It’s hard to know what to include in a 3 1/2 minute representation of an entire years work of Media Production across the Pacific. The obvious answer is “the best bits” or make it longer than 3 1/2 minutes!. But it’s not that simple. Because without wishing to appear like a braggart, it has been a very busy 2018.
There has been 3 filming expeditions. One to the South West Islands of Palau and two to Kiribati. There has been projects on the Protected Areas Network of Palau and Dugong conservation. Various spawning aggregation documenting and VR 360 projects. Aerial Surveillance missions. National Geographic assignments, even Taro cultivation and responsible cat ownership…The list is certainly diverse!
Compared to last years show reel, we have expanded our range out across the Pacific. Filming in some extremely remote locations but also doing a lot of work still in Palau.
I haven’t been able to include a bit of everything into this years show reel but hope that what is included is representative and entertaining at the same time.
Over the year we have expanded our range for media production across the Pacific, providing underwater and drone filming services to clients including Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute of which you can read about here.
It’s who you know for media production in the Pacific region
At the same time we have increased our range of contacts across the Pacific region. We visited a variety of Environmental and Fisheries themed workshops thereby networking with a huge number of contacts. This networking is hugely valuable in future media production projects across the Pacific. From the Solomon Islands to Hawaii, Vanuatu to Pohnpei, Yap to Fiji. We can help put you in touch with media production professionals across the region. Contact us if you would like to know more.
If we can’t help you directly, we can certainly help you find someone that will. We look forward to hearing from you.
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.
For a week we sailed along a 240 degree heading, crossing the equator. Sampling water from the Equatorial Under Current as we went.
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.
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. The site 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….
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 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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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’d like to read more about what it takes to be an underwater cameraman this post might be of some interest.
If you like to contact me about any filming opportunities please find me at this address.
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.
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.
Palau has a huge number of Marine Lakes locked within it’s limestone islands and I’ve wanted to explore them since I’ve been here but they are very hard to get to, usually surrounded by thick jungle growing out of razor sharp rocks. The world famous Jellyfish lake of Palau is one of them.
Because of this few people have managed to explore them so I thought I would use a drone to take a look and see them from a new perspective. Aircraft such as planes and helicopters have of course flown over them but I don’t think anyone has actually descended into one before.
So I used Google Earth to locate a few that were 1 mile or less from a suitable take off point and set to flying over and into them.
Some are impressive like the one in the video above, others no more than a depression with some shallow water in that dries quickly without rain.
What are Marine Lakes?
Marine lakes form in limestone islands where certain areas of the limestone erode away quicker than their surroundings. This erosion can create a depression or bowl and if that bowl is close enough to the ocean it may fill with sea water percolating through the porous limestone.
What makes Palau’s Marine Lakes special is that sometimes in a few places certain organisms such as Jellyfish have flowed in and remained there.
Some have nothing living in them but maybe frogs, others can have millions of Jellyfish. I’m looking forward to the day I spot one of Palau’s Saltwater Crocodiles……
After months of recon flights over one particular lake, I decided to find a way to film what was inside it. A little local know how told me a route and one day I set off to film there. See this film here for my findings……
The Marine Lake environment is extremely fragile but incredibly interesting. For further reading consider this article.
If you’d like to read more on filming with a drone check out this article
Welcome to Behind the Scenes. This is Media Production Palau.
Here we have a collection of posts that look behind the cameras of Lightning Strike Productions.
At Lightning Strike we film underwater, in the air with drones and from aircraft. We film wildlife, interviews and Time-lapse sequences. We edit and produce educational films. In short 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:
We are available for: Underwater filming, underwater photography, underwater camera rental. Aerial filming, drone pilot hire. Location scouting, fixer work. We can help organise 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!
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: