I’m about six weeks into a five month deployment. This is my first deployment as an underwater photographer. Right now, I’m in Belize, Central America, attached to a company of divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2.
I’ve been working on improving my still photography — both underwater and topside. I’ve got a couple gems in my portfolio now, but not enough to write a post about what I’ve learned so far.
In this post, let’s look at some video pieces that I’ve released on this first leg of the deployment. I chose these videos because they each illustrate a point I’d like to make about the work we do as Mass Communication Specialists. So here we go …
The Divers — Putting in work
The first leg of this deployment is Belize. I wanted all the Belize pieces to have a consistent look, so that if you saw one and liked it, it would be easy to recognize later pieces. I chose to work in black and white. Some people will say that black and white is like an effect and an editor should have a reason to use it. My reason was I had never done it, and I wanted to do it. Good enough reason?
The color barrier: I didn’t want to make the underwater shots black and white. For the transition shots I went into After Effects with a color copy and a black and white copy of the transition shot. I used a mask set to “subtract” and went frame by frame adjusting the mask to match the water line. This was a really long and arduous process for a few seconds of video, but it was totally worth it.
“The audience can see the work that goes into a piece, even if they don’t know they can see it”
The black and white: Instead of just desaturating the video to create the black and white effect, I used the “calculations” effect found in the “color correction” section of the “video effects” list in Adobe Premiere. Here is an example of what one of my clips looked like:
I would play with the “Input Channel”, the “Second Layer Input Channel”, “Second Layer Opacity”, and the “Blending Mode” until I got the look I wanted. I also added a “Brightness and Contrast” effect to the clips. I like to make the video really contrasty; I like the whites to be white and the blacks to be black. Once again, putting in the time to get the black and white just the way I wanted it was time consuming, but it was totally worth it. The audience can see the work that goes into a piece, even if they don’t know they can see it.
EOD — The message
The exercise that I’m on is called Southern Partnership Station. I’m the only Navy combat cameraman on the deployment. The other MCs on the deployment are from Naval Public Affairs Support Element (NPASE) East, because this is basically a public affairs mission. Like all public affairs missions this one has certain messages that the Navy would like us to promote. One of the messaging guidelines here is that we — the U.S. — are not “training” or “teaching” the host nation military units. We are, instead, sending in our “subject matter experts” to talk to their “subject matter experts.” In a lot of situations here in Belize, this just isn’t the case. Our vast military budgets and 13 years of war have made our guys experienced in a way that a lot of other military units aren’t.
The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) techs were obviously “teaching” the Belizean SEALs, but I had to be careful not to use any soundbites that actually said “teaching.” I was also on the lookout for moments that could show the local forces sharing some of their knowledge with our guys. I found that moment at around 1:13 where a Belizean SEAL was explaining a certain terrain feature to the U.S. EOD tech.
The message is the main reason the Navy has us (MC’s) doing what we do. If the Navy didn’t have a perspective to promote, then the Navy wouldn’t have Mass Communication Specialists. You’ll know you’re level-26-grand-ninja when you can make the message entertaining.
A note on style: Something about black and white video makes me think of styles from the late ’60s and early ’70s. This video definitely reflects that retro influence. The music, the opening tri-fold, the wipe transitions and, of course, the porn music.
The Marines — Always. Be. Shooting.
There’s a scene from the movie Glen Gary Glen Ross where Alec Baldwin is a motivational speaker talking to a group of salesmen, and his mantra is “A-B-C: Always Be Closing.” Look it up on YouTube; it’s pretty rad. Anyway, my mantra is, “Always Be Shooting.” On deployment, I always stay busy even when I don’t have to be busy. That’s how I came into this Marine side project.
The Marines had built an obstacle course on the base here. If I hadn’t been busy with the Navy units I was assigned to, I would’ve done a longer piece on them building the course. On the last day of construction, I got up at 4 in the morning to get some photos of the last bit of welding.
I did this shoot as a favor to the Marines who weren’t really getting any attention for the good work they were doing. I thought I was gonna wake up early, scrape out enough stills and video to make a short multimedia piece, and that would be all there was to it. But I ended up getting one of the best still photographs I’ve ever shot. I will probably end up submitting this shot to the contests at the end of the year. So, I ended up getting a lot more out of the shoot than I expected. That’s why I say “Always Be Shooting.” My schedule said I could’ve taken the day off, but by staying busy, the benefits ended up outweighing the cost. Always Be Shooting.
The Pressure Chamber — Making something out of nothing
The first week we got into Belize we weren’t really doing anything exciting, but I was itching to start putting out products. In this job, sometimes you’ve got to turn unappealing events into appealing multimedia. This multi’s entertainment value relies completely on style and basic sequencing. If you’re paying attention, there is no real story here. The piece just talks about the recompression chamber, but it doesn’t really tell a start-to-end story.
Sometimes, the event you’re covering isn’t really exciting. Sometimes it’s just a few dudes setting up a piece of equipment. This is when it comes down to you as the shooter/editor to make the piece entertaining. In this piece I fell back on the basics of sequencing, I shot a lot of close-ups, and I glossed over it all with that retro style I talked about earlier.
In Conclusion …
I’ve done a couple more pieces since I’ve been here, but these are the ones that highlight the major points that I really want to make:
- Sometimes you’ve got to make unappealing events into appealing multimedia
- A-B-S: Always Be Shooting
- The messaging is the main reason the Navy has us doing what we do. If Navy didn’t have a perspective to promote, then the Navy wouldn’t have Mass Communication Specialists
- The audience can see the work that goes into a piece, even if they don’t know they can see it.
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to get in contact with me if you have any questions or feedback.