Underwater Photography and Videography
The archipelago of Tonga, affectionately called the "Friendly Islands," consists of 171 islands, with only 45 inhabited. There are four island groups including the mostly low-lying Tongatapu group, the volcanic and coral Ha'apai group; the flat coral islands of the Vava'u group, and the volcanic Niuas group in the far north.
As divers and photographers, we love to share our vacation destination and this time was no exception. For several months, people have asked “Where’s Tonga?” The map above gives you an overview of the islands within the Kingdom of Tonga. Now let’s begin with how we get there.
For this trip we took advantage of the TSA pre-check and global entry pass, which we hope, will come in handy upon our return home. The TSA pre-check was sweet. We kept our shoes on, belts on and computers in the bag. This was travel the way things used to be pre 911 and pre TSA hassle to go anywhere. If you don’t have it, check into getting it, it’s worth it.
Travel to Tonga, for us in Southern California, means a flight out of LAX to Auckland about 12 hours. Leaving on a red-eye flight, we decided to upgrade to Air New Zealand’s sky couch but it is not meant for two normal sized adults. Sky couch allows one to bring up a footrest and push back the seat backs to make a three-seat bed of sorts. This works if you spend big and buy the entire row for yourself, or if you travel with a small child. Friends of ours purchased a row for each person and slept like babies all night long so if this is your preference, pay up!
Auckland to Nukualofa takes two hours and 40 minutes. Auckland airport is quite nice, plenty of shopping, dining, and thanks to our Gold Member friends; we visited the VIP lounge upstairs. The lounge offers an array of breakfast foods, fresh fruit, juices, coffee, and a bar. It’s a small airport so transfers from plane-to-plane are simple. If you have an hour layover, you can easily make your transfer in 20-30 min so there’s time to spare. The next leg is Nakualofa to Vava’u about a one-hour flight time, more on this later.
One on ground in Nakualofa one takes ground transportation to the town or in our case to the harbor to catch a ride on a boat across the bay to Fafa Island. Our transfer from the airport to the harbor was by bus with a group of Australians who came to celebrate the 50th birthday of one of the women in their group. They bought their alcohol in duty free at the airport and had our bus driver stop at a local store for tonic, mix and limes. Because the group was so large the transfer from the harbor to the resort was by a very slow sailboat on power. It was a pleasant ride but after many hours of travel we just wanted to be there and a faster boat would have been appreciated.
Fafa Island resort was to be our home for a two-day stay in order to decompress and relax. The resort covers the entire island. There is a main restaurant, bar, kitchen and office area. The rooms are little houses scattered about the island accessed by a walk through the jungle or during low tide a walk along the water. Ours fale was located the farthest out and called the Sunset house for the beautiful west facing ocean view.
The sunset house has a little wooden porch with a table and chairs, two lounge chairs and a hammock right on the waters, beach edge. It is quiet, peaceful with the sound of wind in the trees and water lapping on the beach. Every morning around 6am a staff member walks out in the dark to deliver a pot of hot water to our little house for making hot tea and coffee. This we found was a small treat we looked forward to each morning. At dusk the staff brings a small gas lantern out to set on the patio table for a little outside light. It’s not much but when it’s dark it is a nice mood setting gesture.
Lights are few and when darkness falls, it is just dark. They do supply a little flashlight to use to move around in the dark within the house and to walk through the jungle to the main lodge. In our fale, there was one king size bed, firm but comfortable with various sized pillows. A mosquito net hangs over the bed but was not needed, thank goodness. There is one small light in the room and only one power outlet – in the bathroom. We wonder, why would the only outlet be in the bathroom next to a sink? Well, we plugged our power strip in and used this for laptop and camera battery charging station. The voltage is 240 the same as in Australia so an adapter plug is needed and a converter if your device does not take 240. There is no clock, no radio, no TV and no internet in the rooms. The main lodge area has internet and wifi available for a price per mg. The first 200mg is free and thereafter $6.00 paanga for another 200mg.
The resort food and drinks are a bit pricey and there are no other options. The good new is the food is pretty good. Meals are breakfast 8am to 10am, lunch from 12 noon to 2pm and dinner is from 6pm to 9pm.
The Tonga dollar is called Paanga and the exchange rate at the time of our visit was $1.00 U.S. to $ 1.72 Paanga. It is recommended you change money on arrival because they do not take US dollars. The resort will change money for you without a problem.
The Tongan staff is very friendly and helpful. There is a no tipping policy in Tonga a custom we found to be a relief from other destinations where everyone is helpful and everyone expects tips for being so helpful. So when you are extended a hand in Tonga it is to be of service and just helpful. They remind me of the Fijians, the friendliest people on the planet.
I love catching news casts of interactions between animals and humans. Here are a few that were reported today, July 23rd.
Whoa! Whale lifts kayakers out of the water
Kayakers off the coast of Argentina paddled over to some whales, and one of the whales swam underneath them and lifted the kayak above the water. The kayakers were startled but okay.
I couldn't imagine being held out of the water but I know for sure, I'd want a GoPro on a stick to capture images of this magnificent animal! Oh, and can you imagine the relief when it swims away leaving you in peace? WOW. However, this is one good reason to keep your distance - this may have been a subtle warning to stay back. = )
Pilot narrowly misses landing on humpback whale
Just before hitting the water, a pilot in Alaska pulled up, and landed safely a few feet away. He said he hadn’t seen the whale, and was reacting to the commotion by people on shore.
This makes me wonder how many close calls are had by pilots in Alaskan water that are unreported. Thank goodness he could hear people shouting - maybe he didn't have his headset on.
More Close Encounters
And I couldn't resist posting a few more I found along the way. It's a good idea to remember how large and powerful these animals are before you invade their space. However, if they come to you ... Enjoy the Show!
And in this video, I'd scream too but then regret having my back to the whale and not having a camera rolling! The second kayak had the best view!
Tip #1: shoot at a higher frame rate than you play back.
A high frame rate is 60 fps (frames per second), played back at 30 fps, gives the appearance of slow motion. If you’re camera has the ability to capture a high frame rate then this is probably your best option for slow motion video.
Note: we are not talking about shutter speed. Frame rate is how many frames per second the camera records (30 fps is typical). Shutter speed is how long the curtain stays open to record an image. Now if your camera only shoots at a normal frame rate, your option is to use software in post-production for slow motion. This method is called frame blending.
Tip #2: frame blending in post-production.
Frame blending is a method of creating additional frames that are not in the original footage. Software looks at the frames and finds a spot to blend two frames together which gives you the effect of slow motion. This option is faster but gives you lower quality results. There is another post-production option called optical flow.
Tip #3: optical flow in post-production.
Optical flow looks at one frame then the next and it figures out where the pixels are going from one frame to another and creates a new frame based on the pixels of the two frames. This gives you good results but there is a down side. If there is motion blur in your original footage, you’ll get strange effects in your final video. If you’re shooting at 1/60th of a second there’s plenty of motion blur so the software can’t see the blur and will create a strange-looking frame. How do you fix this? Well, if you know that you’re going to be changing a clip to slow motion, shoot with a higher shutter speed of something like 1/500th of a second so there’s little motion blur in your image. Without the blur, the software can see the individual movement of the pixels much better and give you better results when you re-time the footage.
Best results will be shooting at higher frame rates for true slow motion; 1/60 fps played back at 1/30th fps. You can use software in post such as frame blending or optical flow, which is better and takes a little longer but ensures no motion blur for a cleaner end product.
Here is a sample video that uses optical flow in Final Cut Pro X
These underwater caves and caverns are the main dive attraction in the Yucatan Peninsula. When you are scuba diving or snorkeling the cenotes in Mexico you'll see some stunning formations of stalagmites and stalactites.
You don’t need a special certification, such as cave diving, to dive in a cenote but you do need to either follow a guide or a line, and pay attention to your air consumption.
If you are interested in diving a cavern but are also a little concerned, ask a local shop which caverns offer large swim-through areas. There are many cenotes/caverns with tight tunnels where you must dive single-file. It can often be very dark in various areas so plan to bring a good torch. Likewise, if you haven’t dived at night, you may find cenote/cavern diving uncomfortable.
Please do your research. Ask for credentials of the dive operator you choose and of the guide responsible for your safety. Always dive within your limits – don’t be afraid to call a dive if you’re not certain you’re ready for it.
On January 6, 2009, George W. Bush proclaimed The Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument as a protected marine sanctuary. The national monument covers 77,000 square miles to the far south and west of Hawaii.
Thanks to President Obama, by the end of this year, the protected area will be expanded to over 780,000 square miles and protects the Pacific Ocean from fishing, oil exploration and other commercial activities.
The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument includes several small islands and atolls: Kingman Reef, Palmyra Atoll, Howland Island, Baker Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, and Wake Island.
Monk seals, whales, and sea turtles are among the highly protect marine mamals but the monument includes endemic trees, grasses, and birds as well.
U.S. federal law prohibits resource destruction or extraction, waste dumping, and commercial fishing in the monument areas. Research, free passage, and recreation are allowed.
We hope expansion of the marine reserve will help keep the area pristine for generations to come.
You may have seen some of the amazing videos or pictures from Nat Geo's famous photographers/videographers but this video compilation is outstanding and I had to share. I hope you have a few minutes to sit back, turn up the sound, and enjoy the show!
Enjoy the wonderful weekend ~ Get outside and play = )
The new Sony RX100 III is known for its excellent low-light capabilities and super-sharp, 24-70mm Zeiss lens.
We recommend the new Ikelite housing and we are accepting pre-orders. The housing ships mid to late July; your card will not be charged until the item ships.
Give us a call to order yours today! It's not to early to think about Christmas = )
Here in Southern California, divers and photographers are very happy that the giant sea bass (Stereolepis gigas), are returning on a regular basis. They are known for their lengthy lifespan and mature around the age of 11 or 12, approximate weight of 50 lb at that time. However, some of the largest specimens have been known to exceed 7 ft, and are estimated to be 75 years or older.
Although there are no scientific reports proving the population is increasing, we believe as a direct result of the protection act in 1982 they are beginning to thrive.
Check out a video of the giant sea bass by Walter Marti:
Save our Oceans = )
Atmospheric scientists are predicting another El Niño year and that brings devastation to reefs across the globe. This news generated my interest in finding out what ocean conservationists are planning to do about saving or regenerating reef systems.
In an article written by Zaheena Rasheed, Minivan News Journalist, she reports on actions taken by the Banyan Tree hotel chain in the Maldives after an El Niño year destroyed their reefs.
Back in 1998, the global El Niño weather warmed our ocean waters resulting in coral polyps expelling the algae living in their tissues and bleaching white. The algae provide the polyps with its food, and polyps died after a prolonged period without food.
Coral propagation methods practiced in the Maldives, on Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru and by Seamarc on Four Seasons Resorts at Kuda Huraa and Landagiraavaru Islands are proving that artificial reef structures offer hope in growing coral. Reportedly, it took approximately sixteen years for the reef structure to bounce back from El Niño devastation.
What they have managed to create is nothing short of a scientific marvel that I hope more resort organizations will adapt.
Rasheed says, “In 2001, the Banyan Tree Marine Center also sunk a giant lotus-shaped metal structure on the reef slope. Naturally broken pieces of coral were tied with cable ties to the latticed lotus.
The lotus was then connected to a power source on the shore. Low voltage electricity was run through the structure to help white limestone accrue around the metal. Over the years, coral larvae have settled and grown on the clean limestone rock.”
Building systems to generate new reef structures could be the answer our oceans need to survive global warming as well. Healthy reefs not only support life, they help protect the shoreline by providing wave breaks.
And as for helping nature along, we Homo sapiens need to be mindful that “tourism, reef fishing, coral mining, dredging, and pollution represent most impacts on coral reefs.
Be kind, recycle and leave a small footprint.
Follow Sanjay as he swims his way into history.
In an article posted by Todd Steiner, Natgeo.com, Sanjay the sea turtle makes a long journey from Cocos Island to the Galapagos linking the two marine parks as a migratory path between the two.
The “Turtle Island Restoration Network” have tagged over 100 turtles at Cocos Island since 2009 to document time spent between the two sanctuaries. Hammerheads, silkies, and Galapagos sharks have also spent time in both places.
TIRS is talking to government officials of Costa Rica and Ecuador about creating a protected swimway that will offer safe passage to migratory animals.
“If you’d like to find out where in the great blue ocean Sanjay is friend us on Facebook and follow the hashtag #GoSanjay on Twitter. Recent pings suggest that Sanjay is on the move and headed to turtle nesting grounds at Isabela Island.Bon Voyage Sanjay! If you are an experienced scuba diver and would like to join a future expedition to Cocos Island as a citizen scientist, visit SeaTurtles.org/expeditions and check out the News Watch blog. “ (nationalgeographic.com)