Underwater Filmmaker Reveals His Production Secrets

Oscar-winning underwater photographer Nick Caloyianis has shot films for the likes of National Geographic and the Discovery Channel – not to mention for Bowdoin’s Coastal Studies Scholar, filmmaker David Conover.

Students in Conover’s class Seashore Digital Diaries picked up some new techniques during Caloyianis’s recent visit to the College. See some of the footage that they captured in the Marine Laboratory at the Coastal Studies Center, with the help of a few cooperative underwater creatures:

Under the Sea (Or Close Enough) from Bowdoin College on Vimeo.

Seashore Digital Diaries spans the departments and programs of Cinema Studies, Environmental Studies, and Visual Arts, offering a chance to explore the ocean and its shores through video production. Students have learned to operate cameras and microphones, putting their skills to use during shoots at regional destinations such as Fort Popham, Cundy’s Harbor (where they interviewed fishermen), and Reid State Park. After each shoot, they use Final Cut Pro to edit their footage and create short videos. As a class, they have completed 85 productions so far this semester, each about four minutes in length.

Caloyianis’s visit added a new dimension to this training, as Christina Sours ’16 writes below:

Our shoot at the Marine Lab was focused on staging. Since none of us are underwater cinematographers, Nick and David provided an opportunity to film underwater life while staying dry. We set up tanks in the Marine Lab and filled them with various organisms to simulate an underwater environment. As an expert in filming that environment, Nick guided us through setting up the lights to light the tanks, the gel backdrops to color the underwater atmosphere, and the best techniques to avoid reflection in the tank glass. He brought professional equipment that we would not have access to otherwise and that added to the realism of the tanks. For example, his diopters, which are essentially magnifying glasses for a camera lens, allowed us to get macro shots of sea urchins, crabs, and starfish that we might not have captured as professionally on our own. It’s incredible how the footage came out. You might think we were actually underwater with camera housings rather than in a lab filming tanks. It was great to hear Nick talk about his own tips on filming aquaria and his knowledge and experience helped build and dress our tanks so that they really did look official. Our class is about using film as a tool of inquiry into the ocean and seashore, and with Nick’s guidance, our footage really did become a usable and believable tool to work with in exploring the ocean.

Caloyianis’s class visit was followed by a presentation of his work for the Bowdoin community, Close Encounters with the Supersharks, in which he screened clips of some of the “first-ever” underwater footage he has captured – including the first footage of basking sharks in the Gulf of Maine, a great white shark in Atlantic waters, and an encounter between a human and a free-swimming Greenland shark.

“Seeing the product of his work left me a little star-struck,” Sours said. “Nick is definitely fueled by passion and that is what I think really came across in his work with my class and in his presentation. Everyone has a passion for something, and it was inspiring to see just how far it can take you.”

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