Towards the end of my training as an underwater cinematographer, I had the opportunity to work on a livaboard in the Similan Islands. Combining my passion for diving and new found love for videography was a dream come true. I was about four weeks into my training with The Film Company on Koh Tao when I heard there was a possibility of work experience in the Similans. I was nervous at first, only having had a little work experience filming open water courses and having not yet completed my training, I was in for challenge. I was equally excited to do some incredible diving.
As the course neared it's end, I was confident with my training and Sharky and Rosie felt I was ready for the challenge due to both my previous dive experience andhow they felt I had progressed through the course. Throughout the course I learned everything from how to dive and perfect my buoyancy, how to take great technical shots to editing using Final Cut Pro. I spent about 6 weeks training with one on one tutoring. Doing over 30 dives I learned different filming techniques underwater like how to use sunlight and different camera angles to my advantage. I learned how to relax and control my breathing to create nice steady shots. Staying relaxed helped me to interact better with the wildlife and get closer to fish. Not only did I learn how to film and take great underwater shots but I learned about all the different kinds of equipment and proper maintenance on camera housings to prevent any problems or how to fix any problems if they were to occur. I also learned everything about pre-production and all the preparation that goes into creating films.
On the livaboard, my job was to combine my newly learned skills of filming and editing to make movies for divers on the livaboard. I had a fellow videographer to show me the ropes which was helpful because I had no idea how things worked on the boat. I got tips on where to set up my equipment to stay out of the way and how to manage my time when it came to editing. I also learned what time of day and which dive sites were the best to film at. Knowing how things worked on the boat made it easier for me when I was on my own. Having Sharky and Rosie only a phone call away incase I ran into any problems made it less worrying as well. After the first trip it was time to be on my own. After all the hard work and preparation I was ready to find my own style in my movie making and to gain valuable work experience.
Living on a boat for three weeks sounded like a long time at first, but by the end I wish I had more time. After talking to people who worked on the boat and experiencing that kind of lifestyle, I could see how one could spend a whole season there. Just being cut off from the rest of the world, waking up everyday anchored next to a remote island, getting to see amazing reefs and fish, every day was new and exciting.
Accommodations weren't much, but you don't need much when every day consists of eating, sleeping and diving. I got fed three meals a day and had to sleep on the sun deck which was no problem, unless it started raining, then you knew it was going to be a rough night. I was there just as the rainy season was starting so there were many nights where you would have to bury yourself in your sleeping bag and brave the weather. Not having a studio or room to work in was probably the hardest part for me as a videographer. I made a little workspace for myself in the dining area where I could set up my laptop and equipment. Time management was essential. With a limited workspace, finding good times to edit were key to finishing my work in time to show it on the last night of the trip. It could get distracting when you were trying to edit and people would look over your shoulder to see what you were doing, but it was also cool to show them if they were interested so when it came to show the movie they would be more likely to buy one.
Every day consisted of 4 dives. One in the morning, two in the afternoon, and one at sunset. Most dives averaged around 25 meters so sometimes if it was overcast it made it hard to film because it was so dark, especially for the morning and sunset dives. In that case I found that skipping a dive and using that time to edit was useful. The Similans can be a challenging place to dive. Being so deep and kicking against currents, it was important to keep an eye on your air. A lot of the dive sites have strong currents which made it hard to keep the camera steady. With my previous dive experience I knew that staying low and close to walls to hide from the current would help. After the first trip I began to familiarize myself with the dive sites and how to navigate through the currents. It was helpful to know what you could film at each dive site. Places like Anita's Reef and West of Eden are home to beautiful reefs with a variety of marine life, where other places like North Point and Elephant Head Rock are known for its huge boulders and cool swim throughs.
As part of the livaboard trip, not only did I get to go to the Similan Islands, but I also had the privilege of diving at Koh Bon and Richelieu Rock. Located just north of the Similans is Koh Bon Island. About 25 meters underwater is Koh Bon Ridge which is best known for its manta rays. The ridge is a popular cleaning station where giant manta rays come to get cleaned and to feed on plankton. There's nothing like seeing a giant manta ray for the first time. The sheer size alone is enough to take your breath away. You never expect to look up and see a creature six meters wide gracefully hovering toward you out of the blue water. Sometimes we would see two or three at a time which was a rush. Filming the mantas was challenging. It was important to remember to stay calm because if you let your excitement take over it could ruin your shot. I learned to never chase the mantas because they get frightened easily. So if you just stay in one spot, they become curious and slowly circle around you getting closer and closer.
Even further north is Richelieu Rock. Known for the some of the best diving in the world, what looks like a small rock jutting out of the water seemingly in the middle of nowhere is home to one of healthiest reefs I have ever seen. Teeming with life, the ground is covered in a field of anenomes and purple corals. Huge schools of barracuda and trevallies hunting other schools of fish make for awesome shots. I got to film things that I have never seen before like the exotic pineapple fish or the tiny harlequin shrimp.
All this life made me think about how all the dive sites would have looked 20 years ago before all the tourism and fishing boats. At night it was heartbreaking to see all the fishing boats so close to one of the best dive sites in the world. Overfishing is a big problem in Thailand and it is getting worse around the world. Being a huge fan of sharks, its disappointing to hear about things like shark finning. Now your lucky to see a shark a couple times a season at dive sites where shark sightings used to be common. And to hear that manta ray finning is becoming more common is unsettling, especially after witnessing the beauty of such a graceful animal first hand. As a videographer, I think that its important to bring an awareness to people of whats going on. Some people will never get the chance to see the underwater world so being able to capture it on video to show them is part of why I love this job.
My overall experience working on a livaboard was incredible.Theres nothing better than making a living doing something you love, and being able to sell some of my movies was a big confidence boost and it felt good that I was able to create a memory for people to show to their family and friends. Not only did I get to do some of the best diving of my life and see amazing things underwater, I also got to meet people from all around the world and I gained valuable experience as a videographer and as a diver.