-241- VOLCANO VIDEO: SHOOTING IN UNUSUAL PLACES
Shooting on location is one thing. Shooting
of Hawaii is quite another. There's not much call of this sort
of geovideo, but the duress of shooting in this dusty, hot, humid
environment teaches us lessons we can use everywhere.
Gadgets Galore -
When video voyaging anywhere, litany is about the same. Bring:
Camcorder or VCR and camera (of course)
Extra batteries and charger
Extra tape (it's always cheaper and easier to buy it at
home than in the hinterlands)
Carrying case (padded or hard sided to protect your gear)
Skylight filter (to protect lens)
Marker or small handheld barcode printer (to label your tapes)
Small roll of masking tape (for labels or whatnot)
Small screwdriver or, better yet, a Swiss jackknife with
screwdriver (emergency repairs and more whatnot)
Portable tripod (for steady shots)
Polarizing filter (to reduce haze and reflections)
Plastic bag (to protect camcorder from mist, fine sand,
Small flashlight (your camera may see in 1 lux, but you
can't see your buttons in that light)
Extension mike (for close-up sound)
Earphone (to check sound)
Camera light (to enhance close dark shots)
Extension cord with multiple outlet (so you can charge your
shaver and your VCR batteries and watch TV at once)
RF adapter and TV hookup (so you can share the day's
footage with your crew or friends)
Close-up lens attachment, unless your camcorder has a macro
lens (for shots of flowers, insects, crystal formations)
Head cleaning kit (dirt-clogged video heads put an instant
end to everybody's fun)
Pad and pencil (for notes)
Make Security a Surety -
Outside resort areas, security is poor. Your camcorder
case had might as well bear a flashing neon sign "Take me; easy
pickin's." Disguise the case or use a small tough old suitcase.
Lock your valuables in the hotel safe. When hiking, bring a
backpack and keep your camcorder and other valuables in it.
Never leave anything in a parked car, even a locked car. In some
areas, travel in groups at night.
So much for defense against people, to protect against
Mother Nature: In volcanic regions like Hawaii, wear sneakers or
tough shoes, never sandals. The unweathered igneous rock is
sharp and will shred exposed toes and heels with each misstep.
Hawaii is 20 degrees from the equator and sunburn is a serious
threat. Get a minimal natural tan before you go, wear a
sunscreen (SPF 25 or better) when you get there, and bring a hat
to protect your nose, ears, face, and (ahem) baldpate if you are
so blessed. Wear sunglasses with UV protection.
Half of the Hawaiian islands is desert and half a tropical
rain forest which is sometimes buggy. Carry insect spray with
DEET as the active ingredient. Avon Skin-So-Soft seems to repel
bugs without making you smell like an oil refinery (but you do
smell a bit perfumy).
Shooting from a Helicopter -
If shooting from a scenic helicopter ride, insist on
sitting in the front seat; your view will be much better. Also,
when the chopper travels forward, its nose dips down so the back
seat riders can only look down (or at the ceiling).
If possible, book a helicopter with clean windows. Some
pilots polish the bubble every morning; others have windows
foggier than waxed paper. Chartered helicopters, where you are
the only passenger, are much more expensive than the shared
scenic rides, but allow you far more flexibility on what you can
shoot. Some pilots will allow you to remove a door and seat so
that you have an unobstructed view out the side of the chopper.
Regulations insist that you be strapped in and it's wise that
your camera also be tethered. If you have a lens cap at the end
of a string, you'll want to remove it so that it doesn't flap in
Some pilots won't let you use a full-sized camcorder in the
front seat; it blocks their view. This is one advantage of using
a tiny, Hi 8 or SVHS-C or DV palmcorder rather than a giant Betacam or
MII configuration. The lower picture quality is balanced nicely
against the greater access to places and freedom of motion when
Take an early morning flight, if possible, especially at
higher altitudes (2000 feet). The air is less hazy; there is
more clear sky (better light for brighter colors) and shadows are
more pronounced. Afternoon is often the worst time.
Try a polarizing lens attachment (about $25 to $50) to cut
haze and window reflections. Watch out though, it may also pick
up strange rainbow patterns in the plastic windows. Check it
out. Since your viewfinder is probably monochrome, try holding
the polarizer up to your eye and rotate the polarizer while
watching for rainbow artifacts. Incidentally, polarizers only
work when rotated to a certain position. Experiment with them to
find a position that works most of the time. Mark it to indicate
"this end up" so you don't have to diddle with your lens while
Haze or UV (ultraviolet) filters (about $25) reduce haze a
little, but don't reduce reflections from glass or water like
polarizers do. Circular polarizers ($40) aren't necessary on
video cameras, only single lens reflex 35mm cameras.
Switch your camera to manual focus and focus on infinity.
No sense taking a chance on a confused autofocus; everything is
far away anyway.
Zoom out to deemphasize shakes and vibrations. Zoom half
way in occasionally if you need to show something.
If possible, detach your viewfinder from your camera so
that you can hold your camera in a comfortable position without
craning your neck. Although the viewfinder allows you to aim the
camera with precision and also displays status messages from your
camera, feel free to cheat a little, ungluing your eye from the
1" black-and-white viewfinder and enjoying some of your trip with
your eyes in 3-D, high resolution color. Video work is supposed
to be fun, isn't it?
Hold the camera level and steady close to an open window
(best) or clear section of forward looking window (good), looking
away from your viewfinder on occasion to enjoy the view and plan
your next shot.
Don't brace the camera against part of the helicopter or
touch the lens to the glass. Choppers vibrate like back
massagers. Let your arms absorb the shake.
Take a shot of the 'copter on the ground, disgorging your
crew or friends, and taking off with others. This adds nice
closure to a scene. Also sneak in a cabin shot showing the pilot
or passengers. The pilot adds foreground dimension and
Special camera care-
If using a large camcorder, seal it tightly in a plastic
garbage bag using a twist tie or clamp. If using a tiny
palmcorder, stow your camera in a ziplock plastic bag. This will
seal out rain and mist (there's plenty of that on the windward
side of every island), dust (there's plenty of that on the
leeward, desert side of every island), sulfur/silica/steam spray
near steam vents (fumeroles), volcanic ash and pumice, sticky
beach sand, and salt spray downwind from waves. I know zipping
and unzipping the bag is a pain in the wrist. At least use the
bag when in doubt. Incidentally, the bag will wear out, so bring
two. Bring three if you wish to collect sand or rocks.
Air conditioned rooms, cars, and vans will chill your gear.
When you step out into the humidity, your lens will fog up like a
glass of iced tea in the summer. Ensconce your camcorder in a
bag, away from the air conditioning vents. Or, keep it in a foam
ice chest. If your camcorder does fog or the dew light comes on,
a) Put the camera in the ziplock bag and set it in the sun
for 15 minutes. The bag will seal out more moisture,
while creating a greenhouse to warm the camera.
b) Put it in a dry sunny breeze or near the car vent with
the heat on (possibly the air-conditioning and heat on
to give you a dry heat).
c) Open the cassette door, remove the tape, and blow your
hairdryer in the hole. Use medium heat. Don't melt
On mountaintops where the air is cold, batteries loose
their oomph. Keep the camcorder under your coat or keep a
battery warm in your pocket.
Don't attempt to blow dust off a cold lens; your breath
will fog it. The above is true for photo cameras too.
Humidity in a lens provides a foothold for fungus to grow.
The fine, spidery webs are hard to remove and can wreck a lens.
So keep your lens dry.
Too much bright sky makes the rest of your shot dark.
Either limit the sky in your shot, hit your camera's backlight
control, or manually expose for the ground.
Pan vistas s-l-o-w-l-y.
While marching in a line down a trail or through the
Thurston Lava Tube on the Big Island, try holding your camcorder
above your head as you stroll; it shows people (action and
dimension) plus the unobstructed view. Expect the picture to bob
a bit. Camcorders with electronic image stabilization (EIS) do a
nice job of reducing this unwanted movement.
Similarly, reach out with your camcorder to shoot over
cliffs (rather than risking your life hanging over the edge), or
slip the camcorder into small lava tubes or tree molds (holes in
lava where trees used to be). These shots often don't work, but
when they do, they're dazzling.
If you have a forest ranger, tour leader, or "expert" who
narrates what you are seeing, record the lecture first, then go
shoot the things lectured about. To ease editing, record the
lecture on one cassette, then swap to the "scenery" cassette.
This way you can later dub the voice from one onto the picture
from the other, making a very classy final product. It also
helps you prepare for a A/B rolls in post.
The wind blows everywhere in Hawaii, adding rumble and roar
to your sound track. Cover your mike with a foam boot (make your
own, if necessary) to cut down on the thunder.
If dust or rain are likely to infiltrate your microphone,
try stretching a condom tightly over the mike, tying it off at
the XLR end. This method will assure "safe sound". It's okay to
shove the windscreen over the top of this combination.
Geohistory of Hawaii -
The earth's surface, like a giant puzzle, consists of
interlocking plates. The plates are often the size of
continents, floating like a skin over old pudding, lubricated by
a layer of molten rock (magma). The plates slowly move,
spreading apart in the Atlantic (explaining the higher air fares
to Europe), crunching together to make mountain ranges, and
sliding over one another in the northwest coast of America,
triggering volcanoes like Mount St. Helens. Although the plates
move about the same rate as your fingernails grow, these
distances add up over millions or years, explaining why tropical
fossils are found in Alaska, and South American rock formations
continue in Africa.
Although most geologic action (earthquakes, volcanoes)
occurs at the edges of the plates (Los Angeles, Anchorage,
Iceland), Hawaii gets its volcanic action in the middle of a
plate. The plate slides over a hot upwelling of magma ("hot
spot" is the technical term) that bursts out every so often
creating an island and/or a volcano. Like passing a credit card
over a lit match, the surface will swell, blister, and erupt in a
dotted path over the flame. Thus the islands Kauai, Oahu,
Molokai, Maui, and Hawaii were formed, in that order, as the
Pacific Plate slid northwest. The big island of Hawaii has the
active volcanoes of Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Million year old
Haleakala volcano on East Maui sputtered its last in 1790. Kauai
burst through the ocean 5 million years ago, but has been dormant
for a half million years. Sixteen miles southeast of Hawaii and
1/2 mile below the ocean surface is the Loihi Seamount, an active
volcano and embryonic island-in-the-making.
Visiting Kauai first and working our way southeast to the
Big Island allows us to study volcanic history from past to
present. The solidified lavas (primarily basalts) tell us much
about the interior of the earth. Lava layers chronicle repeated
eruptions separated by years of quiescence.
The volcanoes follow a pattern, stages they go through as
they mature. Early shield building stages created 90% of the
mass of the islands (in the domed shape of a shield). After
this, the volcano may become dormant for a million years or so.
During this time, water and vegetation erode the rocks which turn
into soil, transforming the shield into cliffs and valleys. Huge
landslides like the 1000 foot Nuuanu Pali Slump toss miles of
mountain into the sea, creating huge tidal waves which wash coral
debris high onto neighboring islands. Towering waterfalls now
cascade down the steep, verdant cliffs.
Shield-building lavas typically flow from the domes of the
main volcanos. The center of the dome may then contract forming
a bowl-shaped depression (caldera). Later stages of a volcano's
development create chemically different lavas, and these often
refill the caldera to overflowing while oozing out from cracks
(rifts and faults) along the flanks of the original volcano.
These lavas cover the soil and forests often running along stream
beds. New streams follow the same course, leaving silt and
boulders, perhaps followed by another layer of lava. This
creates rather unique falls and pools as water runs along the
hard lava surface, finds a crack and gouges out a falls, or dams
up in shallow pools which once were pools of lava. This, in
fact, is how Oheo gulch was created at Haleakala National Park in
Depending upon the viscosity, flow rate, and temperature of
lava, it can flow as smooth river-like pahoehoe, leaving a
wrinkled, ropy, intestine-like surface. The ground layer and the
surface layer cools quickly and hardens, while the protected
interior may continue flowing, like a river under ice. Sometimes
the lava flows out of the river faster than new lava comes in,
leaving caves called lava tubes. Most are maybe a foot across,
but a few, like the Thurston Lava Tube on the Big Island, are
large enough to walk through.
On steeper slopes, we usually find the slower moving,
cooler and more viscous aa lava, which looks like huge lit
charcoal briquettes being pushed by a bulldozer. It creates a
rough, jagged, crusty, clinker-like surface with hummocks
(hills). Fall on it (everyone does) and you're cut to shreds.
Deep eruptions may be rich in olivine which can erode into
ephemeral green sand beaches. Lava pouring directly into the
ocean can splinter into tiny crystals that collect briefly into
black sand beaches. Seashore cinder cones may contain chunks of
coral, proving they burst through the seashore long after the
original lavas made a home for sea life.
Lava-filled cracks in the earth (dikes and sills) show weak
spots in the rock cliffs, which, pounded by the relentless seas,
wear into caves. As ice glaciers formed at the poles,
withholding water from the ocean, the sea level dropped, leaving
the sea caves high, dry, and mysterious. Water soaks through the
porous lava rock dissolving calcium and other minerals which it
deposits as it evaporates on the ceilings of the sea caves,
leaving patches of colors and crystals.
Thus the history of an island, its volcanic activity, its
climate, and its changes are recorded in the colors, shapes,
textures, and minerals of the rock. Riverbeds, forests, even the
footprints of man are mummified and preserved for us to study and
Video geography is especially appealing in the Hawaiian
Islands because it is so colorful and it moves. Volcanoes smoke
and heave glowing rivers of lava, steam spurts from fissures in
the earth, ocean waves crash against towering walls of rock,
cotton clouds silently flow around lush green glistening
mountaintops, and frothy waterfalls leap into shimmering pools
leaving a rainbow mist behind. Unlike the frozen study in time
of ordinary geology, Hawaii affords the chance to see, and record
the fiery creation of land and beaches, as well as its erosion
and eventual dispersal. Mother Nature in motion.
Geology Tours to the Hawiian Islands
If shooting Hawaiian geology happens to be your caldera of
tea, you might try contacting Dr. and Mrs. Lee Meyerson at
74-7196 Kanai Place, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740. Dr. Meyerson
taught geology at Kean College in New Jersey and knows all the
places to look for phenocrysts, xenoliths, aa, pahoehoe, tree
molds, lava tubes, pumice, Pele's tears, and more. The Meyersons
have run tours to Hawaii for fourteen years and take you to
places that tourists never see, some of on private property
(visited with permission). They are familiar with the history,
language, culture, plant and animal life, green and black sand
beaches, waterfalls, and with mountains of rocks on each of the
islands Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island (Hawaii).
KINDS OF CAMCORDERS TO USE
If you are a professional, you are probably used to lugging
around Betacams or their digital brothers. This
equipment costs about $10,000, takes beautiful shots, but is
expensive and heavy, and gets heavier the farther you have to
carry it into the jungle. The next best option is to use a 3-chip
camera docked to a digital VCR or a DV (digital video) camcorder
with three chips. This guarantees the best picture for about $1500, or
$3500 for a HD version.
A step down from there would be a analog
S-VHS-C or Hi8 camcorder combo.
The first generation video quality is excellent, as is the hi fi sound.
The color quality and S/N ratio is a little weak. It is best to dub your
camera master to a higher level format when you get home, or perform
interformat edits staying in the Y/C realm, not using composite video. You
may also interformat edit through a transcoder which will change
the Y/C video to Y/R-Y/B-Y for your component decks.
Next down the list in quality are the single chip DV, Hi8 and
SVHS camcorders. The image quality is a notch below their
three-chip brothers but the low cost of these cameras make them
excellent choices if you are traveling in rough environments
where the camcorder might be dropped overboard, steamed in a
fumerole, stepped on by an elephant, or stolen. If for no other
reason, it may be wise to carry a cheap palmcorder for those
emergencies when your expensive deck poops out.
One neat attribute of palmcorders is that weighing under
two pounds, they fit easily into a fanny pack when hiking. This
leaves your arms and legs free to do other things like climb
slippery trails or swat mosquitoes.
Video vs. Photo
There's no question that 35mm slides and prints are sharper
and have more accurate color than video. Slides project well and
prints blow up into impressive posters. But there are some
things that the camcorder does that photography can't do, or does
1). Perfect timing -
At the Halona Blowhole in Oahu, ocean waves enter a cave,
spouting a fountain of water through a hole in the rocks.
Photographers would wait for a minute, predicting which wave
might spawn a frothy fountain, then click like mad trying to
catch the fountain at its peak. Rolls of film were wasted as
photographers missed the magic moment. Video, on the other hand,
rolled along patiently, catching the misfires and in-betweens
along with the rocketing shaft of water from the beginning of the
spout (a shot always missed by the photo clickers). Editing out
the dull parts, video gives perfect, complete spouts, one after
another. And, of course, you get the excitement of the motion
you miss with a still picture.
2. Panoramas of any size -
Broad calderas, tall, spaghetti-like water falls, and dense
forests are hard to shoot with film. Once you get back far
enough (or zoom out enough) to "get it all in," everything looks
microscopic, losing its grandeur. Further, wide angle
rectangular shots waste a lot of film on sky or foreground.
Video, on the other hand, can start at the top of a lofty
waterfall and tilt down, following it to the plunge pool far
below. For panoramas, video can start at one end of a vista and
slowly pan to the other. If you twist your legs and waist
correctly, you can make a 360o sweep of an area using a medium
3. The dark and the bright -
Think back to that towering waterfall mentioned above.
Still photographers, trying to "get it all in" must set their
film exposure to capture the bright head of the falls, probably
with sky in the background and sunshine glinting off the white
water, and expose for the shadowy pool of dark water below,
shrouded in deep green ferns. Impossible shots! With video, by
taking a medium shot of the head of the falls and tilting down,
the camera readjusts its iris for the correct brightness
continually. All shots are perfectly exposed, rather than a
compromise between too bright and too dark.
4. Sense of scale -
Related to the above, imagine trying to show the expanse of
a giant caldera with people walking across the lava bed floor.
Zooming out to view the whole caldera turns the hikers into
indistinguishable dots on the trail. Zooming in on the hikers
loses their surroundings. With video, you can have it both ways:
Start with a tight closeup of the hikers on the trail. Slowly
zoom out, perhaps keeping the hikers in the lower left of your
picture. As they disappear into dots, the sweeping grandeur of
the caldera takes shape. The motion of the zoom ties the two
Conversely, it is hard for photographers to show a macro
closeup (of a rock crystal or phenocryst, for instance) while, in
the same shot, showing the surrounding area to establish where
the shot was taken. With video, a macro-capable camera can first
show a ledge outcropping and then move to within an inch of the
rock to disclose the tiny crystals.
5. Parallax -
Related to sense of scale is sense of dimension. In Lava
Trees Park on the Big Island, for instance, tall gray stone
monuments mark the sites where a wave of lava flowed through a
forest, some of it cooling and encrusting itself around damp
trees which eventually steamed and burned and disappeared leaving
the lava statues standing in their places.
In a still photo, the stony structures blend into each
other creating a murky montage of meaningless molten monoliths.
But on video, you can walk as you shoot, causing the nearer tree
molds to move sideways relative to farther ones, an optical
phenomenon called parallax. The process works in many situations
to emphasize dimensionality and enhance the sense of size,
distance, grandeur, steepness or even danger. Use travelling
shots to bring life to inanimate or complex structures. Remember
to stride smoothly, cushioning your steps to keep from bobbing as
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