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Underwater Videography - Enabling Your Creativity

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Yesterday, I had the wonderful privilege of encountering the majestic yet elusive hawksbill sea turtle at White Rock. This particular hawksbill turtle is not difficult to find in her cave at night, but it is rare to see her out swimming during the day time. In fact, I have seen as many whale sharks as I have turtles. Both animals swim with such a slow meditation motion, it is such a breath-taking pleasure to float beside them, just the two of us, and capture this fleeting moment of tranquility. I love the way the hawksbill sea turtle propels itself forward. Flapping its beautifully intricate flippers like wings, flying through the sea.

While editing my turtle footage, I had a hard time balancing professional quality shots with shots that were more narrative-infused yet shakier because they were taken when I first spied the majestic turtle. In the first shot, as the turtle approaches me, I was so. damn. excited..... I had not seen a turtle in almost a year! My footage, as a result, is shaky for my standards. As it approached me, the turtle came right beside me and hit my camera with it's fin. I cut the shot right before this (as I had no choice) and then transitioned into a shot of my students with the turtle. Again, the footage is shakier than I would like, but it is significant to see the students with the turtle. The final two shots are the last two shots I took. Calmer, more collected, I was able to slow my breathing and get back into the normal groove of filming. I like my visual pace to reflect the movement of the creature I am filming (and then harmonize the music with the imagery. Turtles are very slow moving creatures. It doesn't take long to cool off from the initial excitement because as you swim beside a turtle, filming, your own swimming and rhythm matches theirs. Thus, usually, with turtle shots I keep them very long. I especially like the "first person" perspective shot I have taken while swimming directly above this lovely creature. When cutting shots and stitching them together, I pay particular attention to the shot angle and fin movement. For the most fluid shot transition, it is important to cut to the next shot as if the movement remains uninterrupted. As the turtles fins move up above it's head, I will cut to the next shot. Though at a different angle (mind the 180 degree rule!) the movement of the creature is continuous. The arms continue to move above the head, and then back down, where the next shot is similarly cut in a way that treats the shots as multiple camera angles shot at the same time, instead of a single videographer shooting many different shots and angles.

Hawksbill sea turtles (E. imbricata) are migratory species and exist in a  wide range of environments. Adults of this species have been known to grow up to 1 meter in length, weighing around 80 kg (180 lb) on average. (The turtle that I filmed yesterday was very close to that size!) Hawksbill are distinguishable by their sharply pronounced hooked beak. Their diet is omnivorous, though they primarily consume sea sponges. In fact, the flesh of a hawksbill sea turtle can become toxic because of their affinity for venomous cnidarians.

The Hawksbill is a critically endangered sea turtle. Fish practices threaten this species, as well as the demand for tortoiseshell material used for decorative purposed. The capture and trade of these animals and their products is now illegal in most countries. Hawksbill is often recognized as a delicacy and has been since the fifth century BC. The Hawksbill has been listed as endangered since 1982 and in 1996 was declared critically endangered. Data given by the Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG) states that the hawksbill sea turtle population has declined by 80% in the past 3 generations. To learn about what you can do to help save these lovely creatures, please visit

The Rhythm of Filming

Working as an employee of The Film Company, I am required to utilize a myriad of skills which range from filming documentary footage on land and underwater, editing, and selling. I majored in Video Production at college in California. At the time, I avoided and dreaded the editing process and was convinced I would work in production, not post-production. Through this job, however, my mindset has shifted and I have come to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the editing process. While there is no feeling that can quite compare to the electrifying thrill of diving and filming alongside a whale shark, I respect the editing process, which allows me to illustrate (ideally) the most cohesively beautiful harmony between audio and visual. With The Film Company, I have the unique of a position of working in pre-production, production, and post-production alone as both the videographer and editor of my films. I have complete control over the body of work that I ultimately produce that day.

In my time at The Film Company, I have noticed a transformation in the soundtrack of my films. People respond very strongly to the music that I use in my videos and ask for track titles nearly everyday. In my earlier videos, however, the soundtrack was never mentioned by the students after seeing the video. Interestingly, I recognized that my earlier videos catered to a larger crowd in terms of their commercial appeal. I was never one to use "Top 20" songs (nor will I ever be one to use....) but I certainly chose songs that were universal and recognizable and not music I personally listen to daily. I will always take the audience into consideration in terms of tones and vibes that are appropriate, however, now instead of completely catering to an audience, I use music that moves me personally. Music I listen to. Perhaps it sounds selfish.....but I have a theory that we all view the world at a different beat, a different rhythm. I feel a certain way in the world, I speak to a certain beat, walk to a certain beat, talk to a certain beat. One I'm not even aware of, one none of us may be fully aware of, but like a compass that guides us and flows out of our bodies, it is a part of the way we see the world. I often will catch myself humming or counting in my head while filming without even realizing that I am doing it. It is a beat of my meditative breathing underwater, the slow long fin kicks of my legs, quietly propelling my camera forward. As a storyteller, I think the most important thing to remember is to honor movements. There is movement in the images themselves, movement in the editing and pace of the shots, as well as movement in the rhythm of the audio. Recognize your audience but don't disregard your unique perspective. No one person sees the world in the same way, just as no person would make the exact same video. The creativity and rhythm of the video relies on complete faith in yourself and your own perspective. It seems like a simple concept, but it is a confidence that took me many months to find.

Some of the best advice I can offer novice underwater videographers is, "He who hesitates is lost." If you start to turn in one direction, commit to that direction. Any hesitation slows down your rhythm and the audience can feel the videographer's indecisiveness. Let confidence drive your motions forward. Own your rhythms in filming and in editing. Embrace the beat that lives inside you.

Laticauda colubrina

Recently, at Twins dive site, I encountered the beautiful banded sea krait. Also known as the colubrine sea krait or yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina), this sea snake is found in tropical Indo-Pacific oceanic waters and frequently spotted around Koh Tao dive sites. Banded sea kraits are one of the most venomous creatures in the world, but they are not aggressive towards divers. They are often seen in the company of giant trevally and goatfish, using a mutualistic relationship with these fish to hunt prey. This technique is quite similar to that of the moray eel, who often team up with groupers to hunt.

sea snake

Kraits require fresh drinking water and regularly go onto land to digest, mate, and lay eggs. They are capable of spending up to ten days at a time on land. They also frequently swim all the way from the bottom to the surface of the water, and if you can catch and document them in this moment, slowly gliding, twisting, slithering in open blue water, the footage can be incredibly gratifying. Exposure can be tricky, however, as it is difficult for the camera to transition from open blue water onto the aggressively lit surface. But, by understanding the behavioral traits of the banded sea krait, I can anticipate the shot that I am going to take and prepare for its trajectory. When I am fortunate enough to capture a banded sea krait swimming from the surface of the water back down on to the dive site, I often like to use this as a visual parallel to the descent of the students. I will often use the shot directly before or after the divers have begun their descent. Not only is it an engaging metaphor with the divers as they themselves descend down to eighteen meters below the sea, but the movement of this stunning creature, it's tranquil, spiraling movements underwater immediately enrapture my viewers and get them excited for the portion of the video that takes place underwater. For most students, this is the first time that they will see themselves diving underwater, and I try to visually reflect the excitement of this moment as we sink beneath the surface.

Unfortunately, yesterday, the krait I encountered at Twins was very lethargic and un-engaging. A bit of a control freak (or maybe more than a bit....) I am often frustrated by my lack of control over the wildlife and students I film. While I love filming documentary footage, it is important to understand it's limitations. Once I recognize this lack of control, I problem-solve and make the most of the situation I am and as myself, "How can I make this the best shot that it can be?" So, yesterday, while I would have loved to capture the banded sea krait swimming, I had to accept that he was a sleepy snake and instead chose to use Macro settings and a close-up shot to showcase its gorgeously intricate facial patterning. As you can see in this still I have taken from my footage yesterday, the banded sea krait has a distinctive yellow snout and thin black bands in uniform width, which cover the full length of the snake.

Searching - a underwater cinematography project

[one_half last="no" class="" id=""]The Film Company was very sad to say goodbye to underwater videographer Elena Tranmer at the end of October. Though we were sorry to see her leave, we wish her all the best with this next chapter of her life. She leaves behind an impressive body of work that exhibits the unique and creative eye, she developed through her  training course the PADI Pro Underwater Cinematography course. We have delayed the release of her work some-what as Elena went to Australia and was unfortunately taken quite ill. We are glad to say that she is back on the road to recovery and visiting the Uk for the holiday period ad wish her all the best.[/one_half]
[one_half last="yes" class="" id=""]During her course Elena was given a creative brief to work with which required her to decide on a theme, style and storyline and completed the entire production from pre- production planning right through to post-production.The purpose of the project is to develop leadership, organisation, directing and producing skills. It also allows the student to continue their exploration of their art and to continue to learn. For example with this piece the lighting and shutter speeds where in some points not  in synch  resulting in what is called banding and whilst some of its effects can be reduced in post it is not possible to negate. We think that the results are still stunning and as a piece it merits all her hard work. The final film uses hauntingly beautiful imagery of a ghost-like woman adorning a white dress that seems to melt around her body. The scene is ethereal, almost hypnotizing. She passionately and meticulously destroys a flower, one petal at a time, only to then reach up and grab for the petals she cast away. Her slow-moving elegance is mirage-like, the soft lighting: surreal.[/one_half]

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[one_third last="yes" class="" id=""]Special Thanks must be passed on to Nikki Lacy and  APNEA  freediving for loaning us our gorgeous model Nikki.  Jeffery Glenn  of Ban's TEC for last minute lighting support when our batteries failed. Krystina Mahina - Amarylis Mermaid for the beautiful hand made necklace that she produced especially for this piece and Ban’s diving resort for the amazing location and patience with the shoot.

The remit of the course  is to develop creative and technical skills for underwater videographers who are looking to expand the boundaries of what underwater filming entails if you would like to find out more please TALK to us





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