Why use a Cinema camera underwater?

Nauticam underwater housing for the Canon C200 Cinema camera
The Nauticam underwater housing for the Canon C200

Why do I need to use a cinema camera underwater?

In a world of action cameras and point and shoots capable of 4K and all the rest, why would you opt to use a cinema camera underwater?

Given that “cinema cameras” can cost upwards of $7500, why bother?

Attaining the very best cinematic footage of underwater subjects has kept me motivated for my entire underwater filming career. Camera choice is one of the hardest things especially when I am paying for it myself. It takes a very special combination of factors for me to take the plunge….

I have been using cinema cameras on and off for particular projects for many years. I have not owned one, that is until Canon announced the C200, and then my ears pricked up. Firstly the camera is capable of outputting 4K 12 bit Raw Lite footage, it has a great canon processor and that canon colour, auto focus is leagues ahead, great glass is already available…….. When Nauticam announced they would be making a housing for it, I decided right there and then that this would be my next camera.

All in, the complete system with camera, lenses, housing, monitor, monitor housing, batteries, media etc cost about $30K. So it had better work and what I mean by that is it had better blow my bloody socks off.

The 12 bit Raw lite codec produced internally by the C200 comes as a CLOG2 file that can be processed in many non linear editors as either a log 2 or log 3 and a variety of other flavours. But how well does it work in the underwater environment?

Initial testing

It was very much in at the deep end. I had a filming gig in Bermuda for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. This was going to be the C200’s 2nd dive… (I had initially tested it for trim and overall ergonomics in Palau before heading out to BMD). First dives were very encouraging. The size of the camera and therefore the housing required made the setup quite bulky. A large system possesses inherent inertia and therefore makes the camera quite stable. A big plus in comparison to a GoPro.

Underwater cinema camera C200
The Nauticam system allows access to all camera functions and is a nicely balanced unit underwater.

I was pleasantly surprised with the dynamic range available as well as the colours that could be recovered from the 12 bit LOG media. My main gripe was that the file sizes are huge and only the very fastest of computers will be able to handle the editing and colour correction process. But again color correction is quite possible as opposed to a lower bit rate point and shoot.

Some initial shots from Bermuda are here: https://www.facebook.com/lspfilm/videos/2519660171458599/

You can see that there is virtually no noise on the blacks and the rolloff in the whites and highlights is smooth.

Real world usage of an underwater cinema camera

Setting correct White Balance underwater is important. If it’s not done the image needs to be manipulated in post and too much of this can lead to visual artefacts and noise. Don’t start degrading the image straight away…get the right white balance in camera.

The camera allows you to monitor the waveform so that you can avoid crushing the blacks and clipping the highlights too much. This is hugely helpful in acquiring the right exposure. It also makes you think about the camera movement of the shot… If the shot will tilt up to the surface, will the highlights be getting clipped? How far can I tilt before that happens? Being able to see the waveform in the external monitor is huge..

One thing that is also hugely helpful is the internal ND filter system on the C200. If I am shooting into the sun for a silhouette shot I can quickly apply and ND+2 and avoid that clipping before I start rolling. This is something even more expensive cinema cameras like the RED do not have.

What other benefits does a cinema camera offer to an underwater cameraman?

Did I mention data rate? Yes the 12 bit Raw lite is a monster. It’s approximately 1 GB/second….If we switch to 60fps it drops to a 10 bit version but this is still huge.

Big data gives you more flexibility to adjust the image in post.

Another huge plus for cinema cameras is the output options via cabling. There are multiple bulkheads on the housing that can be plumbed with either SDI or HDMI cables. If need be these can be routed to a directors monitor so that they can give directions to the camera operator and talent via coms as they watch what the camera is filming live.

Colour Correction

colour checker underwater
Using a colour checker underwater can help you get close to a target colour grade

You can see in the above example, I have used a colour checker prior to starting shooting in a particular area. It allows me later in post to have an idea about white balance, exposure and my colour spectrum. There are plenty of videos on YouTube describing this process, check this one out for some good colour theory and instructions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJjY3Djj0Wg

This above example is not an ideal situation as the colour checker is only 10 cm in front of the camera and not the 3m away where the subject is, however it is a good start. Utilise your waveform guide to ensure you’re not clipping either the blacks or the whites.

So once you have your white balance and exposure/contrast in the right ball park you can start to refine your colour edit. Adding a LUT or using the HSL secondary colour corrector in Premiere Pro to fine tune the image to your liking or the Directors particular colour preferences .

Colour correction for underwater footage
The HSL secondary colour correction (right hand side) can be used to isolate and enhance certain wavelengths.
Underwater Footage Before and After colour correction
Underwater Footage Before and After colour correction. CLOG 2 12 Bit Raw Lite.

The above example shows what can be accomplished. I’m no expert either but because I can adjust many aspects of the camera and I have a reference slate I can correct the footage so it really pops.

So why use a cinematic camera underwater?

A cinema camera underwater provides the perfect combination of quality and adjustability that I’m looking for. It’s extremely adaptable: I can change lenses and ports, I can output a signal to an external monitor for viewing by a 3rd party live. It shoots in a codec that allows a colourist to manipulate the image far further than if it was a simple low bit rate codec. It’s size and mass provide stability.

Overall it’s the best tool for the job, that’s the fundamental reason, the best tools that your budget can afford. Getting the best out of those tools though…..That’s up to you.

View this long static shot using the C200 Underwater:https://youtu.be/3mgYZGk1IOU

Filming the Palau Dugong. The rarest of the rare.

Filming Palau’s rarest wildlife

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.

Dugong Palau
A small group of Dugong rest in shallow water

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.Dugong

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.

Palau Dugong
This adult bull Dugong can be identified from the white markings on his back

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.

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. 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.

Here’s to a productive and imaginative 2018!

For more information find us here

For further reading on drone filming try this article

Thank you and Enjoy!

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

Palau Stock Footage, Underwater, Aerial, Wildlife

Stock footage from Palau

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.

If you’re looking for quality footage from Palau and other locations across the Pacific check out the following links:

Palau Stock Footage subjects

Manta Rays

Manta Ray palau stock footage

Sharks

Shark palau stock footage

Turtles

turtle palau stock footage

Jellyfish Lake

jellyfish lake palau stock footage

Aerials of Palau

aerial palau stock footage

Spawning Aggregations

spawning aggregations palau stock footage

Check out these categories and others. With over 1000 clips now available at a variety of stock agencies you can be sure that you will find something to suit your needs.

Royalty Free or Rights Managed portfolios can be found here: (Links will take you to our portfolios)

palau stock footage

palau stock footage

palau stock footage

palau stock footage

If you don’t see what you need give us a shout here and we can discuss options for acquiring footage for you.

Check back often as our portfolios will now be rapidly expanding. See here for our latest show reel.

We are filming on an almost daily basis so will always have new content coming. See the Stock footage page on our website here.

If you would like to see one of our most recent filming projects on the spawning aggregation of Sail fin Snapper in Peleliu. Much of the Palau stock footage used for this is now available to license.

Cheers

Richard

Filming in Palau. Professional Media Production, things you need to know.

Filming in Palau

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 is run by husband and wife team: Richard Brooks and Bernadette Carreon-Brooks. Together they have over 30 years cumulative experience living in the Republic of Palau. Richard has been filming underwater for over 20 years and in Palau for over 12. Bernadette is an internationally renowned journalist specialising in fisheries, economics and politics.  

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 in a huge number of locations within Palau. From the far northern reefs of Velasco, to the far south and it’s remote islands of Helen,  Tobi and  Sonsorol.

Filming in Palau. Underwater wildlife of Palau
Underwater icons found on almost every dive in Palau
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, The Guardian, Aljazeera,  ABC, 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.

aerial photography palau
Postcard perfect Palau

 

 

 

 

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 your success.

360 VR by Drone
360 degree view of Koror, Palau’s commercial hub and the adjacent Ngermid Bay with it’s picturesque limestone islands.
 
Location Palau

The Republic of Palau has a huge variety of healthy and almost pristine ecosystems. Palau provides a huge wealth of opportunities for media content. It is visually stunning with tropical islands, coral reefs, jungles and plentiful iconic species.

There are numerous conservation stories available.  Marine Protected Areas, 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.

palau underwater filming
A huge range of underwater environments……

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, plastic pollution….

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.

filming in palau aerial filming
Drone filming services expand shot range with a reasonable budget
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.

Almost all our work has something to do with the environment meaning it’s well worth seeing what we can offer on those subjects.

See our latest show reel here

Filming in Palau with Lightning Strike Productions

Lightning Strike Productions has the experience and the expertise and is therefore perfectly placed to help you with any element of your filming and media production needs in Palau. Feel free to contact us for more information.

Cheers

Richard

360 VR comes to Palau

360 VR Palau

Just out today is a new 360 VR film we helped produce here in Palau in collaboration with production company Parable VR.

Load it onto your phone or tablet or better yet watch it with VR goggles…

The film was shot over a period of 1 week using a 6 GoPro Hero 4 cluster. We used the Abyss 360 underwater housing available from 360Rize.

This website is an incredible resource for filming 360 VR content

How to 360 VR

If you’d like to see more insights into VR production in Palau and get tips on Aerial 360 VR production see this post.

Richard Brooks:- Underwater cameraman

Underwater Cameraman Richard Brooks
How do I become an underwater cameraman?

Richard Brooks- Underwater cameraman: “I get a lot of e-mails asking me how to become a professional underwater cameraman, or how to use a professional underwater camera or even how I’ve got to where I am with my underwater cameraman career. So I thought I’d put together a short blog to help all those aspiring shooters.”

Unfortunately there is no one course or definite route. The more successful underwater camera operators you meet the more varied the stories  you’ll get. For the sake of this, here are some recurring similarities.

Most of it may seem like common sense but hopefully my contribution offers you some insight.

If any readers have ideas that they can offer, things that I haven’t encountered or mentioned it would be great to hear from you. Please leave a comment at the bottom to help every aspiring shooter out there.

how to become a successful underwater cameraman. Underwater Cameraman Palau
Waiting for the sun to set before filming a Grouper spawning aggregation, Little Cayman, circa 2005
Continue reading “Richard Brooks:- Underwater cameraman”
Underwater Cameraman Richard Brooks
How do I become an underwater cameraman?

Richard Brooks- Underwater cameraman: “I get a lot of e-mails asking me how to become a professional underwater cameraman, or how to use a professional underwater camera or even how I’ve got to where I am with my underwater cameraman career. So I thought I’d put together a short blog to help all those aspiring shooters.”

Unfortunately there is no one course or definite route. The more successful underwater camera operators you meet the more varied the stories  you’ll get. For the sake of this, here are some recurring similarities.

Most of it may seem like common sense but hopefully my contribution offers you some insight.

If any readers have ideas that they can offer, things that I haven’t encountered or mentioned it would be great to hear from you. Please leave a comment at the bottom to help every aspiring shooter out there.

how to become a successful underwater cameraman. Underwater Cameraman Palau
Waiting for the sun to set before filming a Grouper spawning aggregation, Little Cayman, circa 2005
Continue reading “Richard Brooks:- Underwater cameraman”

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

Media Production Palau

I’ve been involved in Media Production in Palau in various guises 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:

So many cameras
  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.

Aerial photo Palau

Underwater Time-lapse. Underwater camera, underwater media production, underwater photography.
Underwater Time-lapse of Coral Bleaching using a firmware hack to provide my Canon with an intervalometer, repeat visits over a 4 month period.

Continue reading “10 things I’ve learnt from 10 years of Media Production in Palau”

Why you should dive Balicasag Island

Should you find yourself in the Bohol/Panglau region of the Philippines and you’re a diver, there is a place I can thoroughly recommend. Even if you’re not a diver, this place could possibly persuade you to be one.
Every dive shop in the area offers trips there, because it is so good, it’s unavoidable in fact I would say. As soon as the weather is good enough they said, “we’ll go”.
So, with a recommendation like that and a shop like Philippine Fun Divers providing me with good rental gear, a great boat taking me there and expert guides I couldn’t really refuse.
Good thing I didn’t, because even though the weather was still a bit….”marginal” the diving was anything but that.
Once the Banka boat had approached the low lying sand fringed island, myself and the 2 other divers got geared up, had a briefing from our DM Greg and we got in. Almost immediately I’m seeing stuff I’d not seen before or multitudes of critters I see rarely. One of my favorites is the little Tobies or Pufferfish.

The little Tobies and Pufferfish often have highly reflective markings that when hit by your lights really shine.

Continue reading “Why you should dive Balicasag Island”