01

THE PROJECT

This jewel of the ocean must become a beacon of hope to the rest of the world that sustainable protection of the ocean is possible. Shawn Heinrichs is an incredibly dedicated conservationist who uses every visual tool available to him to bring home his message. He has spent years focused on the atrocities perpetrated against wildlife – chasing down shark finners and the black market trade. But now he has turned his lens towards the beauty. He believes connection breeds compassion – once people feel touched, they can’t help but want to assist.

02

THE FILM

The movie sees Shawn work with the incredible manta rays of Raja Ampat which is unforgettable. I never knew how sentient and intelligent these magnificent creatures are. Shawn has a unique approach to presenting the wonder of these animals, and that’s by including human subjects with them in his photographs. Mantas, unlike other fish, are inquisitive and even playful with humans underwater. They are very special animals and, thankfully, are being largely protected now around the world due to the direct efforts of Shawn and his partners.

The other impactful moment for me was filming in the incredible jellyfish lake. The lake we hiked to was in the middle of one of the local islands. The water within it has been separated from the ocean for thousands of years and has formed its own endemic creatures, the most striking being countless stingless jellyfish. Submersing ourselves in this phenomenon was like entering another world. I immediately remembered the film Avatar – except this world was no fantasy. It’s a reminder of how incredible our planet is, and how much there is still yet to explore.

03

THE LOCATION

Located off the northwest tip New Guinea in Indonesia’s West Papua province, Raja Ampat is an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small islands and four main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta, Waigeo and Kofiau. Most of the archipelago is in the Southern Hemisphere, with a few small islands northwest of Waigeo such as Sajang Island in the Northern Hemisphere. Some of the islands are the northernmost parts of the Australian continent.

04

BEHIND THE SCENES

With any expeditions to remote places, local knowledge and support is vital. We are often working under tight time pressures which doesn’t give you the flexibility to chew up days working it out on the ground – you have to hit the ground running. Before any trip even begins we start by researching the best operators in a given area. Our first questions relate to timing. What is the best season for weather conditions and chances of encountering our given subject? Picking the right season is crucial for many migratory species of animals. Weather also plays a part. The oceans, the currents, water visibility, precipitation and wind are all elements that will either impede or aid your hunt for sightings. For the more accessible places, avoiding peak tourist volumes when possible will also help. Everyone’s dream scenario is great wildlife encounters without others. Shawn’s contacts in Raja Ampat are invaluable. He has spent over a decade working this area and brought every resource available to help make our shoot a success.

The first step in producing good underwater images is, firstly, become a good diver. The diving should be a natural state of being for you, allowing you to concentrate on the shooting. Diving has many challenges. Before even entering the water, having a pre-dive checklist of your camera and housing is recommended. Unlike shooting on the surface, where you can easily replace a dead battery, clean a spot off your lens or sensor, or switch your lens from Auto to manual focus, underwater all these practises become impossible. Having a rigorous checking procedure will ensure your dives are not cut short, or worse destroyed, by sensor dirt or a flooded housing.

Raja Ampat is considered the global center of tropical marine bio-diversity and is referred to as The Crown Jewel of the Bird’s Head Seascape. More than 600 species of hard corals equaling about 75 percent of known species globally, and more than 1,700 species of reef fish which is the richest in terms of biodiversity comparing to the size of the region in the world. Endangered and rare marine mammals such as Dugongs, whales and dolphins including orcas occur here.

UNDERWATER CINEMATOGRAPHY

The first step in producing good underwater images is, firstly, become a good diver. The diving should be a natural state of being for you, allowing you to concentrate on the shooting. Diving has many challenges. Before even entering the water, having a pre-dive checklist of your camera and housing is recommended. Unlike shooting on the surface, where you can easily replace a dead battery, clean a spot off your lens or sensor, or switch your lens from Auto to manual focus, underwater all these practises become impossible. Having a rigorous checking procedure will ensure your dives are not cut short, or worse destroyed, by sensor dirt or a flooded housing.

“This positive story of success is desperately needed in a space that is dominated by the worst news. If people can see that it is possible to save the seas and its creatures, then they will be more motivated to do something.”

SHAWN HEINRICHS

TECHNIQUES FOR SUCCESS

Once in the water, bouncy control – your ability to position and stabilize yourself in the water column – is critical to capture useable images. Maintaining acceptable water visibility is also essential. When shooting near the bottom, whether it be a river or the ocean, avoiding kicking up sediments is very important. One loose fin swipe can instantly cloud the scene and take a long time to settle.
Finally comes the fun stuff. The dynamic movement scuba gives you can be incredibly freeing. With a camera in hand, you effectively become your own dolly track, jib or drone. You can swim around subjects with the smoothness of a dolly, rise above a scene and give a bird’s eye perspective, or perform slow push-ins or outs to add drama to the capture.

The oceanic natural resources around Raja Ampat give it significant potential as a tourist area. Many sources place Raja Ampat as one of their top ten most popular places for diving whilst it retains the number one ranking for underwater biodiversity.

According to Conservation International, marine surveys suggest that the marine life diversity in the Raja Ampat area is the highest recorded on Earth.

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