat that was heeling over by 30 degrees at times.

Making it home

I approached this project with extreme caution, I made sure (as much as possible) that my personal gear was safe, that I was safe, that I would be able to bring home the footage (and duplicates) and that my client would be happy with the results. It was not easy, but then the best things in life are never easy. But it is one of the best things I have ever done and something I would jump at again.

Expedition to Phoenix Islands Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Cameraman
The team from WHOI left to right: Pat Lohmann, Anne Cohen, Richard Brooks, Nathaniel Mollica, Mike Fox.

I wish I could show you more of what I did on this trip and one day I may be able to but for now it’s still in the process of being edited so patience is key.

If you’ve made it this far, I’m impressed, it’s a marathon post! I hope it’s given you some insight into both what we experienced and what it took for me to film this expedition in what was literally the middle of nowhere.

If you like to contact me about any filming opportunities please find me at this address.

Cheers

 

Richard

Aerial surveillance and the Palau Marine Sanctuary

 Aerial surveillance in Palau

Aerial Surveillance over the Palau marine sanctuary was initially proposed in 2013. A series of tests were conducted with various technologies. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles were the first. The high initial cost ruled them out together with unfavorable vessel detection ability.

UAV Palau
The UAV could remain aloft for many hours and cover a huge distance, required 2 operators to fly it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Republic of Palau next tested the Sea Dragon system.  A military grade combination of radar and gyro stabilized cameras.  A twin engine Cessna variant is fitted with the surveillance equipment and used as a complete package with a pilot and trained observer.

Sea Dragon aerial surveillance aircraft
The sea dragon aerial surveillance aircraft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the initial trial, Sea Dragon scored a huge success by finding and documenting fishing vessels transshipping. This is illegal in Palau. It demonstrated the need to continue patrols far off-shore.

The system however had issues. It wasn’t a practical solution for long term surveillance despite it’s initial success. It has however found use in other parts of FSM.

A simple, cheap and reliable solution had to be found.

This is where  Pacific Mission Aviation stepped into the ring. Part of their work is providing medevac solutions to the outer atolls of Yap and FSM. For this they need an aircraft with a greater range than a standard single engined Cessna. A twin engine Beechcraft modified Queen Air was chosen due to it’s reliability and long range of over 1000 Nautical miles.

Aerial Surveillance
One of the Pacific Mission Aviation Queen Airs outside their hangar in Yap, FSM.

The below film documents actual missions that took place during November of 2017.

In addition you can also check out an earlier behind the scenes post written during the development of this project .

Please check out the website for Pacific Mission Aviation here

The future of surveillance

The conclusion from all these tests is that simplicity is fundamental.

However, as we continuously approach our time horizon, developments occur. I’m talking about the recent U.S plan to install military radar stations in a variety of locations in Palau. One of these installations will be in the SW islands. They aim to give the U.S a better idea about military ship movements in the area. The US and Palau also propose to use this to locate and identify fishing vessels. With this level of tech in place it will probably become impossible to enter Palau’s EEZ undetected. We certainly have an interesting few years ahead of us.

Keep checking back as we continue to document the surveillance efforts over the National Marine Sanctuary.

Cheers

Richard

 

Film Palau 2018 Show Reel

Why Film Palau?

Are you a production company looking to film Palau? The Republic of Palau continues to provide great opportunities for Underwater and Aerial Media Production.

As an introduction to the many opportunities available for filming in Palau, I would like to take this opportunity to show you what Lightning Strike Productions has been doing over the course of the last year.

Lastly our show reel will share some of the highlights and our hopes for the future.

New media techniques and projects in Palau

Over the last 12 months we have continued to diversify our filming techniques.

Aerial filming in Palau

Aerial filming with Drones and Aircraft mounted action cams have provided great footage for our clients.

Aerial filming in PalauFor this particular project we used a host of external and internally mounted action cams. Each aimed to catch the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Surveillance plane as it hunted for illegal fishing in Palau’s EEZ.

 

Underwater Time-lapse for Cinematic Documentary

Exciting 6K B-roll from Time-lapse techniques have also added to production value of a number of projects over the years.

Chasing corals. Filming Palau
Chasing corals movie poster

Of particular note is the underwater time-lapse work we shot for the Netflix original documentary Chasing Corals. This involved returning to the same locations 6 times over the course of a few months. Each time positioning the camera with the aid of multiple references in exactly the same place as before.

 

 

360 VR filming in Palau

We have embraced 360 VR and continue to develop this new and exciting form of media. Mosaic panoramas provide a new and artistic form in addition to producing very high resolution images for printing. The beginning of the year saw us filming for a VR project here in Palau which ran in conjunction with a second project by the Economist magazine.

Drone filming Palau
Kayangel Atoll Aerial Panorama
Underwater filming in Palau

Underwater filming in Palau is still incredible. New behaviors and environments were documented in greater detail this past year. Spawning aggregations of species previously undocumented in Palau as well as insights into the migrations of Manta Rays and Shark species were gained.

Our underwater cameras can output 4K Raw footage. This means we get the very best colors possible through post production techniques using the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of programs.

Wildlife and conservation in Palau

Wildlife and conservation topics are still very close to our hearts. A large project on migratory shorebirds was completed in the Autumn. This milestone project commissioned by Palau Conservation Society raised local awareness for the need to protect certain coastal environments in Palau. It appears to have reached it’s desired audience and the proposed developments have thankfully been halted.

Plastic Pollution has become an incredibly damaging aspect of our world in this century. This film was our first venture into raising awareness of this issue. Plastic use continues to be one of the biggest problems facing us today and into the future.  We take every opportunity to reduce our usage and impact in this regard.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued support into 2018 as we venture to new horizons. We have 2 filming expeditions planned. One to the remote South West Islands of Palau, and one with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. This second trip takes us to the even more remote Phoenix Islands of Kiribati.

Together we can make Lightning Strike Productions grow further. We aim to provide more innovative and educational media for Palau, Micronesia and the world.

Here’s to a productive and imaginative 2018!

For more information find us here

Thank you and Enjoy!

film palau underwater film palau aerial film palau nature film palau film palau

 

Welcome to Behind the Scenes

Filming and media production in Palau

Welcome to Behind the Scenes. Here we have a collection of posts that look behind the cameras of Lightning Strike Productions. We film underwater, in the air with drones and from aircraft, we edit and produce educational films. We tackle everything media production related in Palau. Most of our films and media are environment based and we take pride in all our media production projects. We are media production Palau.

As this blog grows we will be covering a range of subjects but they will mostly be grouped into the following subjects:

 

Underwater Cameraman Palau. Media production
Underwater filmmaking needs you!

Underwater filming and photography

Drone filming and photography

Time-lapse shooting

Conservation

Expeditions and Travel

360 VR

 

Enjoy these sporadic writings. There is no schedule… Please feel free to leave a comment or ask  questions regarding any elements of our productions. Keep coming back for the regular updates .

See our company website for more information.

Media Production Palau

We are available for Underwater filming, underwater photography, underwater camera rental, aerial filming, drone pilot hire, location scouting, fixer work, Film production in Palau, permits, accommodation in Palau, dive boat charters, aircraft charters, stock footage or just advice on where to dive.

The latest media production in Palau and beyond

For a comprehensive run down of everything we got up to in 2017 check out this post. It highlights all the progress we’ve made as well as the major projects we have undertaking over the year. New camera and filming techniques with many examples of the films we shot for our clients, it also includes a show reel of our favorite footage from the year, so have a look!

Cheers

Richard

 

Aerial drone filming in Palau. 5 Big uses

Aerial Drone filming in Palau

Drones or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are one of the biggest growth industries of the early 21st Century. Their rise has been stratospheric. Development of flight, navigation, imaging, and automation systems are continuous. Manufacturers are bringing out new models that take huge leaps forward every 6 months. That is why we moved so fast to start aerial drone filming in Palau.

I started flying drones about two years ago with a 450 class model and was commissioned almost immediately for work. Since then I’ve upgraded to an Inspire 1 for it’s longer flight times, image quality and stability in wind. Lightning Strike Media now provides a range of aerial imaging services and flies almost daily.

The technology is so innovative it has opened up a range of opportunities in Palau:

Aerial Drone filming Palau
This aerial shot of a burning illegal fishing boat, is not possible by any other method than by Drone.

Continue reading “Aerial drone filming in Palau. 5 Big uses”