Peruse the list of awards nabbed by Dustin Adamson and you are in for a long read. The underwater cinematographer has garnered more than two dozen accolades in recent years from the likes of the SEA International Photo & Video Competition, Asia Dive Expo, San Diego Undersea Film Exhibition, and DPG’s own Our World Underwater photo and video contest.
But set aside the awards, and you’ll see a diver and underwater shooter keen on pushing the limits of the ordinary. Dustin’s ongoing series “Rolling in the Deep” chronicles his non-stop adventures traveling and diving the top spots our blue planet has to offer—from Indonesia to Honduras.
If we had to choose, our favorite film would be Darwin’s Dream, which highlights the truly spectacular diving of the Galápagos. From marine iguanas to schooling hammerhead sharks, this multi-award-winning short film has it all. Want to know Dustin’s secret? Read on…
Dustin’s showreel, filmed in Anilao, Philippines; Lembeh, Indonesia; Solomon Islands; Isla Mujeras, Mexico; Guadalupe, Mexico; Quintana Roo, Mexico; and Banco Chinchorro Mexico
Stay with Us—Part 2: An award-winning film that focuses on the alien underwater macro world—shot in the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands
DPG: How did you get into underwater videography?
Believe it or not, it was because my wife Tyra had an unfortunate flood of her camera housing when we were diving in Dumaguete, Philippines. Luckily, we had insurance on the housing and camera. The insurance company supplied her with replacements for everything that was lost, including the housing. She was shooting with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which also happened to be one of the hottest and most revolutionary video cameras out at that time—it is still a great camera even today.
I was watching one of Berkley White’s videos, testing the camera for video, and absolutely fell in love with the picture quality that it provided. Considering I didn’t need the electronics inside, the old flooded housing fit my needs perfectly. All I needed was the camera. On our next trip, to Anilao, Philippines, I was armed with my new camera and “old” housing and was off on my adventure of learning how to shoot—not just underwater but video in general. I didn’t know anything about videography before I started, so it forced me to learn quickly. Ever since then, I have continued to evolve, and I still learn new things every time I shoot. It has been a lot of fun!
DPG: Can you tell us the story behind your most memorable underwater footage?
The most memorable has to be the time I first captured a frogfish catch some prey. It was a dive in the Tulamben area of Bali a few years ago. We got into the water and about 15 minutes into the dive our guide spotted a beautiful green-and-pink frogfish. It generally takes me a little time to set up for a shot, so I let me wife take her pictures first. The frogfish was completely still for her. Once it became time for me to shoot, it was more interested in moving. I use a tripod for most of my macro shots, so this was a frustrating situation: I was trying to hand-hold the camera, which with a DSLR and a macro lens is a lesson in futility.
As I was following the frogfish, I saw it make an attempt to snatch up an anemonefish. It missed—fortunately, as my shot of it was terrible and completely unusable. It settled down to wait for the perfect moment to attack again, which gave me a chance to set up the tripod and get a stable shot. After about 20 minutes of waiting, I was about to give up and move onto another subject. Luckily, I held on and finally, with its lightning fast strike, it got the fish. I was hanging back off the camera watching the LCD from about five feet away. When it hit, I could hardly contain myself! I was so excited to have captured nature in action.
DPG: Where is your favorite place to shoot?
Anywhere I’m getting a lot of great shots I’m generally happy. If I’m not getting shots because of bad weather or animals not allowing me to get close, then I get a little frustrated. There is a big difference between a great dive destination and great photography destination. For example, Galápagos is an amazing dive destination, one of the most exhilarating places I have ever dove. However, it is an incredibly difficult place to get great shots: current, surge, shy animals, dark conditions, lower viz—it is challenging. I got some fantastic shots there, but it isn’t as productive as other destinations. Each destination has its own identity and is different from the next. The excitement of a shark destination is hard to beat—a place like tiger beach is so up close and personal and photographically productive. From the macro side of things, places like Anilao, Lembeh, and Bali are all amazing destinations that are highly productive.
DPG: What camera equipment are you currently using?
Currently, I’m using the Canon EOS 1D X Mark II, with the 16–35mm f/4L and the 100mm f/2.8L Macro lenses. I also occasionally use the 8–15mm f/4L Fisheye. I’m in love with my Nauticam housing! It is an amazing piece of equipment that helps me get better shots. The buttons are placed perfectly for my hands to be able to change settings quickly. Their vacuum system has been life-changing for me. I also love the SmallHD monitor and the Nauticam housing that protects it. This improves my shots by being able to see clearly what I’m shooting and at different angles. The Light and Motion Sola lights I use have the perfect temperature to my eyes. They are easy to use, fast charging, and also incredibly reliable, which is important when considering lights.
Rolling in the Deep—Episode #11: Focusing on the Caribbean destination of Roatán, Honduras, this short episode of the Rolling In The Deep series focuses on the macro and wide-angle possibilities that exist in this fantastic destination
Rolling in the Deep—Episode #13: An exploration of the black sand shores of Tulamben, Bali, a macro haven where many of the top critters that shooters look for are found
DPG: What has been the most exciting point of your career?
When I was a kid, I used to take the maps out of all the National Geographic magazines my parents got with their subscription. I would unfold all of them and piece them together on our living room floor, creating the continents. I have always been intrigued with the world and what there is to see. It has all been exciting! If you look at the places I have been able to travel to, it is just amazing—I am lucky to have been able to do it. Some of the stuff I have seen underwater is just amazing and I can’t wait to see more. Along the way, I have met some incredible people that have become great friends. I’ve been fortunate to have won a number of international competitions, and been selected as a member of the Ocean Artists Society. This has all been exciting for me and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
DPG: Have you ever missed an epic shot due to unforeseen circumstances?
There have been numerous times where I have come back to review my footage to find my white balance wasn’t set good enough, or there were bubbles on my dome port. But the one that sticks out in my mind the most was a dive at Boiler in Socorro. I had never had a great chance to film dolphins underwater. I have had a couple flybys, but nothing substantial. We did this dive first thing in the morning and had about 30 dolphins that hung out with us the entire dive. They were playful and came right up to you, even going vertical to mimic us. I was so excited and thinking I was getting great shots. Later that day, I loaded the footage on the laptop, and all but one clip was totally out of focus. It was a low light dive, and I was using the small LCD on the back of the camera, because I didn’t have the larger monitor at the time, so it was hard to see if I had shots in perfect focus. More recently, I was on a shark dive where I got a bunch of amazing shots, and my memory card got corrupted when I was trying to load it onto the laptop. I guess I will have to keep diving to get back those shots!
DPG: Is there any particular footage that you are still after?
This might sound bad, but I’m not normally ever satisfied with any footage I get. I am still after better shots! I am my own worst critic, and can normally pick apart any clip and find something I could have done better. You can always get better footage—better lighting, angles, stability, color, water visibility, and behavior. Higher resolution and higher frame rates are also things that will continue to grow, and I will want to replace older footage with better quality. Having said that, I have a few things on my radar: humpback whales, some leafy seadragons, and the Sardine Run in Africa. I try to split my shooting time equally among macro and wide subjects. In September, I will be trying my luck at filming the psychedelic frogfish in Ambon.
DPG: Have you any advice that you’d like to give aspiring underwater videographers?
I get people asking me this all the time. Here are the top three things I would recommend: One, learn how to get smooth footage. Nobody wants to watch shaky footage. Refine your diving skills so that you are in control of your body and your breathing. Get a tripod for macro and wide work. For handheld work, get a wide grip on your camera—this helps you move the camera more smoothly.
Two, learn how to get the most out of your camera. Understand how your settings work, how white balance works, and what noise limits your camera has. I have seen people get great video with a GoPro and terrible video with a RED camera. Cameras are so good these days that you can get solid video out of almost all of them.
Lastly, learn how to edit well. Editing is just as important as video capture. It takes practice. Try something new every video you do. And remember that keeping it simple is sometimes the best thing you can do.
Darwin’s Dream: Filmed in arguably the world’s most exciting and diverse big animal diving destination in the world, this multi-award-winning film explores what Charles Darwin would have thought if he were able to look beneath the surface of the sea