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About the Videos

You'll notice that the videos on this front page are all five minutes or shorter. That's because I made most of them for underwater video competitions, and in the United States those competitions typically limit entries to five minutes or less. That means you're not likely to say anything profound in them, but -- like a movie trailer -- you can pack them with lots of images and fast cuts for a concentrated experience.

I'm not all that fond of listing awards for videos, but my friend Seth says I'm an idiot for not listing them, so in a craven attempt to curry favor with my friends I've snuck an awards listing in at the end of each video description.

The Way of Water: The Inside Passage

In July of 2008, my wife Lynn and I boarded a live-aboard dive boat in Juneau, Alaska. For ten days we cruised through the waters of the Alaskan panhandle and the coast of British Columbia, ending in Vancouver. Diving in these waters isn't for the faint of heart: water temperatures were often in the low 40s (5 degrees centigrade), visibility was typically 20 ft. (6 meters), and the currents daunting. We were limited to diving during slack currents, which often meant only two dives a day.

But what amazing dives! I saw more color on the reefs in the Icy Straits out of Juneau than on most tropical reefs: an incredible color burst of sponges, anemones, bryozoans, tunicates -- and even soft corals. It was packed with other marine life including many fish, crustaceans, and molluscs that we find at home in California, but also species that were completely new to me. And, of course, a much better chance of seeing the giant Pacific octopus than in California.

Shooting in the Inland Passage is hard: the light's dim to non-existent, there are lots of particles in the water, and there's current. There's also current. One of my biggest frustrations is not capturing some of the incredible walls in the Icy Straits, because 1) there was no place to set up a tripod or even brace on a wall packed with invertebrates and 2) the current not only dragged me left and right, but also up and down at seemingly random time intervals.

I did manage to get a few decent clips, though, and condensed them into this five-minute recap. It's missing shots of divers swimming with icebergs and my wife being groped by a very large octopus, but that's for another, longer video somewhere in the future.

Awards: Bronze award (3rd place) in the Our World Underwater 2009 competition.

View The Way of Water in standard def. Go back to the home page.

Hidden World

I do a lot of diving close to home in Monterey Bay, California, with no particular purpose in mind other than seeing what the animals are up to. I'm constantly amazed that no matter how murky and green the water is, once you get to the bottom there's a riot of colors. I've tried to explain just how amazing it is to my non-diving friends, but it's difficult to put across in words.

This video is an attempt to show non-divers a little of a completely different world that's just a matter of feet away from the shore.

This video has not been submitted to any video competitions, but it showed at the 2010 San Diego Underwater Film Exhibition.

View Hidden World in standard def. Go back to the home page.

Fiji: A Swim Through the Garden

For four months in early 2008 (February through May) I worked as the underwater videographer for the live-aboard dive boat Nai'a in Fiji. It was a memorable experience: lots of diving in some of the best dive sites Fiji has to offer. And Fiji has some amazing dive sites to offer.

It was tempered by the fact that -- once a week or every ten days -- I had to turn out a trip video for the charter on board. That meant the last two days of each charter I spent holed up in my cabin slicing and dicing video clips to try to turn out a 23-minute video that encapsulated the experiences divers had during that charter.

One segment of each trip video was "A Swim Through the Garden," sometimes set to the contemplative music of Bach's Air on a G String in an ethereal performance by the Swingle Singers. I used it to show some of the big picture aspects of Fiji's reefs: the beautiful coral gardens and majestic animals that live there. The brilliant colors and frenetic activities of Fiji's reefs usually inspire bouncy music and quick video cuts, so this was a nice change of pace and a chance to show the slower side of the reefs.

For this version of "Garden" I pulled out some of the best footage from all the different versions I've created of this video.

This video has not been submitted to any video competitions, but it showed at the 2008 San Diego Underwater Film Exhibition.

View Fiji: A Swim Through the Garden in standard def. Go back to the home page.

Komodo Beneath the Waves

In the summer of 2007, my wife and I went to Indonesia for a couple of weeks of diving from the Seven Seas live-aboard dive boat in Komodo National Park. We were very lucky to be there with Howard and Michele Hall, who were scouting locations with Peter Kragh for the Halls' upcoming 3D IMAX movie, a sequel to their very successful Deep Sea 3D. It's always a thorough education to watch Howard shoot, and the Halls are a lot of fun to hang out with.

Komodo surprised us completely: it wasn't the dripping green rain-forested islands crawling with Komodo dragons that I had in my mind's eye, but dry islands that remind me a lot of the Channel Islands off southern California. (Although there were Komodo dragons crawling around.) The sea life was amazing: Lynn and I were completely overwhelmed with the sheer number and variety of fish, the rich invertebrate life, and the overwhelming beauty of the coral. This video is an attempt to shoehorn at least some of that into a three-minute video.

Awards: 1st place in the Los Angeles Underwater Photo Society 2007 international competition, 1st place in the Northern California Underwater Photo Society 2007 SEA competition, gold award (1st place) in the Our World Underwater 2008 competition, 2nd place in the Beneath the Sea 2008 competition (New York), 2nd place in the Underwater Images 2008 competition.

View Komodo Beneath the Waves in standard def. Go back to the home page.

Green Water, White Mirth

I shot this in the spring of 2006 on one of the most enjoyable dives of my life. I was on a dive with other members of Alacosta Divers. We dropped into the waters in front of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, and were pleased to see that visibility was relatively good for the Monterey Bay. Three of us were separated from the rest of the divers and began to notice young seals in our peripheral vision, checking us out.

Suddenly they weren't peripheral any more: I had a young seal's head tucked under my arm begging to be scratched! That was the start of about half an hour of the most amazing seal experience I've ever hard. I was only able to shoot a small part of it because I was laughing too hard, and it's hard to shoot video when you've got a seal pulling on your arm or, even better, perching on top of your head giving it a scratch.

Because Monterey waters are usually pretty murky, I often set up my camcorder with a macro lens that can only focus on small animals close up. It's great for all the tiny crustaceans, nudibranchs, and fish in the kelp forest -- but completely incapable of filming anything larger. In retrospect I feel very lucky that I set up with a wide-angle lens before I dropped into the water for this dive.

Chosen as closing video for first night of the 2007 San Diego Underwater Film Exhibition.

View Green Water, White Mirth in standard def. Go back to the home page.

Of Forests and Rivers

Once a year my wife and I pack our bags and scuba gear and head to southern California with Alacosta Divers. We load a lot of heavy gear onto a boat that takes us to Catalina Island and Emerald Bay Boy Scout camp, where we live in platform tents and go diving for a week.

It's not luxurious. We have four small inflatable boats with outboard motors, we haul all our own gear between the filling station and the dock from dive to dive, and we eat Boy Scout cafeteria food. But the diving is spectacular: all the beauty of kelp forests with water that's much warmer and clearer than what we're used to in northern California.

I shot the bulk of this video during the first week in September, 2006. Shooting video's not always easy because we're crammed into a small inflatable rubber boat with an outboard motor with not a lot of room for equipment. We've somehow managed to avoid sitting on my housing and lights. Once you're underwater, though, it's an expansive world indeed with lots to look at both close-up and far off. When conditions are good, which they have been four times out of five, visibility can be around 80 feet (24 meters) and temperature in the high 60s and even 70s (18 to 21 degrees centigrade).

Much of the big kelp forest footage was shot at Ship Rock on the central east side of Catalina Island and the schooling fish footage at Indian Rock just off Emerald Bay. The cormorant diving was down at a depth of about 60 feet (18 meters), and notice that the bat ray has no barbed tail, which most bat rays do. I suspect it may have broken off using it for defense at some point.

Awards: 1st place in the Los Angeles Underwater Photo Society 2006 international competition, 2nd place in the Northern California Underwater Photo Society 2006 SEA competition, shown at the 2007 San Diego Underwater Film Exhibition.

View Of Forests and Rivers in standard def. Go back to the home page.

An Ocean In Motion

In the spring of 2006 my wife and I visited Belize for a week on a live-aboard dive boat followed by a week at a combination fishing/diving resort with my wife's 94-year-old fly-fishing father, her sister, and brother-in-law. The live-aboard had a swampy dining room, a tiny camera table, and a less-than-impressive dive schedule, but they parked off Long Caye for a week where we had some very warm, clear water. Although Belize doesn't have nearly the species diversity we're used to in the southwest Pacific, there was still profuse life. I was especially impressed with the variety and color of the sponges, not something divers often pay attention to.

I had a new custom-built (and jury-rigged) device inside my camera housing that let me manually set white balance underwater. Without getting technical, manual white balance meant that for the first time I could get good color in wide-angle shots where previously I'd been limited to close-up shots with lights for good color. I went hog wild and shot lots of wide-angle footage, then put it together in the first music video I'd made for quite a while. Because there's often a lot more motion in open shots of a reef than in tight close-ups, I emphasized different types of motion and cut to the music.

Shown at the 2006 San Diego Underwater Film Exhibition.

View An Ocean In Motion in standard def. Go back to the home page.

A Snail's Pace

One of my favorite dives in Monterey, California, is underneath a touristy wharf named "Wharf II." It's not deep (33 feet/10 meters maximum), it's silty, and there's often garbage lying around, including the occasional water-logged cell phone accidently dropped by a distressed tourist above. There are also fishing lines dangling down, which is why the harbormaster requires a top-side tender to make sure you don't get entangled. I've never been able to understand why people fish there, because I've never seen a fish larger than a few inches (seven centimeters) in size down there.

What Wharf II does have, though, is lots of colorful and unusual life that you don't often see elsewhere, all parading around in slow motion in what I like to call the Theater of the Tiny. It's a tremendous spot for nudibranchs and snails and for lots of odd invertebrates living on and among the wharf pilings. The visibility is usually bad, so I normally go down with a macro lens set up for close-up shots with lights to bring out the colors. Every so often a seal, sea lion, or sea otter will buzz me, jolting out of the murk and filling my suit with adrenaline and -- almost -- other accompanying substances.

A note about the red bryozoans seen on the pilings: they're an invasive species probably brought in through visiting ship's ballasts. They're taking over the pilings, crowding out the native species of anemones, bryozoans, and other invertebrates. One incensed diver has taken to prying them off with his dive knife, but it turns out that breaking them up just spreads them faster to other locations.

Awards: 1st place in the Northern California Underwater Photo Society 2005 SEA competition, shown at the 2005 San Diego Underwater Film Exhibition.

View A Snail's Pace in standard def. Go back to the home page.

Why We Visit

In June of 2004, my wife and I flew to a mecca of underwater photographers located in Indonesia in the southeast corner of Indonesia. I had visions of incredible muck diving with all kinds of bizarre creatures living in sand, along with some bright coral scenes to the sides. It turns out I was thinking of Lembeh Strait, located in northeast Sulawesi. What we got instead was a Swiss-run dive resort with strict rules, limited muck diving, and a lot of sheer vertical coral walls. Walls are wonderful places for photographers, but not a great place to set up a video tripod for lots of close-up work. Fortunately the variety and profusion of fish life made up for limited video opportunities: a visiting marine biologist set a new world record while we were there of 300 species of fish identified on a single dive.

Also during our visit a National Geographic photography team caused an international incident when they cut the anchor line of an Indonesian trading ship anchored illegally in a marine reserve. The local Indonesians were not pleased, nor were the boat owners, who promptly bought another anchor and dropped it once again in the reserve, crunching more coral. There was a lot of back and forth between the village, the lodge, and the photo team (who fortunately had a member fluent in Indonesian) to settle the issue.

After mending some fences, we had a chance to talk to one of the village elders who was curious what we were looking at down there when we went diving. The locals don't see most of it since they don't scuba dive. What they see a lot of is a parade of extravagantly equipped westerners trooping through their village from the tiny dirt airport to the dive lodge. When I got back home, I made this video in response to the elder's curiosity, very mindful of the fact that we visit the reefs through the hospitality and stewardship of the locals.

A note about the spot-fin lionfish eating the small cardinalfish: I shot this at night with lights. At another site, the local lionfish had learned to follow divers at night, taking advantage of their strong lights. When a small fish was distracted by the light, the lionfish would swoop in and eat it. The big problem with this was that the lionfish would hover in the dark inches away from the sides of a diver. One small movement in the wrong direction meant a collision with venom-filled spines guaranteed to induce painful agony. It was one of the spookiest dives I've made, and I was constantly looking over my shoulder for lionfish. Fortunately I could push them away with my camera housing, but they'd come right back. It's hard to argue with an animal hot on a source of food.

Awards: 1st place in the Underwater Images 2005 competition, 1st place in the Northern California Underwater Photo Society 2004 SEA competition, 1st place in the EPIC 2005 international competition, 2nd place in the Beneath the Sea 2005 competition (New York), 5th place in the Los Angeles Underwater Photo Society 2004 international competition, shown at the 2005 San Diego Underwater Film Exhibition.

View Why We Visit in standard def. Go back to the home page.

Up Close In Fiji

This is a beginning video, the second video I put together after starting to shoot underwater. I got the footage for it on a memorable trip to Fiji in May of 2002 when Lynn and I spent two weeks on the excellent live-aboard dive boat Nai'a with Howard and Michele Hall. I was really a rank beginner with only one other shooting trip under my belt.

I was inspired after my first trip to find some cheap ways to start shooting close-up macro shots of underwater life that didn't involve spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a special macro port for my housing. My solution: an inexpensive screw-on diopter lens for the camcorder that fit inside my underwater housing, and a small cheap tripod that I attached to my housing by lashing a piece of wood to the bottom the housing and screwing the tripod mounting plate into the wood. It wasn't pretty, but it worked.

When I got back from the trip, I put together a set of close-up clips to send to the housing manufacturer (UnderSea Video Housings) to show Warren, the owner, what you could do with a cheap set of diopters and a tripod. I decided to turn it into a video competition piece by adding music and editing the cuts to the music to give some character to the animals in the clips.

I shot some of the clips in the video at night -- see if you can guess which ones they are. The USVH lights I use have a very even spread and color spectrum that really help night footage. One segment in the video features a bobbing blue ribbon eel, the first time I'd ever encountered one. I turned him into the logo for my underwater video productions for no particularly good reason other than the fact that he made me laugh. Can you ask for much more from a marine animal?

A note about diving with the Halls: they're (in my opinion) the best underwater film makers in the world, and they occasionally open up their shooting trips to the general public. (Check out their web site.) I always learn a tremendous amount from watching Howard shoot and then looking at his work. Talking to him about film production is a course in itself.

I'll have to admit, though, that this trip was intimidating. It was filled with much more experienced videographers than I was (with only two weeks of shooting under my belt), and every evening they'd review impressive footage on the monitor in the dining room. I took to waiting until everyone had gone to bed to check out my own footage so I could groan at my mistakes in private.

Awards: 2nd place in the Los Angeles Underwater Photo Society 2004 international competition, 2nd place in the Northern California Underwater Photo Society 2004 SEA competition, chosen to open the 2002 San Diego Underwater Film Exhibition, shown at the 2003 World Festival of Underwater Pictures in Antibes, France.

View Up Close In Fiji in standard def. Go back to the home page.

Magnificent Soup

April of 2003 was my first exposure to the Channel Islands in southern California, a group that includes Catalina Island just off the coast from Los Angeles. They have some of the best diving in the world, with beautiful kelp forests in relatively warm clear water (it's never too warm or clear if there's kelp around) and rivers of fish. My first experiences there, though, weren't easy ones.

My trip in April was in dicey weather with cold water and very limited visibility. High seas with a short wave interval cut the trip short when part of the bow of the boat above the deck (the bulwark) tore off and water started sluicing down the deck and into the bunks below. A second trip in calmer waters in July was much less stressful, but the visibility wasn't much better, and the first trip my wife and I made to Catalina with our dive club suffered from uncharacteristically cold and murky water that reminded us of northern California.

I shot a lot of footage of interesting animals, but it was all in nothing but murky water. I decided to go with it and make a video about the richness of California waters, which includes all the plankton that makes up much of the murk. Most of the video was shot at Catalina Island, some off San Miguel Island, and a little bit in Monterey Bay. The short clip of a diver in turquoise climbing down a steep face was shot just south of Carmel Bay, and all the plants around her are poison oak. California doesn't always make it easy to dive.

Awards: 1st place in the Underwater Images 2004 competition, shown at the 2004 San Diego Underwater Film Exhibition.

View Magnificent Soup in standard def. Go back to the home page.

Down & Dirty In Northern California

After returning from a trip to Fiji with warm-water diving, my wife and I decided to buy dry suits and learn to dive locally in the cold green waters of Monterey Bay, California. Dry-suit diving in cold water is a big change that requires some training. We decided to try our dry suits out at the easiest possible site, the Breakwater.

The Breakwater is the premiere training dive spot in northern California. Every weekend the parking lot and lawn are jammed with divers suiting up. Classes of divers wade into the water like flotillas of ducks to submerge and run through their paces under the watchful eyes of instructors.

We learned on our own, getting used to the extra weight you need to submerge in a dry suit, the shock of icy water on the face, and the feeling of being deaf, dumb, bumbling, and half blind with all the exposure gear we had on. Local divers told us that the Breakwater was a poor dive site, clouded up by student divers kicking up sand, lacking dramatic structure and sea life. We were fascinated, though, by what we found there: lots of invertebrates including crabs and nudibranchs prowling the sand and kelp, and unusual fish taking shelter in the rocks of the breakwater.

I tried shooting using the close-up setup I used in Fiji, and immediately found that it was much harder to get decent footage. It's cold, so you have a limited amount of time underwater, and thick neoprene gloves on my hands make it much harder to set up and adjust my gear. The water's very murky, and it's easy to stir up sand when you set up a tripod. There are so many fascinating subjects, though, that it's well worthwhile.

A few notes about some of the action in the video: the big orange nudibranch (Dendronotus iris) that looks like it's being sucked into a tube anemone and eaten is, in fact, doing the exact opposite: it's eating the tube anemone. As soon as the anemone feels the touch of the nudibranch, it retracts, drawing in the head of the nudibranch. The nudibranch munches tentacle tips as much as it can, then pulls out and hunts for more tasty tube anemones.

The cluster of orange bat stars and coonstripe shrimp at work on a piece of translucent food are eating a salp, a free-floating tunicate that somehow bumbled into the clutches of the bat stars. The big crab that stumbles over them is a decorator crab. A smaller decorator crab later eats tube amenone tentacles in much the same way that the Dendronotus does. I've never seen one do so before or since.

Awards: 2nd place in the Underwater Images 2003 competition, 3rd place in the now-defunct Oceanz 2003 competition in New Zealand.

View Down & Dirty In Northern California in standard def. Go back to the home page.

Burning Bright

While I was in Fiji in 2002, we encountered lots of brightly colored coral, a big change from the drab brownish colors you often see. The coral wasn't dead -- it was bleached, showing the underlying colors in its structure. If coral remains bleached for too long, it dies. I was fascinated and dismayed to learn that bleaching was caused by overly warm waters, a phenomenon increasing in frequency as our global climate changes.

I decided to make this video as an entry for the conservation category of the EPIC competition. It was my first narrated video and the first with a script. I tried to reduce a very complex story -- declining health of coral reefs due to global climate change -- to a very short video. I was surprised at how many people knew nothing about the subject (this was well before Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth"), and gratified that the video was educational. The topic really needs exploration in more detail, and I wish I had the time to create a compelling one-hour show about all the different threats facing coral reefs today.

Although I shot most of the footage in the video in Fiji, Fiji's reefs are relatively healthy compared to other spots in the world much more affected by global warming. I'm afraid that I may live long enough to see the demise of coral reefs in much of the world.

Awards: 2nd place in the conservation category of the EPIC 2003 international competition, 3rd place in the now-defunct Oceanz 2003 competition in New Zealand.

View Burning Bright in standard def. Go back to the home page.

All content copyright 2001-2011, Michael Boom.