LET THERE BE LIGHT !!!
Earlier this year I had shoot for Shark Week 2017 called 'Devil Sharks' with a great crew from Pangolin Pictures. In this show we followed Dr Mike Heithaus of Florida International University and his team investigating the link that exists between Sharks and Volcanoes. The natural magnetivity that exists around underwater sea mounts and volcanic formed land is thought to be detected by the sharks Ampullae of Lorenzini, (gel filled pores sensitive to magnetic fields and bio-electrical energy). Theory exists that the sharks ability to detect these differences in magnetic fields aid some species in their movements across the worlds oceans.
Two of the key sequences in the Hawaii segment of the shoot required some serious underwater lights. Previously my go to had been to hire in some Keldans, and at the time was considering buying a set, although they had performed well in the past I had also been let down by them a couple of times when it mattered. With this in mind I went back to a company that I trust and I have a proven track record with my underwater camera housings ..... GATES. After chatting with John and Pamela from Gates and seeing a pretty impressive demo over Skype of the GT14 Underwater Imaging Lights I pulled the trigger.
Whilst filming on the Big Island in Hawaii we went out with a bad ass team of professionals from Jack's Dive Locker based in Kona. The team was always on time, extremely helpful going above and beyond! A big shout out goes to one of their crew; Jeff Leicher who is an absolute Spartan-like powerhouse of a man and someone incredibly useful to have around in a pinch.
The first sequence needing illuminating was hunting for white tip reef sharks hiding out in the dried out lava tubes located near Kaiwi Point. The swell pulls anyone who enters through the lava tubes like an uncontrollable roller coaster ride. At first you surge quickly forward 10-15ft before momentarily pausing, allowing you to grab hold of something to help you ride out the wave trying to suck you back out. Boom !!! The next surge rolls through the tube and sends you back on your way!
The GT14 underwater video lights immediately proved their worth in true Gates fashion, by demonstrating their durability by withstanding the surge pummeling me and them against the rock face on the inside of the tunnel. There is a little ambient light to play with in the tube, mainly fringing around the entrance and exit, with occasional shafts of light penetrating through cracks in the ceiling. These tubes are not for the claustrophobic and once you penetrate the first few feet, you are committed with no room to turn or retreat. After the first surge you can then make out 'the light at the end of the tunnel'! Silhouetting a few of the critters that are frequenting the tube.
For this scene we wanted the viewer to be immersed with that claustrophobic feeling that we were experiencing inside the tube. If we just flat out illuminated the whole space; you would loose the impression of size and the energy of the sequence would be lost. By changing the settings on the lights I was able to get a nice even spread of light whilst using a narrower beam to make the footage feel more close up and personal and minimize the appearance of the space.
After exiting the tube we surged into a larger open roofed cave, where we had to keep low to the seafloor or risk being popped out of the top onto the rocks above! Hiding in the surge along the edges of the cave we encountered these beautiful little whitetip reef sharks, (Triaenodon obesus), resting on the bottom. These amazing little sharks have the ability to buccal pump, (basically gulp water into their mouth and push it out through their gills), therefore they do not have to swim to survive. These sharks are believed to take up refuge in these lava tubes and caves to avoid predators as well as rest in a oxygen rich environment that combined with the surging action of the water means they only have to expel minimum energy to breathe.
"Now for your Close Up"! The GT14 underwater video lights performed tremendously, when I pushed in to capture the details of the white tips. The lights provided a great, even spread and the ability to quickly adapt the levels on the fly... Bouncing a stronger light intensity off the ceiling of the cave minimized the front illuminated backscatter in areas where the roof was too low to extend the lights arms. These lights are incredibly small and lite weight for the power of the punch they pack! Perfect for operating in closed in spaces and in surge where larger lighting options with greater surface areas would add drag and reduce how far you can penetrate.
The following sequence needing illuminating unfortunately did not make the show as the final sequences associated with the shots were cancelled due to weather. In this sequence we were testing a state of the art underwater low light - FIN camera, that has been designed to record footage in moon or starlight. We decided to have Dr Mike Heithaus take the camera on the Kona Manta night dive; where we planned to film Mike interacting with the Mantas with the lights on and then see how the FIN camera performed with the lights off! (Mantas are now known as Mobula Rays see this recent article that explains the research; however for the sake of ease why let's stick with Manta). The dive is a public site and we were competing with several other operators and groups for the same Mantas. There is also an "Underwater Bonfire" setup in the middle of a seafloor clearing where the operators set up a multitude of dive lights and underwater torches facing up to attract the Mantas. The lights attract the plankton and the wee beasties which swarm around the light beams in the water column. This in turn attracts the Mantas to feed.
On arrival I was a little disheartened when I learned we only had one Manta present and a small army of recreational divers to compete with! Mike and I slipped beneath the inky black waters and started our approach towards the underwater bonfire burning away in the distance. The GT14s have a great low light scouting mode which draws very little power but is plenty of light to see, navigate and get set up. There were way too many people on the shallow side of the fire where the lights were brightest to get a clean shot, so we decided to settle on the deeper side of the fire and try and get a few lucky shots if the Manta happened to swoop our way.
After lying on the not so tempurpedic bottom, I realized that things (or the Manta) was not going our way! The numerous lights of the bonfire, multitude of glow sticks and waving torches crowding the other side of the fire, syn-ominous with an old school duckfaced Glaswegian rave, was thwarting our chances of getting the Manta to come close. We needed a change of plan !
I cranked the GT14 underwater video lights right up to max and set them skywards, ..... lighting our own underwater bonfire! The immense sheer amount of light rapidly attracted all sorts of underwater beasties and plankton! The overpowering noise of all these mini-organisms, bouncing and buzzing around grew louder and louder, attracting the Manta from the comparable smouldering embers of the other bonfire..... WHOOSH... The Manta swooped towards us ! The light levels on the GT14s are easily changed by rotating a ring on the housing which allowed me to drop the light level quickly to get the shot without the white underbelly of the manta being blown out and overexposed. I was then able to crank the light back up to max after each pass to keep our Manta bonfire roaring ! We ended up getting all the shots in the bag and also used the GT14s to attract the Manta away into the darkness and then shut off the light to test the low light Fin Cam.
These bullet proof video lights have a nice, even wide spread with a great color temp too, and optional filter extras. All in all the GT14s were the prefect tool and easily travel-able package for any underwater job and I would recommend them to any underwater imaging professionals or production companies that are looking to be illuminated !
PRICING (USD $) as of 10th September 2017:
- $2390.00 per head (includes 1 battery and 1 charger).
- Spare batteries - $330.00 each.
- For RENTALS contact GATES directly - Customer.SRVC@GatesHousings.com
HERE ARE THE TECHY SPECS
14,000 lumens output, 5600K color temperature *and* 90 CRI (Color Rendition Index), providing a balanced daylight spectrum.
Uniform 90_ Effective Beam Angle with pleasant edge falloff covers the widest shots.
Quick change batteries for zero downtime. 3 hour full charge time.
5 power levels. 30 minutes at full power, >10 hours in Scouting mode.
Innovative LED cooling technology means higher light output efficiencies and longer run times.
Seal Check fitting (optional) to verify integrity *before* entering the water.
Multiple safety features including physical lockout, safety timer lockout and thermal overload shutdown.
Mirrored Light Output and Fuel Gage indicators provide at-a-glance reading from either side of the light.
Aluminum and stainless steel construction. Durable, "Bulletproof" machined aluminum, black type III 'hard' anodize finish, and sealed with a nickel-acetate process.
Innovative Water Cooling to the LED Arrays increase light output efficiencies and run times.
Gates Warranty and legendary service stand behind the GT14s.
Dry 3.1 lbs / 1.4kg
Underwater 19 oz negative
Depth Rating: 450 feet / 137 meters
Seal Check fitting to verify integrity before entering the water.
Filter Mount: Add any 52mm filter for custom color, diffusion / effect.
Spare batteries for quick change between dives.