Living in Anilao gives Jonathan the ability to shoot amazing critters
Jonathan Venn left the UK and washed ashore in the Philippines years ago. Originally an instructor in Puerto Galera, he moved on to starting his own dive shop that ultimately turned into Blue Ribbon Dive Resort. In his years there, he got into video and developed an extensive library of footage on the local dive sites. A little over a year ago, he moved Blue Ribbon Resort to Anilao, and he has been loving it ever since.
Today, you can find him running his resort, teaching new divers, and building a video library of all the sites in Anilao. Recently, he began working on commercial video projects involving black-water video.
A compilation of Jonathan’s clips from the Anilao Amihan season 2018–19
DPG: How did you get into underwater videography?
Running a dive resort in Puerto Galera, Philippines, I started trying to film our guests and making videos for them as an extra service. I had only done still images before, so looking back at it now, it’s extremely shaky with terrible color correction! But you have to start somewhere.
DPG: Can you tell us the story behind your most memorable underwater footage?
Probably my favorite clip, and the most memorable, was when I caught my first frogfish feeding. I was trying to film him with my lights, but when the lights were turned on, he would stop using his lure. So, I’d then turn the lights off and he’d start again. Next thing I know, he is on the move—very slowly—and I see a shrimp walk in on the far corner of the shot… A few seconds later the shrimp was no more. I was actually buzzing after I caught it! I remember trying so hard to keep steady, even though I was so excited that I might get the shot.
The Reticulida halgerda nudibranch, a not uncommon sight in Anilao
DPG: Where is your favorite place to shoot?
Probably some of the muck diving sites in Anilao, although as we have moved over here recently, I am constantly teaching or guiding, so I really don’t get as much time in the water as I’d like with my camera. My most common place is probably our house reef as I can just jump out there whenever I get the chance.
DPG: What camera equipment are you currently using?
I’m using an Olympus OM-D E-M1—a very good stills camera, but not really ideal for underwater videography. I use two Inon LF3100s that I use most of the time. Then an Inon LF800 spotlight—that light I like to use like a video snoot.
The mysterious world of nudibranch love
DPG: What has been the most exciting point of your career?
Moving to Anilao. Puerto Galera was great, and everyone there always said Anilao was just muck diving, but once I got over here, I realized it was better in so many ways. Better wall dives, better coral, and of course, the muck is amazing. I doubted myself if it was just because everything was new over here that I was enjoying it so much, but a year on, I’m still absolutely amazed how many new things I see. Most dives I will find something I haven’t seen before.
Checking out the awesome Dive & Trek house reef in Anilao
DPG: Have you ever missed an epic shot due to unforeseen circumstances?
I always miss shots, due to not having my camera on every dive if I’m teaching or guiding. Mating octopuses, a whale we saw in Puerto Galera—the list goes on and on!
DPG: Do you also shoot stills? And if so, how do you balance the two?
I try to occasionally. I was in Anilao for six months and then realized I hadn’t taken a single photo since moving. I was trying to make a dive site video of every dive site here as a personal project of mine, which would also help advertise the new resort. I teach a lot of underwater photography courses, so I do need to keep my photo skills in check and show that I can still actually do it. I just prefer video.
Shooting stills is something that Jonathan rarely does anymore; he has gone all-in on video
DPG: Have you any advice that you’d like to give aspiring underwater videographers?
Buoyancy is everything, especially when you get into macro. Practice your extremely small movements at the end of a dive on your safety stop. Get your mask as close as it can be to an object; then just using breathing and fin control see if you can stay say one inch away from the object in exactly the same position. Learn to use your peripheral vision to keep your buoyancy on point so you don’t have to take your eyes off your subject. You can get a tripod, but I’ve seen some people doing horrible things with them, stabbing them all over the reef for instance (which I then stopped).
Keep clips to under 10 seconds, and be as smooth as you can be, whether you are trying to pan or just keep it steady. Try and storyboard a little in your head, so that editing becomes less of a chore. Post-processing, if using Adobe Premiere Pro, there is an effect called Warp Stabilizer that can smooth over the odd wiggle and shake; just don’t expect it to fix totally shaky footage. I’ve now started to color-correct in DaVinci Resolve and I’m loving it. The basic version is free, and you can even edit in it, not that I’ve tried that much. Do a few tutorials online on color correction and it will make your footage dramatically better.
Capturing black-water video is perhaps the ultimate challenge
DPG: Is there any particular footage that you are still after?
An endless list. I’m still a relatively new underwater videographer. At first I was just trying to make clips of everything that I’ve seen. Now I’m trying to actually make some proper stories about certain creatures, like mating habits, hunting, etc. There are so many species here that interest me, and so many things that they do—I have a life’s work cut out for me! Also I need to get a lot more into black-water video. There are not many people doing it at all, and it is extremely tricky chasing tiny plankton around the black. I have some footage, but I really want a lot more.
Nudis may be slow but they are also some of the most photogenic underwater subjects
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