Arigatou 2010

As has become my late-each-December habit since starting my blog, I sat down early this morning to look through some of my posts from the past 12 months.

In short, 2010 has been incredible, certainly a year for which to be thankful. Among the highlights:

The year started off with a frenzy of activity, first with an amazing adventure to swim among dozens of Atlantic sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) in Isla Mujeres, Mexico with Eric Cheng and Sterling Zumbrunn.

To say that the experience was overwhelming is like saying double-chocolate hot-fudge brownies with fresh homemade vanilla ice cream are sorta nice. Yeah, duh.

Conditions were difficult, and the sailfish made us work, but there's really no way to describe the sensation of being surrounded by so many majestic predators chasing madly after schools of sardines.

For obvious reasons, our attention was primarily devoted to the sailfish, but one of the highlights of the trip was discovering the expression on one of the sardine's faces when I reviewed one of the photos up-close:

Screaming sardine: You gotta feel bad for the little guy

Hot on the heels of that adventure, I headed over (with travel companions Eric, Cor Bosman and Julie Edwards) to spend quality time with a bunch of sperm whales in Dominica, during which time I took the photograph below.

This image placed first in the underwater category of the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest. I travelled to London in late October to attend the reception, see the other selected photographs, and meet many of the talented people who took the other prize-winning images. (Photo of me at the exhibit)

I used a 15mm fisheye lens, so I was literally right next to these whales

This experience in Dominica followed on my good fortune in 2009 photographing a sperm whale carrying a large chunk of giant squid, and also my first in-water encounter with a sperm whale 10 years earlier when I involuntarily ended up on top of the whale's head with the whale chewing one of my fins. (I wrote about that first experience for Issue 9 of Underwater Photography Magazine, copy of the issue here).

And in the first part of October, just before going to London, I again saw and photographed sperm whales with giant squid in Ogasawara, albeit with smaller pieces than I saw the year before.

Sperm whales have been really good to me over the years. How many people can say that?!

Large female sperm whale with giant squid in its mouth.
Calf following closely, and another whale behind.

I organised two Night Safari trips this year, which involved diving in dark, mucky conditions to look for strange critters into the wee hours of the morning. I've been wanting to do this for ages (This is not a "normal" ambition, I know. But where's the adventure in being normal?), and 2010 was when it all came together.

The first Night Safari was at Kasawari Lembeh Resort in the Lembeh Strait in late February/ early March, which I ran together with David and Sanah from Scubacam:

...and the second was at Maluku Divers Resort in Ambon, together with Eric (I spent a lot of time with Mr Cheng this year), plus friends from Wetpixel and the FiNS Flickr group:

Let me just state for the record that Night Safaris are awesome, and you haven't really lived until you've devoted several nights to scrounging through mud and rubble in the ocean for alien-ish freaky creatures with toxic spines that pack quite a wallop if you inadvertently touch them.

Life just doesn't get much better.

My remaining big trip of the year was my annual migration to the southern hemisphere to swim with humpback whales, which was…as always…just amazing. The whales and overall conditions were difficult during the 2010 season, but trials and tribulations are all part of the learning process.

I helped my friend Dr. John Potter document what we believe may be evidence of young humpback whales practicing (but not actually singing) song in the waters around Vava'u, which hopefully will be the basis for undertaking more work together with John and friends in Tonga in coming seasons. (More info here)

I have yet to put together my annual calf summary file for 2010 (2009 file here) and accompanying Google map (2009 map here), but once that's done (i.e., when I get my act together and trawl through the reams of photographs and notes), there should me more insights that come out of the data we collected this year.

Among other highlights in Tonga this year were some action-packed heat runs, my first encounter with oceanic white tip sharks and a striped marlin, a run-in with a seemingly psychotic (or perhaps just really horny) whale, another whale poo episode, and recording a short video of a singing humpback whale with my 5D Mark II:

On the skills-development front, 2010 was the year of multimedia for me.

I devoted a lot(!) of time researching and learning about how to acquire and stitch together several forms of media into a coherent, and hopefully compelling, story.

Early in the year, I put together the Lembeh Night Safari video edited almost entirely in Aperture, then hunkered down and worked my way through the basics of Final Cut Pro and Motion to edit this piece about diving in the Eastern Fields of Papua New Guinea:

Then I collected my thoughts for a presentation about multimedia storytelling, which I gave at TDEX in Bangkok in July:

I taught myself the basics of Soundtrack Pro to edit the audio for the video above, knowledge that came in handy when I pulled my year-long multimedia-skills-learning efforts all together to create my Ambon Beneath the Waves video and this short piece about the really cool eels in Larike Village:

To sum up in a single sentence what I've learned over the past several months: "It's not easy to put together a nice piece that combines photographs, video, audio and text, but the key is to make it look simple."…if that makes sense.

Being able to push forward with multimedia storytelling not only required gaining a reasonable level of proficiency with several software packages, but also, having new hardware…like video-capable DSLRs and compact audio recorders capable of capturing high quality sound…as well as small, portable lights like the SOLA 600s I used in Ambon, and of course, the unique Totomega lens.

In other words, effective multimedia storytelling represents the convergence of strong storytelling skills, solid media-acquisition techniques, adept use of the latest in software, and keeping up with innovations in hardware.

Basically…lots of fun, with a good measure of headache.

Finally, and most importantly, I got to spend time with many friends in the course of travelling this year, and also to make many more new friends. It's been my experience that friends I make in the course of travel are the people who tend to stay friends for the longest time. Perhaps it's because of the common interests, or perhaps because we meet in circumstances where there are no hidden agendas, no pretences.

Whatever the case may be..."Thank you!" to everyone who put up with me this year (a few examples of what I mean by "put up with": Mike, the Three Stooges, Richard, Rachel), and I hope to have the pleasure of travelling with you again soon.

2010 will definitely be a tough act to follow.

With that thought, I'm off for a quiet holiday in eat a lot, drink to excess, and contemplate goals for the upcoming year.