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Similans Experience on Pro Underwater Videography Course


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.

 

My thanks to Eden Divers and Tony Lowe

Nick

Skills management for underwater video - shot preparation

One of the skills required of an Underwater Videographer is the mastery of task loading and skills management. Whilst the range of considerations and specific tasks you will have to perform are vary dependent on the type diving and camera equipment you use the fundamental principles of practice prior to putting the camera into position and shooting can be distilled to 5 key stages in the preparation;

1, THINK about what your shooting and what path you will take whilst recording, perform your safety checks, visualise your composition.

2, POSITION, always think about where the light source is coming from, ensure that you are in a stable and neutrally buoyant position well clear of the marine environment.

3, remember to control and use your BREATH to assist you in taking the shot, for example if you're taking a panning shot breathe out as your body moves through the movement in order to get a smooth shot.

4,COMPOSITION is very important, visualise the framing of your shot, ensure the elements will work in harmony with your intentions and anticipate, after all we are dealing with wildlife if their natural environment.

5, FINALLY  bring your rig up ready to take your shot.

As I prefaced before this list is not the final word but it's a useful list, run through all of these points in your head before then taking the shot and life as an underwater videographer will become a lot easier.

Of course there are many other things to keep in mind while taking a shot. When shooting underwater and most important is respecting and protecting the natural inhabitants and environment. One of the roles of a videographer is as an underwater ambassador;  it is important to show the these natural environments on camera, this helps the viewer feel  a part of what they are watching,  and brings  them understanding of things that they may never have experienced. For example shots of  feeding, cleaning stations, mating, mimicking, fish fighting are always great behaviors to shoot to show the underwater world in it's true glory.

But remember just because one way worked for someone else it may not be how you want to present your images and you may take an entirely different view point. You should always try and nurture your own creative approach to film. One way to develop  your own style is to consider your use of different camera angles and shot types.  You have on offer  a entire language where each word depends on the words around for its meaning,  so you can evoke different feelings and reactions by its use. Using the basic grammar of this language the shot, the close medium and wide you can experiment with your use of this language. Cousteau didn't become the worlds pre-eminent underwater explorer by following the rule book, rules are made to be broken, sometimes you will get it completely wrong but when you get it right, it will stand out from the rest.

In summary before taking a shot think about what you need to do, how you want to tell the story and what emotion you are trying to create. Returning to the basics regularly makes you readdress how you look at scenes, shots, post and your creativity as a filmmaker,  it continually helps me to consider the way I film and how to look at things anew.

Storyboarding

Proper preparation is the key to success. When you are making a video, the more planning ahead you do the better. As a videographer, one of the most important tools for preparation and planning ahead is storyboarding. A storyboard is a graphic organiser displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing. Kind of like a large comic strip, a storyboard is a visual layout of events as they are meant to be seen through the camera lens. They let you know what camera angles to shoot and whether to take a close up or wide angle shot. As well as knowing what type of shots you need, storyboards can also depict camera movement, like panning or zooming.

One of the advantages of seeing what your project looks like is that you can make any adjustments before you film anything. Then when you go back to the studio you won't have to waste any time searching through hours of footage because you've shot exactly what you needed. Being able to figure out exactly what you'll be doing during a shoot will save time, labor, and a whole lot of stress when it comes to editing.

Storyboards have other advantages as well. If your working with a team having a good storyboard will show the crew exactly what you have in mind. Its easier to get your point across with a visual aid rather than try to explain everything with confusing descriptions or hand gestures. Storyboards can also be useful if you are trying to pitch your idea to investors. To prove that your right for the job, not only will a storyboard show them what your finished project will look like, it will show professionalism and that you are prepared.

When it comes to underwater videography, sometimes I need to improvise. With the underwater world being highly unpredictable, it can become tricky to create a storyboard. You can only plan things to a certain extent, so when I am going to film underwater I have a mental note of what I want to shoot. I try and use things like wide angle shots of the reef to establish a setting, letting the viewer know where the scene is taking place. Then I can get middle and close up shots of fish to use as insert shots between scenes. Varying the type of shots you take will make the movie more interesting and appealing to the viewer. Some things will always be there, like the silhouette of the boat or the divers. But with the other things, I never know what I am going to see or film. Everyday is different with currents and visibility constantly changing. The fish I filmed the day before isn't going to be in the same spot or doing the same thing. One day I could look up and see a whale shark. Thats the exciting part about this job, everyday is something new.

Preserve Paradise

Since coming back to Koh Tao in January, a lot has happened on the Island. The Dive conditions have been good for the most part, with days of crystle clear visibilty, perfect for filming. Right now it's the calm before the storm, predicting that June/July/August are going to be busy months.

In early March, SAVE KOH TAO held their annual film festival, which Chelle and Steve, 2 of my collegues, entered pieces in, and did really well.

That was followed by SONGKRAN (Thai New Year), 2 days of water fights and celebrations, with Ban's Dive Resort putting on another one of their huge beach parties, and everyone just let off.

On a new site in Chalok, KOH TAO FESTIVAL kicked off, this year without the rain and much more room to move around and enjoy the food drink and entertainment.

Apart from all that, it was Island life as usual, full of parties, work and relaxation, everything that makes Koh Tao home.

But all of that is irrelevant if the diving is not there, the HUB of everything that runs on Koh Tao. But the HUB of Koh Tao is starting to change because of GLOBAL WARMING. It's not totally a bad thing, it can be fixed and managed, but coral bleaching is happening, and it's not just Koh Tao, but all reefs around the world.

On Koh Tao, we have a group called SAVE KOH TAO, who endlessly look for and do things to help protect the waters around here and they have a lot of support. But now is the time to look at the big picture and accept that it's not only a job or activity for some, but something everybody needs to do. It's not just Koh Tao, it's reefs in Australia, Indonesia, Vanuatu, Palau, and the list goes on.

My blog is going to follow the progress of Coral Rehabilitation around the world, which will contain websites and information for people to see what they can do to help the reefs of the world. In the meantime, check out:

www.projectaware.org

www.savekohtao.com

www.marineconservationkohtao.com

KOH TAO REALLY IS PARADISE AND WE NEED TO MAKE SURE IT STAYS THAT WAY.

IT'S MORE THAN JUST PRETTY PICTURES, IT'S HOME TO SO MANY.

Andrew Orme

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