I’ve personally spent a bit of time filming wildlife in difficult conditions, so I was excited to interview Adam.
I thought filming in a forest was difficult, but I can only imagine how that intensifies when you are filming underwater. Especially when large amounts of money have been invested in securing that rare & elusive shot.
Here’s my conversation with Adam Jones, underwater D.O.P…
- If you had to explain what you do to a 10-year-old. What would you tell them?
- I try to show people how animals live. Like if I was an octopus where would I make my home? Where would I sleep? What would I do? I find these things out and then find a way to film them.
- What sort of projects do you work on? Anything we would have heard of?
- I just finished a two-year project called Big Pacific with NHNZ Ltd in Dunedin. It was a massive production of 4 x 1 hours pure blue chip for PBS, CCTV9, ZDF and Arte France. It’s currently being edited and just screened at MIP. Look out for it later in the year.
“While others before me had spent time in the hammock strumming the guitar, I used it to clean lenses.”
- How did you become an Underwater D.O.P? Was it a hard grind or did you fall into it?
- : Like anyone in the industry, I was given a break. I then had to make it count. I did work experience in 1998 on a yacht making a stingray documentary, and while others before me had spent time in the hammock strumming the guitar, I spent my time cleaning lenses, filling dive tanks and holding underwater lights. That job went on to another and I’ve been working ever since.
- What is the best part of your day?
- When a moment comes from the synergy of a tight crew working together. It can be a bright spark idea or the result of a group of ideas. Collaboration is a dynamic and fluid entity and its power should never be underestimated.
“To be the best in this industry means bringing both sides of your brain together.”
- What is the worst part of your day?
- Heading out for a shoot or dive and not having the right setup. With the nature of wildlife-filming nowadays the gear/settings are so specific that when they are right the whole configuration just sings… get it wrong and it is equally deflating.
- What do you think makes a good underwater D.O.P.?
- : It’s a balance. You need to be brave but you also need to be safe. You need to think things out, but you also need to be spontaneous. You need to know the shots you’re looking for to make the sequence but you also need to be able to lose yourself in the moment. To be the best in this industry means bringing both sides of your brain together. The planner and the creative.
“As film-makers, we have to balance revealing the truth while making things look good.”
- How has your part of the industry changed since you started?
- I started right at the end of film so I’ve seen it go from film to tape to card. The days have gotten longer in having to digitise to drives and shoot days have decreased. The expectations are higher than before I think, so there’s a real squeeze to be “on” from a project start-to-finish.
- What exciting things are happening with technology in your job currently?
- There are so many. There was 3D now there is virtual reality. I work in a world of UHD now with very strict rules in data rates so the most exciting things for me have been RAW and now HDR. It’s been cool to see HDR come along in video and this combined with flat gamma curves has meant that we can break more lighting rules than ever before. With filming animal behaviour I’m obviously a sucker for slow motion and low light photography as both allow intimate insights.
- What are the current challenges for people working in your industry?
- The current challenge in wildlife I believe is that we are required to deliver stunning, new, behavior-based sequences. Where do we find these? In remote corners of the globe and in reserves and game parks. These areas are not representative of the state of Planet Earth right now. As film-makers, we have to balance revealing the truth while making things look good.
“It needs to be second nature. Only then should you take a camera underwater.”
- What do you think is the future of your industry and how will it affect the people working in it?
- The advent of new technologies mean that a single person can go out with a video camera, timelapse, stills camera, GoPros, lightweight slider and a drone. This gives endless creative freedom but it also means that one person is having to come up with all the ideas and sometimes you end up being a master of none. I think the future of the industry is small, manoeuvrable crews that cover a range of skills but also complement each other.
- What equipment are you currently using and why?
- I have a RED Epic Dragon in a Gates housing. This camera sets the benchmark in natural history filmmaking currently and the results are incredible. In 4k it shoots 120fps, in a RAW format and can cache record at full data rate – that is a lot of processing right there. It also shoots 6k so there is some future proofing and it gives you more frame to play with. The colour profiles from the Dragon are stunning.
- For someone wanting to do what you do, what is your advice?
- Learn to dive early. It needs to be second nature. Only then should you take a camera underwater. But before that you will need to be happy to start at the bottom rung. Be the best assistant you can be, learn how to back up drives and be a data wrangler so you can earn the trust of your crew. Also work on being calm. Being calm under pressure is key.
- Why did you join Freelance Directory?
- I love what FD are doing. It’s new and innovative and I for one can see who has the right skills for a job and it’s easy to get in touch with them. It’s just the beginning and I think it will go far.