Some of you will already know that I’ve had a long-standing love affair with photography and the natural world. Eight odd years ago, I bought my first digital SLR camera. A second-hand Nikon FE, I bought my first prime lens (a 50mm f1.4) and ever since, I’ve had great trouble putting it down. I learned to burn film like a chain-smoker does cigarettes- I rolled my own reels of film, developed black and white stock myself and loved every minute of it. Combined with my life-long passion for observing and recording wildlife, my photographic kit expanded rapidly and considerably, absorbing an extensive range of prime lenses, a couple of zooms and a box full of filters. Often seen toting two camera bodies and multiple lenses, my kit became formidable- both in its image-making potency and for the sheer weight of all that metal and glass.
Around 2004, my interests shifted more into 3D photography (stereography) exhibiting 3D works in Adelaide twice in 2005, before I veered into Super8 filmmaking. The leap into HD video-making followed in 2006, and since then I’ve been keeping a keen eye on the photographic forefront, waiting for an opportunity to put my beloved old lenses back on a DSLR body. I guarantee it’ll be a Nikon or a Fuji when I finally commit, as both of these offer Nikon F-mounts and I can snap my ol AI-S lenses straight on the body and shoot with all the manual controls that make photography equal parts art and science.
Until that day comes, I’ll be content excercising my Panasonic DMC-FT1 camera (or DMC-TS1 as it’s known in the USA) that I purchased earlier this year. The rugged little point-and-shoot has allowed me to take 12 mega-pixel photos in an environment that has always fascinated me- the Southern Ocean (along with 720p HD video, but, that’s another blog post). Seldom photographed by comparison to warmer Australian waters, I was encouraged by PanasonicAU on Twitter to submit a gallery of my recent work to LumixLife: an exhibition they were then planning. Several weeks later, I’m very pleased to announce that my collection of ten images has been selected from a field of about one-hundred-and-eighty galleries and will be exhibited on October 8th in Global Gallery, in Paddington, Sydney. Featuring a collection of starfish, sweep, cuttlefish and a colony of ascidian sea squirts, my shots are also visible online, but unfortunately will not be offered for sale at the gallery site.
After receiving some very warm compliments from my social networks on Facebook and Twitter, and being the entrepreneurial sort, I decided to look into options for selling photo prints online. The site I’ve settled with is RedBubble, as suggested by Simon Loffler from the creatively-connected blog, Home Slice. Like many other print-on-demand services, Red Bubble allows artists to upload high-resolution artwork, select from a range of printing options, set their prices and make enlargements available to the world. It’s free to register and offers a remarkably easy and expedient process for turning your artworks into saleable products. Many comparable sites offered much murkier pricing structures, uglier interfaces and in some cases, prohibitive registration fees.
If you’d like to support this blog and my photographic efforts, please consider buying an enlargement or two from my recent exhibition. If you do so, please shoot me a message, or better still take a picture of the artwork once it’s hanging in its new home- I’d love to see where my local surveys of underwater life end up next!
Back in June, Emma Sterling and I were travelling over Eyre Peninsula on the west coast of South Australia. We’d been touring with the children’s theatre production ‘Wolf’ as video techs and after our final show in Ceduna, we decided we’d take our time exploring the maginifcent coastline on the journey home to Adelaide. One of the main attractions for us on western Eyre Peninsula was Baird Bay (not far from Streaky Bay) where we’d been told magnificent opportunities to swim with Australian Sea Lions awaited. Lying somewhat off the beaten track, the journey to Baird bay was well worth the effort and less than two hours in the water yielded some spectacular results. Despite arriving after the official close of the season, Alan Price from Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience took me out on his boat regardless. Despite the onset of winter, the shallow waters in the bay’s rocky reef were around 19 degrees centigrade. After sighting s cluster of sea lions on the rocks, several jumped in the water and Alan dropped anchor. I jumped overboard with my snorkel, fins, weight belt and Panasonic DMC-FT1 camera on a monopod and the fun began.
After enjoying the curious company of several females, a passing bull and a super-playful cub, I unhooked the anchor and climbed back aboard the boat. I asked Alan about the local dolphin pod, and we motored off in the hope of finding them too. Sure enough, Alan’s 17 years of experience in the area paid off, and I was afforded two fleeting opportunities to shoot video of the pod as they swam around me. The sound of them chattering in the clip comes straight off the Panasonic DMC-FT1’s built-in microphone. While I had swum with sea lion before on two trips to Goose Island back in the late 1990’s, this was my first encounter with dolphin in the wild and it was truly magical.
Baird Bay, South Australia – swim with sea lion & dolphin from Dan Monceaux on Vimeo.
The featured clip is a promo piece Emma Sterling cut of the footage I shot that day. For anyone looking to swim with sea lion and dolphin in their natural habitat, we can’t recommend Baird Bay highly enough. Tours are advanced eco-tourism certified and wetsuits, masks and fins can be loaned on site. The certification ensures that tour-goers experience ‘an opportunity to learn about the environment with an operator who is committed to achieving best practice when using resources wisely, contributing to the conservation of the environment and helping local communities.‘ Alan and Trish have a long and special connection with the local wildlife, and have hand-reared several orphaned pups and helped to manage local feral cat populations themselves over the years.
Back in May, while touring as video operator on the childrens’ theatre production ‘WOLF’ I was able to take my new point & shoot Panasonic DMC-FT1 camera underwater and put it through its paces. I was so impressed (astonished really) by the quality of both video and stills that Emma Sterling and I decided that it was high time to commence production on a marine conservation documentary. We have wanted to make this film since way back in 2003, and at last, technology has caught up with our demands.
The cost of shooting high-quality video underwater was prohibitive back then, but now not so- as the Panasonic DMC-FT1 can be used ‘out of the box’ in water to 10 feet of depth. Wanting to go deeper, Emma Sterling and I also bought the matching waterproof housing and have since taken the camera to depths around 8 metres with brilliant results. The whole kit (camera and housing together) cost less than AUD$1000. Inside the housing, the camera is able to handle depth and pressure to 40 metres and has a cold shoe on top to mount external lights on, making it a pretty serious instrument. Panasonic was confident enough in the camera’s abilities that they shot their own TVC for the camera on the camera itself. Check out the latest one below.
When shooting in the Southern Ocean, even when the visibility is brilliant, a blue colour cast dominates. This is remedied by the FT1’s ‘underwater’ mode. Comparable to the technique of slipping an orange glass filter behind or in front of your lens in a traditional rig, the setting restores warm palettes of colours to the image in a very satisfying way. There are occasional instances where the colour balance shifts unnaturally during a shot, but these are infrequent- and a small price to pay for such an affordable and powerful 720p HD camera with 12 megapixel stills capacity. For those of you unfamiliar with the camera, it presents itself as a digital point & shoot stills camera, but offers serious punch for still and moving picture making.
Another neat feature of the camera for underwater video use is its constant white LED. Providing pleasing fill during daytime shoots, this can be switched on or off manually or set to ‘auto’ and diffuses remarkably well (despite the reputation of white LEDs for producing very directional and hard-edged beams of light). While this feature works beautifully in up to ten feet of water, the optional deep water housing’s design obscures the light, rendering it useless. The cold shoe will provide external light-mounting options though, for the serious dive photographer or videographer. Metal buttons (while poorly labelled) provide full button control of the cameras features, and a generous viewing screen make it a pleasure to wield below the briney blue.
I can’t disclose too much about the film we’re making at the moment (especially while we’re still in production) but here are a couple of still photographs taken with the camera. The rocky reefs of the upper Spencer Gulf in South Australia provide the setting, and all images are taken with ambient light exclusively. Nominal photoshopping- just a little tweak of the contrast levels. If you want to know more about the camera, scoot over to Panasonic Australia’s Lumix website … there’s currently a competition running where one in five Australian buyers wins a nice widescreen HDTV with an SD card slot- ready to play your videos and photos straight off the disc!