Over the course of the last 10 years I have been uploading stock footage from Palau to one particular agency.
In the last week I hit a landmark number of files in my portfolio of 1000. Whilst this may not seem a lot compared to many other contributors it is significant for two reasons.
In the early years the very slow internet in Palau meant that progress of uploads was similarly slow. This made me particularly choosy when it came to which clips I would send to them as I obviously wanted the greatest chance of sales per clip. This produced a portfolio smaller than others but of a higher quality.
Huge variety of stock footage subjects
Palau has an enormous range of subjects to film so the diversity of the portfolio is similarly diverse.
Living in Palau also has given me the advantage in that access has been provided by Government departments to extremely inaccessible sites or rare/unique situations. This results in one-of-a-kind footage, unrepeatable and invaluable.
I have also not limited myself to just Palau. Filming trips to Yap, Philippines and Kiribati have also yielded incredible stock footage.
The Nature Footage agency provides a variety of licenses for all different types of media applications from small format internet to international Cinema releases. Rights managed or Royalty Free. This means that whatever your product, they can provide you with the right license for your release.
The internet in Palau is vastly better than it ever was (100kb/s upload…) but this has not changed my approach to quality. Only the very best clips are uploaded but instead of it taking 3 days, it now takes 12 hours. Whoop whoop right?
Stock footage for every application
If you are interested in subjects from Palau or the Pacific region but don’t find them in the Portfolio here,
please feel free to contact me here to discuss what may be available but not yet online or if there are specific needs for your project.
For further reading on what it has taken to get this many clips together over this many years read here.
When it comes to filming wildlife in Palau there has been one species that has been on my bucket list for many years. Estimates suggest that there are only about 200 animals left in the population and they are spread over a huge range. It is large but extremely enigmatic. It has been hunted close to extinction and is now extremely wary of anyone approaching. I am of course referring to the Palau Dugong.
Palau Dugong natural history
The Dugong is one of only two extant vegetarian marine mammals. The other is the Manatee. The Palau Dugong’s ancestors most likely made the journey across the Philippine Sea from South east Asia possibly tens of thousands of years ago. They found Palau’s sheltered lagoons and huge seagrass beds perfect for living. However once humans settled in Palau their peaceful existence came under threat.
Due to Palau’s large distance from other populations of Dugong the Palauan population is extremely isolated. This is bad for a number of reasons. Firstly it is extremely unlikely that Dugongs from other Asian or Australasian populations will make the similar crossing to add to the Palau population. This means that the population will not increase due to migration from outside. It is isolated.
It is quite likely that Palau’s population could be descended from a single pregnant female that somehow made the crossing.
Love thy neighbor
Secondly the genetic bottlenecking that results from a population growing from a very limited number of individuals can result in a distinct lack of genetic diversity. This can cause such things as birth defects, low birth rate, higher infant mortality as well as raised incidence of sterility.
So given all those factors, it’s a wonder that there are any Dugongs in Palau at all. The chances of making it this far are stacked against them, yet they have survived. Dugong were traditionally hunted in Palau but the meat was reserved for only the highest chiefs. Due to declining numbers they have been given protected status and taking of Dugong is now illegal.
So you can see now why being able to film this extremely rare geographically isolated enigmatic creature is a real draw.
Filming the Palau Dugong
I have long been planning on using Drone technology to accomplish something like this. I wrote about using the technology here, but due to the rarity and highly protected status of Palau’s Dugong it was very hard to locate them. That is until a local NGO contacted me about a population in the north of Palau. I leapt at the opportunity of course and we headed out to the area and set about searching.
Dugong have very good hearing and the sound of a boat engine or even the slapping of kayak paddles will have them heading in the opposite direction.
Using drones for conservation filmmaking
By keeping a large distance between what we suspected was an animal and the boat and flying the gap between, we managed to position the drone over a herd of 15. This sort of number in one area at one time is almost unheard of in contemporary Palau. It gave us valuable insight into a possible local population size and age make-up. The use of a light, reasonably quiet drone allows us to observe these animals relatively closely without disturbing them. This is extremely important in the study of animal behavior. Any disturbance can change the animal’s natural behavior. The gyro stabilized High Resolution cameras available now are perfect for recording footage or taking photos at distances well over 1km from the pilot. or further reading on filming with drones you can check out this article.
The group of 15 included a Mother with a young calf, juveniles and a mature bull.
Geographic distribution and behavior
It became apparent that the areas we were sighting them in were predominantly sea grass beds. These areas are only however submerged in less than 1.5 meters of water at high tide. The Dugongs could only access this important feeding area during high tide. As the tide turned and started to recede the Dugong began to swim for deeper water.
It was possible to fly the drone at a low altitude without apparently disturbing the animals. Skin markings and scarring could be seen and enabled individuals to be identified on subsequent surveys. Mothers with their babies, boystrous juveniles and large Bulls could all be seen.
And then they vanished.
Day after day we went out and found no sign. Aerial surveys found other animals like Turtles, mating Stingrays, even the extremely rare Ornate Eagleray, but no Dugong…..
Where had they gone?
Dugong are still being hunted in Palau
A week or so later we hear reports that one has been killed. Parts of it’s body had been hung up far to the south for people to see. It was like a huge macabre shout of “laws don’t apply to us!”
We don’t know where this animal came from. There are other populations that frequent other areas of Palau. Koror and Malakal harbor having one of the highest densities.
It was still a huge blow.
This act however doesn’t go unnoticed. Those responsible are known to the community and like previous occasions of poaching, the culprits will eventually be found out, prosecuted and publicly shamed.
This could have been something beautiful, something so rare it almost defies odds by even existing. It has been killed before it had a chance. Greed and distrust are perpetuated by a few selfish individuals of our species for the sake of a tradition that can no longer be justified. Dugongs are a valuable tourism commodity in other parts of the world. If only those selfish individuals in Palau could realize that.
Further threats to Dugong in Palau
In addition the sea grass feeding area frequented by this population has been proposed as a site for sand dredging. This critical habitat for a huge number of species was actually going to be destroyed so that sand could be acquired to build the airport expansion in Palau. The Environmental Quality Protection Board (EQPB) assessed the site and according to the boat driver on the day they saw 7 Dugong. This is where we came in to document these animals and raise awareness to the potential habitat destruction.
Destruction of habitat used by protected species is prohibited by law in Palau. We await to see what will happen and hope that public conscience is greater than a few individuals greed.
This species hang on to existence. It would be a ecological disaster to loose such an iconic species in Palau and a terrible waste of beautiful animals.
For further information on previous work done to protect the Palau Dugong see here.
For a really good report on the Dugong status in Palau see here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For 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.
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.
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. Read more on underwater filming here.
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.
Stock Footage is often vital for a production to stay within budget and after 10 years of diving and filming in Palau we have accumulated a huge library of HD and UHD stock footage for just that purpose.
Previously in Palau, uploading at 3kb/s was about all we could hope for on a wobbly internet and this made sending any large files almost impossible. Palau now enjoys high speed internet from an undersea fibre optic cable and with this we have been uploading stock footage to our agents with unprecedented speed.
Are you thinking of filming in Palau? Are you looking for a reliable and professional media production company to assist with your project?
Lightning Strike Productions has over 20 years filming experience. We have been filming in Palau for over 12 years. We can help you with all aspects of your production. Filming permits, accommodation, land transport. Underwater camera operator, boat hire, rental camera equipment. Interviews, drone pilots, on camera talent…..
Over the last 12 years we have filmed everywhere in Palau. From the far northern reefs of Velasco, to the far south and it’s remote islands of Helen, Tobi and Sonsorol.
How Lightning Strike Productions can help you
Lightning Strike Productions has worked with numerous broadcast entities in Palau over the years. Clients include the BBC, CNN, Arte, Thalassa 3, ABC, Channel 9 Australia, Animal Planet, National Geographic and Discovery Channel. It’s also a regular contributor to online news media through it’s stringer services.
Our cameras, both underwater and drone mounted output Raw footage, ensuring the very highest in 4K 16 bit quality.
Because of our long experience filming in Palau we can help you organize filming permits, arrange transport, accommodation, rental equipment, interviews and talent.
Whilst things have improved, Palau is still remote and does not have a huge amount of media production resources. There are no dedicated camera stores and spare parts etc need to be ordered in from overseas, which can take at least a week at best.
It’s regional and national government structures can be tricky to negotiate for filming permits and site access. We can help you navigate and succeed in this local arena.
If you are considering filming in Palau it’s well worth contacting us to find the lay of the land and get a bespoke solution for success.
The Republic of Palau has a huge variety of healthy and almost pristine ecosystems. Palau provides a huge wealth of opportunities for content. It is visually stunning with tropical islands, coral reefs, jungles and plentiful iconic species.
There are numerous conservation stories available. Tuna Fisheries, Marine enforcement, mangrove protection, migratory shorebirds, climate change resilience.
We have WW2 wrecks, their de-mining and recovery of human remains. Extensive underwater caverns and of course the many marine lakes with their millions of Jellyfish.
Additionally the other side of the coin is also available. Stories on illegal fishing and the black market trade in protected species. The need to balance tourism and development with conservation. Tuna economics, Climate Change, Ocean acidification, renewable energy, coral bleaching….
There are stories waiting to be told and new technologies waiting to tell them with and since we are based in Palau we can start production quickly.
Palau Stock Footage library
If you need footage quickly or something specific but time consuming, there is always the option of stock footage. As a result of filming here for over 12 years we have a huge stock footage library available.
Filming the Unique fish spawning aggregations in Palau is a challenge.
Who to dive with?
In March 2017 I accompanied the very experienced Dari Divers on a filming dive down to Peleliu to document the spawning aggregation of Sailfin Snapper. The schools at this time of year number in the tens of thousands. We did three dives and were able to witness some incredible numbers of fish. When you get the timing right expect to see lots of sharks and one of the most incredible natural displays in the animal kingdom.
During the day the huge school hangs out in a secluded part of the reef. This is about 1km away from the corner where they spawn. During the night before spawning they swim there and wait until dawn. At the turn of the tide and on an unseen signal, they commence their extraordinary spawning ritual.
The list is long and being added to all the time as new discoveries are being made, Check out Dari Divers and book your trip with them to ensure you get a front row seat to some of the most incredible and unique diving in the World. If you would like to read more about the actual processes involved in underwater filming check out this article.
When it comes to Aerial Footage and the stock companies that represent me and my work in Palau, I can be very picky about who I send material to. After all, I am sending them my artistic content and there needs to be both a level of trust and commitment to the future representation from them in their site design and business plan.
So it’s not often I can say that I have decided to sign up with a new agency and have them represent my Stock Content.
The resource for quality Aerial Stock Footage from Palau
Aerial Entertainment Studios though is one and my initial submissions have impressed them enough to add me to their Exclusive team of artists.
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 Arri”. 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read this article on my perspective of being a professional underwater cameraman.
For more underwater media articles follow this link
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.
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.
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
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.
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.