VIEWFROMTHEBLUE


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Showreel

A few years ago I was asked for our showreel by a potential client. I explained to them that I was in the middle of re-editing a new version and that I would send them a link to view it just as soon as it was ready. Well three years later I finally found a big enough gap in my schedule to finish it! I wonder if the job is still open?… Happy



Countryfile BBC1 Sunday 5th July - Shark Special



Countryfile will be screening an episode dedicated to sharks on BBC1 Sunday 5th July, including our footage of Porbeagles filmed back in 2007 which to this day is still the only free swimming Porbeagle footage in existence.

Porbeagles are impressive sharks. At their largest they can grow up to 3.5 meters long and are close relatives to Great Whites with which they can often be misidentified.

Below is our multi award winning short film which was successfully used as part of the campaign to get Porbeagles entirely protected in European waters, with a zero total allowable catch (TAC) fishing quota.




Red Sea Spawning Aggregations



Well it has been a busy summer so far! We've just returned from Egypt once again, where we have been filming the spawning aggregations in Ras Mohammed National Park at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Every year hundreds of thousands of Snapper, Batfish, Unicornfish and Barracuda head for this area at the end of June / beginning of July.

It is a wonderful spectacle in crystal clear blue water and certainly easier to film right now than it has been for many years. 5 years ago you would often find up to 50 dive boats a day on the world renowned reefs of Shark and Yolanda, yet today at times in the peak of the season we saw only a handful of boats. It certainly makes it easier to keep divers bubbles out of shot(!), but it is a stark reminder just how badly the Egyptian tourist industry has been decimated in recent years.

Let's hope for a bit of stability in the region to allow divers once again to enjoy the wonders of the Red Sea. Shark and Yolanda is one of my very favourite dive sites anywhere in the world and is in amazingly good condition considering it is still probably the busiest dive site in the Red Sea, if not the world! We are going to be chartering private daybooks again next year for the aggregation, so get in touch if you are interesting in joining us!



G I A N T S - Whale sharks of Isla Mujeres

It felt like I hadn't made a mini documentary for years…..and I hadn't!

I love making mini documentaries about the places we have visited or about a particular subject that we have seen. It is what got me actively involved in filming in the first place and led onto a full career doing something I absolutely love doing. So to not have made a mini documentary for over 3 years seems SO wrong!

In my defence I have been incredibly busy for the last few years and it has becoming increasing difficult to put aside sometimes up to a week to edit these pieces. Recently though I've had a break in my schedule and took the opportunity make this short film that I'm really pleased to be able to share with you.





I wont say too much about the film itself but will try to give you a few insights into how it was made.

This trip was mainly used as a shakedown for the GH4 which had just been released. Using a new camera underwater for the first time is a bit of a lottery. Sometimes they are amazing while other times you get a real stinker of a result when you were expecting something great (yes I am looking at your Sony FS100!).

The key is to try many different settings and to come up with a workflow that gives the best results. I basically went through most of the settings in the camera when filming on this trip which made it very difficult to colour match all the images in post. Also a Canon 7D was used for about 25% of the shots and when using them underwater they become very, very difficult to match.

After looking at the results I found that for me the best settings when filming with he GH4 was to use the Natural setting with sharpness turned down the maximum amount. I've since been filming with the GH4 for the last 12 months and I still agree that I like this the best.

Most of the filming was with the Lumix 7-14mm which is a lovely lens. To help retain the reds at depth when white balancing I also taped a piece of magic filter to the rear of the lens as there is no filter holder or thread on the 7-14mm. This worked surprisingly well.

I can see a big difference not only between the 1080p and 4K images from the GH4, but also the 7D shots used. Hopefully that is not too distracting to the viewer!

If you have any technical questions please ask away and I hope you enjoy the film!

Red Sea

We certainly had a fun trip to the Red Sea during our latest visit and even managed to take a new photo for our Contact Us page!



Sorry if we are out of touch when we travel, but phones don't tend to work well underwater!

We are back in the UK for a few weeks now before heading back out to Egypt for the massive aggregations of snapper, barracuda, unicorn fish, banner fish and a host of others that peaks at the end of June.

Should be fun!

Gracie the 5 Year Old Mermaid!

We introduced our children to the water at a very early age. Both Oliver and Gracie were learning to swim at 10 weeks old and they loved every minute as you've probably seen from the web videos that we've posted over the years.

We made this film with Gracie who has been obsessed with Mermaids since she was very, very small. This is her story…

Enjoy!



Bahamas

We've just got back from a great trip to the Bahamas aboard the Dolphin Dream filming Great Hammerheads and Tiger sharks, so we wanted to share a few photos and video clips of what we'd captured during our stay.

This is what it looks like when a Tiger shark gets a little too close for comfort!



This is Zoe filming on the sea bed surrounded by Lemon Sharks:



Oh and here are some photos of us filming Great Hammerheads.




Next up we have a couple of trips to the Red Sea with some filming in the tropical UK waters sandwiched in between, so we'll definitely try to make an effort to post some more photos and video clips from those!

Isla Guadalupe Sep 2015

Hi all

If you were thinking of going to Isla Guadalupe in 2015 then we still have a couple of places open for our September charter.

The boat is full of experienced photographers and videographers although total numbers have been limited to 12 to ensure the most time possible in the water with the sharks.

There is not another spot anywhere like Guadalupe where you can view, photograph and film Great Whites in (often) crystal clear blue water. If you are interested please email me for full details at info@viewfromtheblue.me.uk.

Panasonic GH4


I've been filming with the GH4 since it was first released in the summer.  I've got to say that using it has been a breath of fresh air.

It is small, compact and a dream to travel with.  I love the 96fps slow motion, the 200mpbs 1080p50 setting is as good as anything else HD out there right now and the 4K option produces some stunning footage.  It does have some faults (its ok, but not exceptional in low light) but it is very hard to compare the GH4 with any other camera in its price range (and quite a bit higher!).

In addition to testing the camera out underwater I've been working on a new short film which should be finished soon.  In the meantime here are some links to test samples that I've uploaded to YouTube.












Skomer Island




Skomer Island lies off the coast of Pembrokeshire in SW Wales.  Skomer is a 'National Nature Reserve', 'Site of Special Sceintific Interest' and a 'Protected Area'.  It is also one of only a handful of Marine Reserves in the UK and it has adopted a voluntary no take zone.

Skomer and the islands around it host some of the largest sea bird breeding colonies in Europe.  Gannets, Manx Shearwater, Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Storm Petrels, Cormorants, Shags and the wonderfully charismatic Atlantic Puffin.  Below the waterline Grey seals are in abundance and Porpoises, Common and Bottlenose Dolphins are regularly sighted.

I spent a magical few days there in July 2014 attempting to film a Spider Crab mating aggregation.  We missed the Spider Crabs, but nevertheless had a wonderful time!

Underwater Filming:
Sony PMW200 / Gates Housing
BMPCC / Nauticam Housing

Topside Filming
Panasonic GH4

Fiji - Rainbow Waters




Although Fiji is a long way from anywhere when you live in the UK, Fiji is literally on the 'other side of the world'.

When I visited there in March 2013 and spent a week aboard the wonderful live-aboard Nai'a I was delighted to experience some incredible diving and to witness some of the most healthy and most colourful reef systems in the world.  Fiji truly is a nation of 'Rainbow Waters'.

This trip was used to test the Sony PMW200 with Gates Underwater housing prior to using it on a broadcast documentary for NHK Cosmomedia.  I was very impressed with the codec and shooting XDCAM 422 50mbps gives a great deal of flexibility in post.  As always using the Gates housing was a pleasure.  There is a very good reason why they are considered the best in the business!

BMPCC Underwater Test Review (BlackMagic Part 2)



Nauticam Housing
BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC)
I was able to test the BMPCC in more traditional conditions than its bigger brother when I managed to do half a dozen dives with it in the Red Sea.  As expected the housing for the BMPCC is small, much smaller than its bigger brother the BMCC and more in keeping with the size you’d expect from a MFT or compact camera.

The lens port fits nicely into place and is secured with a locking mechanism.  The camera sits on a tray and slides into place to ensure all the controls line up correctly.  I did have a slight problem with the record on/off control engaging with the button.  It was hitting the button on the camera, but it didn’t appear to be applying enough pressure to actually turn the recording function on and off.  I’ve had this problem before with manual control housings and it is often easy to work around.  On this occasion I placed a strip of card and tape over the record button so when the housing control hit this more leverage was applied and the record function engaged.  The control will still need adjusting, but at least it didn’t stop me from filming.

The rear of the housing is locked into place securely once closed and this housing came with a fully functioning vacuum leak detection system which was a great reassurance especially when using a housing for the first time, or on the first dive after traveling.  I will not go into too much detail about it here as there are extensive reviews already out there, but it is fair to say that it gets a big thumbs up from me.

SENSOR / LENSES
The BMPCC uses a Super16 sensor which means that it has a 35mm equiv crop factor of x2.88.  I’ve been spoilt over the last few years by being able to use a 10mm lens on the S35 sensor to give amazing super-wides, but that is definitely not possible with this camera.  Also one of the first rules of filming underwater is to remove the water inbetween your lens and the subject by getting as close as you can, but it is really hard to to do this and keep much in frame with a x2.88 crop factor.

I hadn’t put a lot of planning into this trip and only decided to take the camera and housing just over a week before leaving.  I have lots of lenses which I can use via adapters on the BMPCC but none of them were suitable for using in the housing underwater.  About the only lens I did have that I could use was the Lumix 14-42mm which is basically a cheap kit lens and not an ideal choice for testing a camera with!  Unfortunately I didn’t have the budget or the time to go out and buy something like the Olympus 7-14mm, although that lens is renowned for using underwater and should be on anyones wish list for the BMPCC or MFT in general.

Another alternative on lenses is to use an adapter called a Speedbooster from a company called Metabones which allows you to use Nikon glass on the BMPCC.  Not only does it allow you to use the lens, but by some form of voodoo it also magically makes the lens faster and wider, turning the BMPCC from a 16mm into a S35 camera!   I have loads of EF glass and the rumour is that Metabones are working on a EF adapter so I do hope that Nauticam will support these adapters as it will transform the BMPCC when shooting underwater.

BATTERY
Like the BMCC housing the BMPCC housing also has the ability to fit in an external battery holder.  The BMPCC uses a removeable Nikon EN-EL20 battery which gives about one hour of standby/record time.  This is probably going to be enough for most single dives, but nowhere near enough for a two tank or longer day.  The external holder fits in an additional two EN-EL20 batteries into the housing which in total will give up to approximately 3 hours of standby/record time which is going to be enough for most days of diving.  

On one day during the trip I did have the battery run out during the third dive, but I could have conserved power a little better if I’d turned the camera off a few times on this dive.

IN USE

The housing is tiny when compared to any other housing that I’ve used for filming underwater, which definitely takes a little getting used to.  However by the end of the days diving I was reveling in the ability to use the camera and housing in a different way to what I’ve been able to in the past.  One example would be that I always find it very, very difficult to shoot macro or semi macro on a wall with a big housing, but I found it remarkably easy to do that with this camera.  I didn’t have a tripod with me so I was not set up properly for filming, but I could see that this has lots of potential as a macro camera.

The LCD on the back is very small and not great resolution and at times it does become difficult to see.  There is the ability to have an HDMI feed out from the camera to an external monitor and although I wouldn’t say that this was an essential purchase, it is fair to say that it would be highly desirable.

The peaking function worked well and it was relatively easy to see what the camera thought was in focus and not in focus, but adjusting focus was entirely dependant on the spot focus control as I didn’t have the ability to manually adjust the focus.  Other lenses have both zoom and focus control and although the spot focus worked fairly well, you can never rely on it to deliver top quality results.

I tested the housing both with and without ultralight buoyancy arms to gauge the difference.  Without them the camera is even smaller, but there were noticeable microshakes in the footage, so I’d definitely recommend using the buoyancy arms or some other method to stabilse the housing underwater.
All in all it is a great little housing and thoroughly enjoyable to use.  I highly recommend it.

RAW vs PRORES
The BMPCC records both RAW and ProRes to SD cards, but your choice of media is extremely limited.  Because of the high bitrates BMD have only two SD cards approved for shooting RAW and barely more than that for shooting ProRes.

For ProRes I had a Sandisk Extreme 64GB card which can fit on approximately 40 minutes of footage and for shooting RAW I had a Sandisk Extreme Pro 64GB card which would give me 20 minutes of record time.

I’m sad to say that I was not able to record any RAW footage as even the compatible card was dropping frames like crazy or not recording at all.  I’m trying to investigate why at the moment because the general consensus is that the 64GB Extreme Pro card has never failed before.  It could have been a formatting issue, but I’ll try to update this once I’ve found out more.

When I tested ProRes in the BMCC I had some blue water banding issues which is normally associated with a lower bitrate codec rather than a 220mbps codec(!), but as previously discussed I’m now virtually certain that this was somehow caused by my workflow rather than the codec/camera itself.  I saw no evidence at all of any of these issues in any of the ProRes footage from the BMPCC.

The most frustrating thing I found with the media used was that no remaining space info is shown on the camera so you have no idea how full the card is.  You can make an approximation by going into clip review where you can see a total amount of time recorded and hence roughly work out how much space you have left, but if you are mixing between recording in RAW and ProRes then it is going to be impossible to get accurate info.  I had one dive where I jumped in with enough battery time for 2 hours recording only to be stopped after 5 mins because the card was full.  Topside this can be annoying, but fixable - underwater you’ve wasted your whole dive from a filming point of view.

WB / COLOUR GRADING
Like the BMCC the BMPCC has no MWB control so you are relying only on preset K temperature settings.  After a little experimentation I had mine set to 7500K all the time, even when using lighting.

Nearly all of the footage I recorded was in the ultra flat Film profile and this is what I will use exclusively from now on with this camera as even when recording in ProRes it appears to retain a significant amount of colour information.

I experimented with a couple of different filters while filming.  I used a Magic Filter Blue Water and an URPRO Green Water filter.  My favored choice would have been a URPRO Blue Water filter, but the smallest I had available was 67mm and annoyingly this about 1mm too wide to get into the lens port!  The Magic Filter definitely worked better in these conditions and allowed you to retain a nice blue colour to the water when grading and pulling reds back into the image.

Initially the flat Film profile is very hard work to colour grade and at times I was scratching my head as to what to do.  Even with a camera with the ability to MWB you always need to tweak an image, but with the BMPCC you basically have to build up the image from scratch.  Some codecs like AVCHD or HDV fall apart very easily when you start to manipulate them in post, but fortunately the ProRes codec was robust enough that you can manipulate the image extensively without issue.  I didn’t come across a single situation where I thought I’d like to do something to the image but couldn’t because the codec wouldn’t allow it.  Following on from that there were very few images that I just couldn’t get an acceptable result from and even then I suspect it had more to do with my ability at grading.

I used Adobe Premiere Pro which has a wealth of colour correction controls, but once I have learnt how to use dedicated colour grading software like Speedgrade or DaVinci Resolve I will go back and attempt to re-grade the footage to see the difference.

EXAMPLE VIDEO
I was really pleased with how this example video turned out considering this was (1) only shot over half a dozen dives, (2) that I was using the far from ideal Lumix 14-42mm and (3) that I was actually moving settings around constantly to see what worked best.

I’ve actually posted two videos.  The first is the graded version and the second shows what the ungraded footage looks like in comparison with the graded.  I’m going to make some detailed notes on camera and grading settings for the example video once I get a chance but here are a couple of points.

All cameras have some quirks and the BMPCC certainly has a few.  I found that it tends to overexpose in open water shooting near the surface.  A good example of this is the shot of Batfish where some of them are blown out at 0.37, which from memory was shot at 100 ISO / F11 at around 7 meters.   

Although the BMPCC is not noted as a low light camera I found that it performed really well in low light right up to 1600 ISO, which kind of shocked me a little.  The shot of the Red Sea Anemonefish at 0.25 was shot at 1600 ISO and looks really clean to me.  I didn’t film much that wasn’t 100 ISO, but this finding definitely gives me more to experiment with in the future.

There are a couple of shots in there where I was using a Green Water filter and I wasn’t able to remove all of the Magenta so the water still looks a little too pink.  I don’t think this would have been an issue if I’d been using the correct filter.

Sharpness.  The 14-42mm is really not very sharp.  I’ve increased sharpness on a number of clips, but I think a different lens would make a big improvement. All in all I very was happy.

SUMMARY
As mentioned previously taking the BMPCC with me on this trip was a last minute decision that I was not really prepared for, but with a little more planning I could have had the correct wide angle lens with me and a suitable set up for shooting macro.

There are many pluses to this camera/housing combo.  One not to be overlooked was that in these days of increasing draconian luggage restrictions I was able to get everything I needed to film underwater for this trip into my hand luggage.  The camera is little bigger than an iPhone and it is quite remarkable the power that this little bundle possesses.

The footage certainly needs a lot of work done to it to be useable which admittedly is not going to be for everyone, but at least the codec that it was recorded to means that you can do something with it without it falling apart.

I’ve got to say that once I got used to the size of the housing, using it was like a breath of fresh air.   Of course when I am next at somewhere like Tiger Beach I’ll want a bigger housing between me and a Tiger Sharks nostrils, but for anything else I wouldn’t hesitate to take the BMPCC/Nauticam along.

BMCC Underwater Test Review (BlackMagic Part 1)




Nauticam Housing Review
BlackMagic Cinema Camera

Blackmagic Design (BMD) are a successful supplier of post production video hardware and software and they caused a big stir within the industry at NAB 2012 when they announced a new Digital Cinema Camera (BMCC) shooting 2.5K in RAW or 1080p in the editing friendly codecs of Apple ProRes or Avid’s DNxHD.  The specs were impressive enough but the price was astounding at under $3000US (later dropped to $1995) as in the recent past you would have paid tens of thousands for a camera with this much power under the hood.  

Needless to say the BMCC generated huge interest but the camera was dogged by production and QA issues.  Eventually BMD finally managed to get more than just a token handful of cameras into the wild during the spring of 2013, almost a year after it was announced.

At NAB 2013 BMD again created quite a stir with the announcement of the BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC) and the 4K BlackMagic Production Camera (BMPC).  Again these generated huge interest especially with the launch price of $995 for the BMPCC and $3995 for the BMPC (later dropped to $2995).  Sadly yet again BMD were dogged by production and QA issues.  The BMPCC finally started to ship in September 2013 and the BMPC has only just started to ship in any meaningful volume during the Spring of 2014, although QA issues still persist.

Despite all the negatives the BMD family of cameras has received rave reviews.  For the price nothing really compares to the results that you can get from these cameras.  They have been dubbed the poor man’s Alexa, but comparing them to a camera costing $80,000 is a huge compliment rather than any form of slight!

I own a video production company filming commercials, corporate videos, weddings and events.  I also freelance as a camera operator, underwater camera operator, director, DP and FCP7/Premiere Pro CC editor.

As part of my video production business I regularly need a C and D camera for multi cam shoots.  In the past I have used HDSLR’s or hired cameras in for this role, but I have been frustrated by HDSLR restrictions on continuous record times and the cost of hiring equipment on a regular basis.  

On the face of it neither the BMCC or the BMPCC fitted my needs.  Both cameras have a number of drawbacks with the media that they use and the run time of the onboard/internal batteries, but with some relatively cheap add ons they could be adapted to fit my needs for a fraction of the price of a traditional camcorder.  In addition the images produced by these cameras are exceptional with a very film like quality which would be ideal for some of my more creative projects.  

UNDERWATER
A large part of my freelance work is filming underwater and I was curious thinking what these cameras might be able to produce in that environment.   In addition to the normal topside ‘rules’, filming underwater has some very specific requirements and it can really tax cameras beyond their limits.  Wonderful topside cameras like the FS100/700 completely fall apart when shooting with their internal AVCHD codec underwater and there are countless other examples where cameras that should work don’t work well, or don’t work at all.  

The minimum recording spec for HD broadcast of 50mbps is well known, but there are always exceptions.  Since 2010 I have used HSDLR’s extensively for shooting underwater with great success.  My trusty and now rather battered old 7D for example has amongst other achievements been used to provide underwater footage for an award winning feature and successful theatrical release (Short Term 12 - SXSW Grand Jury Award / Audience Award 2013), it was used for shooting the underwater footage for a short film that won an award for Cinematography at the 35th International Wildlife Film Festival and more recently it has been used as the underwater B camera for a NHK broadcast documentary on Northern Pike.

So it is enough to say that despite their flaws HDSLR’s can produce great results underwater, however broadcasters keep on asking for the 50mbps requirement and some broadcasters have even upped this to a minimum of 100mbps for underwater filming.  This has meant that more than ever the fact that you can record RAW or 220mbps ProRes/DNxHD internally in the BMD cameras with no external recorders is an incredibly appealing thought.
I ended up buying both an EF mount BMCC which I received during the summer of 2013 and the BMPCC which was delivered in Jan 2014.  In addition to some stock filming and creative work I have now used them on a number of multi cam shoots as C and D cameras and they work great for what I need, so for me they have been a very cost conscious purchase with plenty of upside.

When Nauticam Underwater Systems announced that they were producing underwater housings for both of these cameras I was very keen to get them underwater to test them out.  Nauticam kindly loaned me a prototype housing for the BMCC in October 2013 to test out while shooting Great White Sharks at Isla Guadalupe and I recently purchased a housing for the BMPCC which I have just tested while filming in the Red Sea.  
Here are the reviews..


BlackMagic Cinema Camera (BMCC)

Nauticam provided me with a prototype of the BMCC housing, a 4inch Zen mini-dome and an external Battery holder.

Assembly of the Nauticam housing was impressively easy.  The port and extension ring locked into place with the port locking mechanism and the back of the housing closed securely with the rear closing mechanism.  The camera is attached to a mounting plate which neatly slides into place in the housing.  Over the years when putting a new housing together for the first time I have often spent many hours trying to work out what went where and what part lined up with what.  That just wasn't the case here as everything was easy to understand and worked really well from the initial assembly. Also I find it incredibly helpful to be able to remove a camera, change cards and batteries and get it back into the housing as quickly as possible without having to take an advanced degree in engineering.  This housing definitely fits the bill here.

The housing also comes with a leak detection vacuum system but this was not working in the prototype so I was not able to test it.  I have used similar systems on other housings though and while on their own they won't stop a fatal malfunction at depth,  they do give peace of mind that everything is air tight at the start of the dive and especially during the first few meters of a descent when floods usually occur.


SENSOR / LENSES

I had wanted to use the Canon EF-S 10-22mm (a very underrated lens in my opinion) as I prefer wide rectangular lenses when filming underwater rather than fisheye, but sadly this lens is not compatible with the BMCC as the communication between camera and lens does not appear to work correctly so you have no access to iris control from the camera .  I ended up opting to use the Tokina 10-17 Fisheye which is a very sharp, quick lens and has found its way into the lens collection of most underwater photographers.  Also because of the crop factor of the BMCC EF mount (x2.3 for 35mm equiv) it meant that the camera was using the centre of the lens hence reducing the fisheye effect.


BATTERY

The BMCC comes with an internal battery which is notoriously short lived.  When using the camera filming above water it would be optimistic to get any more than 1 hour of constant filming from it and even when the camera is on standby it will rarely last more than 90 minutes.  This obviously would be adequate for most single dives, but it is definitely not suitable for a day of diving, especially as the BMCC battery is not replaceable and would need to charge for a couple of hours before the camera could be used again.  When using the camera above waster I have the ability to either work with mains power where possible or use an external battery pack.  Nauticam have left space in the housing for such an external battery solution.  The system supported uses 4x18650 Li-ion batteries, but bizarrely these batteries can actually vary in size and the ones that I ordered were too small to be used in the battery enclosure provided.  I'm sure in the production model Nauticam will make sure that the exact battery specs are listed, but be aware of the size issue.  In theory the external batteries should provide at least an hour extra run time and they are of course replaceable, so you can have some on charge while you are diving and swap them out after 1 or 2 dives as required.   

In practise I was more than a little surprised to actually get almost 2 hours of camera standby/record use out of a single internal battery charge.  I don’t have an answer as to why the battery was lasting longer than it does above water, but I wasn’t complaining!


IN USE

The BMCC is a DSLR shaped camera and hence the housing uses the same basic shape as many DSLR housings.  Using HDSLR's for filming above and below water is a well documented challenge.  Amazing results can be achieved, but you often have to make adaptations to shooting styles or use rigs to get the best results.  

As mentioned previously I have filmed extensively with HDSLR's underwater since 2010 and have found that main issue is how stop the microshakes (very small vibrations) that often can be seen in footage when shooting hand held without a rig topside.  These microshakes are amplified underwater and even the vibration from breathing while holding onto a housing that is not perfectly balanced can produce footage than needs stabilising in post.

The best solution that I have found so far for filming underwater is to use 2 ultralight (or similar) buoyancy arms which you would normally have lights attached to.  Even if you are shooting with ambient light these arms can be placed into a position to counteract any buoyancy from the dome port and stabilise the housing while at the same time reducing any microshakes.  Top end camcorder housing manufactures go to great lengths with trim weights to make housings perfectly stable in water.  However because the BMCC housing is HDSLR shaped this is not possible, so using buoyancy arms is a viable alternative and I’d definitely suggest investing in some as an essential purchase.

The housing provides easy access to all the button and touch screen controls on the camera.  I did feel that the controls for the iris/clip review felt a little delicate when used, but if you inspect the mechanism it looks sturdy enough.  

The rear LCD screen is clearly seen through the back of the housing and there is a slight hood for the screen which does its best to block out bright light which can make LCD screens really difficult to see when using in shallow water.  There is the ability to have an HDMI feed out from the camera to an external monitor.  In this particular filming situation I didn’t feel the need for an external monitor, but they are often very useful for camera positioning when filming, especially when shooting macro.

I found the Nauticam housing to be well built and a joy to use.  Anyone who knows me will testify that I’m a hard taskmaster when it comes to underwater housings and often years afterwards I’m still complaining to manufacturers about their shortcomings or suggesting revisions.  I’ve got to say however that this housing worked great the first time with no drama or frustration.  It really was rather excellent.

RAW vs ProRes
Everyone these days talks of recording in RAW like they have arrived at the promised land, however there are some significant drawbacks. The BMCC records up to 30 individual frames per second so you need an awful lot of storage to shoot RAW and the computer processing power required to work with it in post production is significant.

I was using a 480GB SSD in the camera and this will record approximately 50 mins of RAW footage.  On dry land that is a significant headache, however on a boat 300 miles from shore with no return for a week or more it can become a huge problem if you are not prepared. For me on a typical liveaboard shoot (3-4 dives a day) I’d record anywhere from 30 mins to 2 hours of footage per day.  Over the course of 5 or 6 days at the upper extreme this could easily add up to a requirement of 5-6TB of storage if you were shooting entirely in RAW.  You also need back ups so you can double that or even triple that.  I have been travelling recently with 2 x 2TB 2.5 inch hard disks, but if I was shooting entirely RAW I’d need a minimum of 5 or 6 of these, probably more.  This can all add up when it comes to luggage allowances and additional costs. Having said all of that shooting in RAW for underwater work is a revelation.  Anyone who has worked with photo RAW will know just how far images can be manipulated as very little is baked in and it allows immense freedom in post production that has never been this accessible before.

WHITE BALANCE / COLOUR GRADING
One of the main requirements when shooting underwater video is the ability to Manual White Balance (MWB).  The deeper you go the more red and then green will be lost from the image, eventually just leaving blue as the only remaining colour.   Fortunately there are a couple of methods for retaining colour in your images.

The first option is to use lights, which can work really well for subjects very close, but due to the density of water they do not work for subjects much more than a few meters away from your camera no matter how powerful they are.  Another option is to shoot using ambient light and to use red filters and MWB to trick your camera into showing what the colours should be rather than what it actually sees.  A third option is to use a combination of both and it is even possible to use filters on your lighting to ensure the K output matches your cameras WB settings.  One thing for certain is that no matter what anyone says there is no single answer or method and every shooter will need to experiment with this until you are getting results that you are happy with.

The BMCC only has preset K settings for WB and does not have a MWB control, which normally would set alarms ringing for any camera when using it underwater.  However with RAW or ProRes you are able to manipulate your images far more than would normally be possible when using a conventional recording codec and in theory it should be possible to colour correct adequately to achieve an acceptable image.  

Colour ‘grading’ is almost as vogue these days as shooting in RAW and the BMCC ships with a fully functioning copy of DaVinci Resolve which is one of the most powerful colour grading software packages on the market.  

The BMCC can record to a very flat profile which is marketed as being able to achieve 13 stops of dynamic range (DR) giving more detail in shadows and highlights than all but the very top cameras on the market.  It can record to both a video type colour space and an extremely flat film like profile which will retain the maximum DR in the image.  

Filming Great Whites was largely done at the surface so I was not really able to test out how well the colour could be pulled back from images shot at depth.  I did however manage to test this fully with the BMPCC which I will come on to later.

SHOOTING MANUAL
When using this camera underwater you will be shooting entirely manual as there are no auto settings apart from a spot iris function.  Let’s face it you should always be aiming to shoot fully manual and for macro or subjects that don’t move a great deal it really is not an issue.  However in fast action environments it can be extremely difficult to change settings quickly enough while filming and there are definitely times when you’d like to be able to engage something like an auto iris function.   You have to balance getting that perfect shot with getting a shot at all and there isn’t much point missing the money shot because you were faffing around with camera settings.

An example relevant to my shoot would be a Great White coming up from the depths where it is really dark and then swimming to the surface and over your head where it is very bright.  You can’t manually adjust the iris quickly or smoothly enough to get a good result in this situation and this was a distinct disadvantage when compared to a camera like the PMW200 which was also being used on this shoot.

EXAMPLE VIDEO
I spent 3 days filming Great Whites at Isla Guadalupe but it is amazing sometimes just how little footage you can get over that period even in the best location in the world to film them.  Hours spent waiting around for the sharks in cold water for them to only make a couple of passes before heading off into the depths again.  I decided the best way to present the footage was to do a comparison with the PMW200 which along with its predecessor the EX1 is a broadcast workhorse for underwater filming.  

When I edited this comparison video my editing systems were struggling to cope with RAW footage and I was unfamiliar with the workflow.  My MacPro was on its last legs (2007 quad-core) and my 2009 Macbook Pro which I had in the field barely had the power to view it let alone do anything with it.   Basically I think I messed up somewhere in the workflow because the end result is not as good as it should be.  The footage is nowhere near as sharp and the blue water shots  (especially on the ProRes footage) show some pretty bad banding.  This does not show up as bad on the original H264 upload, but it is still there.   

I’ve since upgraded my editing system and I can now handle RAW with ease.  I’ve done some tests with different workflows and the banding issues appear to have disappeared, but I’ve not had the time to go back to square one and re-edit this.   Also my grading of the RAW and ProRes files from the BMCC has improved a great deal and I definitely feel that I could make a better attempt at this.  Basically view this as a first attempt at working with underwater footage from the BMCC and hopefully at some point I’ll find the time to re-edit.

SUMMARY
It is fair to say that I was both impressed and also a little disappointed with the cameras performance.  The disappointment mainly came from my lack of ability to cope with the post workflow, the hardware requirements and the time required to work on the footage in post, but strip these away and you are only left with positives.  

I found the Nauticam Housing a delight to use.  In the cage it was small and compact and allowed me to move around with ease.  It was easy to assemble and all of the controls were as easily accessible as the camera allowed.  A good housing should not only keep your camera dry, but enhance your shooting experience and while this housing is never going to be as balanced as one for a more traditional camcorder, it is a very good attempt working within the limitations of the BMCC form factor.

Using the BMCC underwater does mean that every single image is going to need work - a lot of work.  This pretty much instantly discounts this camera for anyone who is not interested in learning the dark arts of colour grading or for someone like a liveaboard or resort pro producing dailies where they need instant results and don’t have hours to spend colour grading their images.

However put it in the hands of a talented hobbyist/prosumer or professional with the post production back up to get the best possible results out of it and I think it is fair to say that I’ve only touched the very tip of the iceburg of its potential.

Update


Well life gets busy sometimes and I've certainly not managed to keep this blog updated lately.  I've literally had so much work on that at times I've not known where to turn.  

Last year I was incredibly busy with my video production company's work, but I also managed to fit in what turned out to be a couple of months worth of filming for a NHK production on Northern Pike.  Diving in a flooded quarry in central England in 4ºC water is certainly not as glamorous as some of the other locations that I managed to visit last year (Fiji, Socorro, Guadalupe & Egypt amongst them) but it was certainly a lot of fun, especially as I was working with my good buddy Dean Burman who was the DP for the production.  Well things have now started to slacken off a little to normal levels so hopefully I will have more time to blurt out my random thoughts to the world again right here!

One preview that I can give you is that I have almost finished a review of my experience filming with the BlackMagic Cinema Camera (BMCC) and the BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC) in  Nauticam Housings.  I'm hoping to get it posted here in a couple of days along with some sample videos so as those immortal words say - "Stay Tuned"!


Short Term 12

I was pleased to attend the UK Premiere of 'Short Term 12' on Tuesday evening, screening as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2013.  My short film 'Solstice' features in the background in a couple of scenes of the film as part of the plot/character development.  I can't say too much more as I wouldn't want to be the cause of a spoiler, but you'll probably work it out by the end of the film! Happy


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Leicester Sq, Central London.  BFI  London Film Festival 2013.


I've got to say that all bias aside -  'Short Term 12' is a truly outstanding film.  It is rare to feel so connected and so involved with the story and the emotions of the characters from the very first scene, but this film sucks you in for a roller coaster ride of raw emotion, sadness and ultimately hope and the potential for happiness.  This is not a Hollywood feel good, hero saves the day type production.  It will have you laughing out loud while still having a tear of sadness in your eyes.  It will leave you feeling raw and possibly a little more alive than when you went in.  Only a handful of films each year come close to achieving what Director/Writer Destin Cretton has achieved with this marvel.


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From Left to Right:  Short Term 12 Producer John Astrachan, Simon Spear, Short Term 12 Director/Writer Destin Cretton.


It is released in UK cinemas on Nov 1st and if you only see one more film this year then make sure it is this one!


Basking Shark Filming Workshop

I know it is short notice but due to an opening in my schedule and the fact that I am increasingly desperate to see some Basking sharks again, I'm now running an informal filming workshop in the Hebrides from 28th July - 2nd August 2013.

We'll be based in Mull and travel around the nearby islands including Coll, Tiree and Gunna which are possibly the best hotspots anywhere in the world to see Basking Sharks!   It's not just Basking sharks either as Common & Bottlenose Dolphins, Minke Whales, Orcas, Grey & Common Seals, Golden Eagles, Sea Eagles, Puffins and a host of other wildlife are all commonly seen up there. 

In addition to your own filming equipment I'll have a host of cameras with me including the Sony PMW200, Sony FS100 and Canon 7D and of course I'll be around to offer any advice and support that you need.

The trip is designed with filming/photography in mind, but if you are not interested in that and just want to come along on an amazing trip to get really close to the second biggest fish in our Oceans, then that is absolutely fine too! Happy

Please contact me for full details.


Socorro




The Socorro Islands (Revillagigedos Archipelago) are an amazing dive destination that we had the good fortune to visit in February aboard the Solmar V.  Often overshadowed by their perhaps more famous eastern Pacific cousins Cocos Island and the Galapagos, they are certainly a world class destination in their own right with some amazing diving and big animal encounters.

Humpback Whales, Dolphins, Manta Rays, Tuna and Sharks (Hammerheads, Galapagos, Silky, Whitetip, Silvertip, Whalesharks) are frequent encounters and these islands can claim to have some of the most diver friendly animals we have ever experienced.  The Dolphins and Manta Rays in particular appear to actively seek out diver interactions with the later basking in the jacuzzi created by divers bubbles.

Unfortunately due to bad weather we didn't manage to visit Roca Partida which is one of the three main islands of the archipelago and where the Solmar V went on to experience 2 months of in water interactions with a Humpback Mother and Calf.  Oh well, it looks like we'll have to go back again one day then doesn't it!! Happy

Filmed by:  Simon Spear & Zoe Spear
Edited by:  Simon Spear
Music:  Requiem For Your Soul / Smartsound Royalty Free Music

Note:  This was our first trip diving and filming with the Sony FS100 and Amphibico Genesis housing.  We experienced significant issues with both the camera and the housing which meant that 90% of the footage we shot was basically useless.  This film has been made from the remaining 10% that was salvageable.  The majority of the footage is from the FS100 while the surface shots and a couple of underwater clips are from the Canon 7D.  If you would like to know the issues filming underwater with the Sony FS100 and the Sony NXCAM range in general then please feel free to contact me.


Magical Moments | Shark Attack!




This is quite a short clip for "Magical Moments", but it is not every day that you get attacked by a shark is it?!  Of course popular media would have you believe that if you jump into the sea then you will be devoured almost instantly, but despite their fearsome reputation these days there are just not that many sharks out there and they very rarely attack humans.  Very rarely, but not never...

So we were in the Socorro Islands recently, a wonderful place full of Sharks, Mantas, Dolphins and Whales which reminds you a little of what the ocean should look like without human interference.  One natural phenomenon that they have been seeing a lot of lately are baitballs, which is when fish group together for protection as they are hunted by a predator or predators working as a team.  The baitball that we encountered at Socorro was of juvenile Jacks which were being hunted by Tuna, Silvertip, Silky and Galapagos sharks.  

As soon as I'd entered the water I felt an almighty smack on my back and I was pushed underwater.  I assumed that someone had jumped off the RIB on top of me, but when I turned around no one was there.  I later found out from the guys on the boat that a Galapagos shark had literally jumped on top of me as soon as I'd entered the water!

The action was fast!  The bait fish were swimming everywhere in an effort to confuse the predators and make their escape.  It's not advisable to get into the ball of fish themselves as sharks will often lunge through with open jaws hoping to snag a fish and if you are in their way you could get a nasty surprise.  So when the fish start to congregate around you for protection you know it is time to try to move out of the way. 

The Baitball had broken up and I was backing away from a group of fish heading in my direction when the Galapagos shark from earlier made its return.  It had obviously taken a liking for the electronics in my camera housing because rather than following after the fish it diverted towards me and as I pushed it away it proceeded to take a chunk out of my brand new Amphibico housing.  It was the first time that the housing had been in the water and it was attacked by a shark!  Believe me that is quite an achievement!

So not really a shark attack on me, but certainly a reality check and a reminder that you can never become complacent when sharks are around and in hunting mode!  And remember - sharks are in far more danger from man that we are from them!


Magical Moments | Friendly Manatee




During cold spells Manatees head in droves for the fresh water springs around Crystal River, Florida as the water temperature in this area remains a constant 72 degF. 

On one exceptionally cold winter day a few years ago I managed to film this incredibly friendly Manatee.  They really are wonderful creatures and although it is illegal to pursue or harass or even touch a Manatee they will often seek out snorkelers and divers to interact with them and maybe get a belly rub.

Sadly their numbers appear to be in a steady decline so it is unknown how much longer we will be able to share experiences like this one.


Magical Moments | Common Dolphins




The west coast of Scotland is a truly magical place and it is one of the few places on earth where I feel totally at peace.  Something about the light, the air and the lack of people no doubt!

In June 2011 I spent a week sailing around the islands of Mull, Tiree, Gunna and Coll looking for Basking sharks.  We had some amazing wildlife encounters and (Baskers aside) one of the most special was with a playful pod of Common Dolphins.

Anyone who has spent any time out on the water around the UK knows just how unpredictable our weather can be.  The number of days I have spent in harbour looking out at rough seas is uncountable and up until that point the spring and summer weather of 2011 had been atrocious.  Yet occasionally, very, very occasionally we can chance upon perfect conditions and that day was definitely one of those days.

As we were heading out from the harbour of Tobermory over totally flat seas we came across this pod of anywhere between 50 - 200 dolphins.  I sat on the bow for an hour or more as the dolphins surfed the bow wave and played all around us.  Most people wouldn't even believe that encounters like this were possible in UK waters.  Truly Amazing.


Oliver Spear - Homo Aquaticus




For someone who is in love with water, watching your little boy or girl learn to swim is a joyful experience.  We first introduced Oliver to the water when he was 12 weeks old as part of the same structured training programme which enabled his big sister Gracie to earn her 100 meters distance badge only a few weeks after she turned 4.

From birth babies have a natural reflex to close their epiglottis whilst submerged underwater but unless trained they have normally forgotten this by the time they reach 6 months old.  The Homo Aquaticus (Aquatic Ape) theory has now been largely discredited, but it is nice to let your imagination run wild for a bit and imagine that it was our ancestors interaction with water rather than de-forestation in East Africa due to climate change that set man on a different path to the other creatures on our planet.


Magical Moments | Tiger Shark




During February 2008 we visited Aliwal Shoal in South Africa to film and dive with Tiger Sharks. The 'blue water' shark dive that takes place at Aliwal has become rather famous and it is certainly one of the most adrenaline loaded diving activities you can undertake.

The dive is baited with drums of chum so admittedly this dive is not to everyone's taste, however as a shark spectacle it is hard to beat. You can see many dozens of Blacktips (C.limbatus) in addition to Dusky Sharks, Bronze Whalers, the occasional Bull shark and up to eight Tiger Sharks which is the most we saw on a single dive. Very, very occasionally a White shark could turn up, but this is extremely rare.

I'm not afraid of sharks and I don't mean that in a bravado macho beating my chest kind of way. I'm fully aware that even a moderately small shark could quite easily kill me if it chose to attack, but they don't, well at least they don't attack unprovoked very often.

Diving with Tiger sharks in a baited situation however was the most unnerving experience I've ever had in the water. They seem capable of lulling you into an almost hypnotic state and can come incredibly close to you before you are even aware of it. As this is a mid water dive at times we had three or four Tiger sharks coming at us from all directions which certainly appeared to be co-ordinated behaviour. Looking down and seeing a Tiger shark coming vertically up at you from below certainly gets your blood pumping and on more than one occasion I literally had a shark at the end of my dome port that needed to be pushed away relatively aggressively. Great for pictures yes, but maybe not so good for your life expectancy...

In my opinion without dedicated safety divers this would be a very dangerous dive. I've heard lots of unofficial reports of injury, some minor, some fairly major and lax diving practices so this is definitely not a dive to be done lightly. However despite the warnings it has to be said this this is one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had underwater and deserves to be included as a very Magical (if slightly unnerving) Moment!

Filmed: Simon Spear
Music: Furnace (Smartsound Royalty Free Music)

About "Magical Moments"

Very occasionally while diving we are fortunate to experience a natural high so intense that it literally feels like it touches your soul. With "Magical Moments" I hope to share some of these amazing experiences that I have been lucky enough to witness.

All Magical Moments are one shot unedited sequences - a moment in time never to be repeated, yet never, ever forgotten.


Magical Moments | Flamboyant Cuttlefish Hatching




The instant that a bunch of cells sparks into life and turns into something much more than the sum of its parts is a truly Magical Moment.

We spent a couple of months during the winter of 2009/10 diving the famous Lembeh Strait which has become world renowned as a biodiversity hotspot.  When diving there it often feels like you are in Disneyland as one strange creature after another can be spotted in your camera lens.

A couple of days before Christmas 2009 we had been on a relatively uneventful dive by Lembeh's standards.  That all changed however when I spotted an upside down coconut shell and turned it over to see if anything had been hiding beneath it. 

To my surprise I found the inside of the coconut shell packed with tiny eggs with miniscule baby cuttlefish inside, probably not much bigger than a grain of rice.  I set my camera up, started to film and was stunned to see the baby cuttlefish moving around inside the eggs getting ready to be born.  Truly remarkable.

**  More footage of these Flamboyant Cuttlefish Eggs and newborn hatchlings can be seen in my film "Circle of Life"  http://youtu.be/U_bcFEyTVFk


Magical Moments | Humpback Whales




The Silver Banks are world renowned as a Humpback Whale nursery that lie midway between the Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos Islands.  Every year from mid February until mid April female Humpback Whales take up resident at the banks to nurse their new born calf's before a long and arduous journey north to their summer feeding grounds.

During March 2010 we spent a magical week at the Silver Banks and we were privileged to spend nearly 2 whole days in the water with this mother and her calf.  The mother will sleep much of the time and will surface to breathe every 10 minutes or so.  However the young calf needs to breathe every few minutes and will surface much more often so if you wait calmly at the surface you will sometimes be rewarded with spectacles like this...

Personally I still believe that the week I spent at Silver Banks was the most memorable of all encounters I've ever had underwater.  At times you simply had to stop filming and just watch what was going on in front of you with an open jaw and when you got a chance to look closely into the eyes of these magnificent creatures you were certain that you were starring deep into their souls.

**  These Humpbacks can also been seen in my short film 'hope'

Filmed: Simon Spear
Music:  Prelude in Dreamtime (Smartsound Royalty Free Music)


Magical Moments | Friendly Turtle

Very occasionally while diving we are fortunate to experience a natural high so intense that it literally feels like it touches your soul.  With "Magical Moments" I hope to regularly share some of these amazing experiences that I have been lucky enough to witness.  All clips will be one shot unedited sequences - a moment in time never to be repeated, yet never, ever forgotten.

First up is a very friendly Turtle that I met last year in the Red Sea





Magical Moments | Friendly Turtle

I spotted this Hawksbill Turtle on a reef outside Hurghada towards the end of a Red Sea Liveaboard trip out to the offshore marine parks in the southern Egyptian Red Sea.

Due to the shear numbers of divers from the Red Sea resorts Turtles often get severely mobbed when spotted here.  Today however at this rarely visited reef I was completely on my own, so I had the opportunity to spend maybe 30 minutes just watching and filming him from a distance while trying to make him comfortable in my presence.  Eventually my patience paid off and he moved away from the reef where he had been feeding towards where I had been waiting for him in open water. 

I'd seen shots of Turtles coming right up to camera dome ports before and had always wanted to experience it.  The reality was as good as I'd ever imagined it would be as he came over, put his head right up against the dome port and peered straight into the lens of my camera.  A truly Magical Moment.

Nearly all species of Marine Turtles are classified as Engandered. Who knows if this ocean nomad will ever encounter a human again.  If he does lets hope it is a positive experience.


What Would You Say?




Our new conservation themed short film about our Ocean and just a few of the many challenges that lie ahead is now available to view online.  Hopefully it will get the grey matter working!!



Solstice




I've been a little lax in posting any updates here of late, but I wanted to share a new film with you called "Solstice".  Here is the blurb and the YouTube version:

"Winter fades, Spring dawns and the seasons inevitably move on towards Midsummer, where an encounter with one of Nature’s true giants awaits...."



Epicenter




Just to let you know that I've uploaded a new short film called EPICENTER - The Wonders of Lembeh Strait.  It is an expanded version from the one first shown in Circle of Life that showcases Lembeh Strait, Indonesia and all the weird and wonderful creatures that can be found there.  I've had this project in my 'Things to Do' folder for months, but I finally found a few days to finish it off.  Enjoy!


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