Secrets Of The Octopus : Under The Sea Never Looked More Amazing!

I am a sucker for beautiful nature docs. National Geographic has been making these top quality films for years, and their brand stamp means you will get an engaging, brilliantly crafted experience every time, with a message to expand your knowledge of the natural world around us.

A week ago, we were all looking to the sky for the solar eclipse, so let’s reverse it and look at that magic of the ocean and its creatures.

With Nat Geo & Disney+, you have a new series to binge, created by Adam Geiger, James Cameron’s Director of Photography, and on this project he was director/writer/producer/director of photography.

Director and cinematographer, Adam Geiger, on board a dive vessel in Port Phillip Bay. (photo credit: National Geographic/Harriet Spark)

Over the last two-plus years, Geiger has dedicated himself to “Secrets of the Octopus,” spending about a year of that time underwater with eight key octopus species around the world.

Camera Assistant, Woody Spark, and Associate Producer, Harriet Spark, set up a special remote underwater camera system to film Day octopus (Octopus cyanea) on the Great Barrier Reef. (photo credit: National Geographic/Adam Geiger)

When I first saw this trailer below, I was hooked.


And I had questions!

Luckily, those questions were shared with the Adam Geiger, the DP and creator of this series:

1)       During the making of “Secrets of the Octopus,” what was size of your crew?    

The film crew for Secrets of the Octopus varied by location, from a team as small as 4, up to 12 people. On most shoots, I had a second, experienced cinematographer working with me. A few times, we had concurrent shoots on opposite sides of the world, and we enlisted talented local camerapersons to capture specific sequences. No matter where we were filming, it took a dedicated, highly professional team to make it all possible, including dive supervisors on the surface, and an underwater team of both safety divers watching the camera team, and diving camera assistants to ferry around/change out/reload the 6 camera systems we often used on a dive. At every remote location, it was all-hands-on-deck to maintain the diving, camera and lighting equipment, preparing it all for hours of use each day.

2) What was the extent of the lighting being natural vs need to set-up lighting?

 My goal is to always make a scene feel natural. In almost every sequence in Secrets of the Octopus, we used underwater lights to enhance color and contrast. By day, that could mean one small light underwater to restore warm colors in the foreground, or at night, big lights on the surface to create a moonlit underwater seascape. The exceptions were a few scenes in water only a few feet deep, where lighting was impractical.

3) What cinema camera was used?

My talented team used a variety of cameras to record in Ultra High Definition. For maximum resolution and flexibility in the grade, we recorded in RAW formats:

RED Helium and Sony A1 in 8K; Sony F5 and A7Siii in 4K, and ZCam in 6K.

Camera assistant, Woody Spark, setting up the specialist underwater camera system that will be used to film Day octopus (Octopus cyanea) on the Great Barrier Reef. (photo credit: National Geographic/Harriet Spark)

Octopus can change their shape, colour and texture faster than the blink of an eye. And their behavior in the wild has hardly been studied. So, we needed to capture a huge amount of very high-quality footage to reveal the story and new science of each octopus. Ultimately, the shoot ratio was around 40:1.

5) What was the best time of day to shoot?

Octopus spend a lot of their time resting in a den — it’s the safest place to be in between their hunting trips. The shoots were based on when a particular species would be most active. The Day octopus, as its name suggests, was active during sunlight hours. But the Blue-ringed octopus is busiest at night. We often started our 4+ hour dives after 9PM, like in the cold waters of the Southern Ocean. Over time, we learnt when individual octopus were out and about. Like most natural history filming, it’s the animal who dictates when the cameras roll.

Cinematographer, Rory McGuinnes, operating an underwater jib arm to film a colorful coral reef on the Lembeh Strait. (National Geographic for Disney/Adam Geiger)

A Dorado Octopus. (mandatory photo credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute)

Director and cinematographer, Adam Geiger, preparing to descend on a dive to film Day octopus (Octopus cyanea) on the Great Barrier Reef. (photo credit: National Geographic/Harriet Spark)

I hope some of your questions were answered.

I always want to know the BTS!

The “Secrets of the Octopus” premieres April 21st at 8/7c  on National Geographic and all episodes stream April 22nd Disney+.

Grams(28) Upgrades Your Camera Bag With A Perfect Companion To Your Fuji X-100VI

If you are like me, and have a “few” camera bags, they are all situation dependent. Stealth, Utilitarian, & Travel.

One thing I didn’t have is a bag that I could bring into black tie event without sticking out.
Grams (28) has come to market with a beautifully made leather bag, designed with the photographer in mind.

Well Crafted, this bag sits ergonomically right on my shoulder, and has all the pockets and space needed.

Each detail has been well thought out, and was smooth working. Zippers, interior pockets, closures, and as you can see above, even the shoulder strap looks, and works, great. Continue Reading »

Nat Geo and ABC Share The Best Ways To Photograph The Solar Eclipse

The amount of coverage this event has generated is incredible!
If you are lucky enough to live in the path of totality, or even partial like in NYC, there are best practices for shooting the Solar Eclipse safely.

Presented by an astrophotographer, here is the link :


 “Eclipse Across America” will simulcast live from 2:00-4:00 p.m. EDT across multiple Disney linear networks, including ABC, Nat Geo and Nat Geo WILD, as well as across direct-to-consumer platforms, including Disney+ and Hulu (via ABC News Live channel). Viewers will be able to watch the program from anywhere — TV, mobile, computers and more — on ABC News’ 24/7 streaming channel, ABC News Live

And yes, I’m ready to see what I can see, with proper filters: Continue Reading »

On Camera/Off Camera Flash – But why?

Think about the light you need, either as a creative solution, or because it’s too darn dark!

Chances are you have either a built-in flash on your camera, or hopefully, a separate unit.
Now, we’re not going to get into studio lighting as that is a massive subject, and just want to look at the more portable illumination here.

As a start, for events you really should use a separate flash, and you can either go to the camera manufacturers proprietary units, OR go high end with Profoto, OR more affordable Godox.
Let’s first look at the on-camera flash, units that are mounted onto the camera, as above.
One thing that I’ve always preferred, especially in daytime events, is a flash directly on camera with exposure compensating for the background and allowing it to still be seen and not throw your subject in a black hole.
Like the photo above, and below:

You can either mount the flash right into the hot shoe, as you can see above,

or use a custom bracket placing it on the same level as the camera,

or use a transmitter/ receiver situation, or  direct cable from the flash to the camera body, and using the flash off to the side, above, bounced or however you have to adjust for the environment and your personal style.

Here is how Vivian Maier did it:

And a photog from the recent Oscars:

Let’s go all Goldilocks on your possible options.

The Small:
I wanted to bring you a compact solution using a Fuji X100 series camera, and what I think, is one of the best tiny flash units out there: The EF-X20. Here it is mounted on the top. As you can see by the dials, you have a TTL option, and the lever on the side widens the flash reach. Don’t hate me, but it may only be available via EBAY. Worth it!

Have a look at this compact set-up below, and as you can see, you can either mount the small flash in the hot show, or for an off-camera flash lighting, adding in a set of Light Q transmitter receiver. So tiny. One thing to note is that they only work with the flash in Manual and not TTL. (the Light Q here is V1 and improvements may have been made in subsequent versions)

If you know how you shoot, and can assume your exposure consistency, you are good to go.
Yes, of course, determine your preferred distance from subjects, and desired DOF.
Flash runs on 2 AAA batts, so bring plenty. Recycle time is not stellar, but not the point with this set-up. Lower the output, and move closer.
The Medium:

Throw on a Fuji EF-60, or a Godox. Solid output, and you can just go with a transmitter on the camera if off-cam shooting, or just pop it on the body.
Wireless transmitters that does allows for TTL are the FUJIFILM EF-W1 Wireless Commander, that lives on the body, and can fire off the flash from the camera without a second receiver on the flash.

Batteries again, and of course use the rechargeble eneloops or similar. Bring a bunch!

The Large:
In this scenario, the camera is full size, and a Profoto A10.

Profoto makes transmitters specifically for your camera, so make sure you get the right one.
With a fast recycle time, rechargeable batteries, beautiful menu, and a round head, this is a main choice for an event where you will be able to probably shoot a 3-4 hour event with 4 rechargeable batteries. You can see above that I put a label on a rechargeable battery as there are 2 capacity options, A1 and A1X.

Also, with a flash of this size, you can add bounce cards/reflectors to the unit to soften or simply customize the light you want to work with.
As with all camera gear, what you use, depends on what you’re shooting. PLUS they make a wireless transmitter to sit on top of your camera. Connects immediately! Once again, match the transmitter to the flash and you camera brand.

In my EDC, is a Fuji x100, the EF-X20, and the Light Q transmitter/receiver set. The  option.

For a family/ friend’s event, you may want to go medium, so the gear is not overwhelming for your subjects. C’mon, you know them and want to keep it light (sorry).
For a full-on event- indoor or outdoor, wedding, business event, music (probably rock only, and be judicious with your flash!) even a portrait in a pinch.
This becomes, without question, the large option. For me the quality of the light, recycling time, and dependability,
Yes, it’s all about the look you are hoping for.

Now , it also comes down to how you are mounting the flash, if on camera.

There are 2 brackets I swear by- The Custom Brackets CB Mimi-RC.

Small, single pice brackets that holds the flash just in front of the camera body.

The other secret weapon I carry is the Newton Bracket. Not made anymore, but so well machined, and allows you to shift your flash from top to side, depending on your camera orientation. I usually don’t like sharing gear that is not currently made, but they have some on EBAY. Another item worth the hunt in my opinion.

There you have a basic breakdown of gear I use, and different combos.

There are other light modifiers I carry, but this collection are the basics, and used situation dependent.

Always remember to test your set-up before shooting, and bring plenty of batteries!

National Geographic Brings 6 Revealing Stories of Photographers To Hulu & Disney+

I have seen a TON of docs of photographers, and honestly, most of them concentrate on the image, and leave the stories of the heart, soul, and origins of the photographers behind.
Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the process of the making of an image.
To me, knowing how the photographer got to the image and their personal journey is just as important.
Starting on March 18th, dropping on Hulu and Disney +, is a new series called Photographer, from National Geographic.

6 separate documentaries on some of the best photographers today.

From AcademyⓇ and EmmyⓇ Award-winning filmmakers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, from Free Solo, you get a full picture, pardon me, of the artist behind their journey. With 8 incredible directors, they have brought an important series to the public about some of the finest Nat Geo photographers, told by some of the best documentary filmmakers I’ve seen.
Too much hyperbole? It’s all warranted. Continue Reading »

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Upcoming Events

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Current Exhibitions

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