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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