In January 2016, Allan Adams and Keith Ellenbogen took a group of MIT students scuba diving in Belize as part of a college course on underwater conservation photography. Coral reefs worldwide are deteriorating due to changes in our climate and so it’s important to document both the beauty of our oceans and what’s happening to them. Capturing this moment in time is important for future generations to learn from, be immersed in, and be inspired from.
Keith Ellenbogen is an acclaimed underwater photographer and videographer who focuses on environmental conservation. Ellenbogen documents marine life to showcase its beauty and to elicit an emotional connection to the underwater world. He aims to inspire social change and action toward protecting the marine environment.
Over the past few years, Ellenbogen has collaborated with MIT theoretical physicist Allan Adams who is focuses on the intersection of art, science, and cutting-edge technology. During his residency, they worked with Edgerton Center Associate Director Jim Bales to explore new high-speed photography and other underwater imaging techniques. They also developed an ‘Underwater Conservation Photography’ course taught at MIT and challenged students to push technical and aesthetic boundaries in the pursuit of compelling images of marine conservation.
Domemasters Freely Available
- The Reefs of Belize, Still Shot 1, and Still Shot 2 are available for planetarium use. Please contact me to obtain a download link.
- 4k domemaster frames, 30fps, stereo audio
- 2k MOV or MP4
- 1k MOV or MP4
Terms: permission to freely screen to the public in planetariums as you see fit. You must screen the short in full and unedited. Not to be used in other shows without permission.
Behind the Scenes
Allan and Keith approached the Museum of Science’s planetarium team because of its expertise in 360° video. It was a perfect meeting of minds and collaboration started immediately to fully test the equipment and plan for the dive. 360° video is very challenging to begin with and it’s even more difficult underwater, so I’ve documented some of the important things we learned.
From the very beginning we were aiming to use the immersive scuba footage for a live lecture in the planetarium. It was only after throwing this event that we realized other planetariums and the VR community might be interested. We should note that this was our first underwater project and we have learned a ton along the way. So some of the shots are a little shaky, lighting isn’t ideal, footage contrasty, and no underwater audio was recorded. Shooting underwater is difficult and you simply cannot improvise with shot techniques in the same way as a 360° shoot on land. But that’s hindsight and so we decided to share the best shots edited into a short film, even if it doesn’t reach the high bar we’ve set for ourselves. Because what’s the use of it keeping it private? We are proud of this project and hope it can inspire others to remember the hidden beauty of the ocean.
But you might be wondering, how do you capture underwater 360° video? It’s possible through the use of 6 GoPro cameras and the specially designed 360Rize 360Abyss scuba rig. Since it’s going underwater, it needs to be watertight and also use domes for the camera porthole due to water refraction.
Prior to the expedition, we needed to test the 360° camera rig underwater and preferably not just in an old bucket. Luckily Keith is good friends with the New England Aquarium and so our first tests were within the Giant Ocean Tank, a gigantic cylindrical aquarium in the center of the aquarium. We were instantly excited about the results. During this time students were practicing shooting still photography within an olympic-size pool.
There are so many worrying factors when pairing scuba diving with photography. You need to keep track of oxygen levels, focus and expose your camera, be careful of sea life, keep the group together, track the boat, and the list goes on. So being prepared mentally, physically, and technically is important.
Glover’s Reef Research Station
Their expedition took them to the Glover’s Reef Research Station in Belize, which is operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society. They worked with the research station staff to carefully dive in the conserved coral reefs and shoot underwater photography. The WCS mission is to save wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. They envision a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth.
Glover’s Reef is a partially submerged atoll located off the southern coast of Belize, approximately 45km from the mainland. It forms part of the outermost boundary of the Belize Barrier Reef. It harbors one of the greatest diversity of reef types in the western Caribbean. A large spawning site for the endangered Nassau grouper is located at the northeastern end of the atoll. It has been identified as one of only two viable sites remaining for the species, of nine originally known locations. In 2002, it was declared a special marine reserve, permanently closed to fishing.
A co-production by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Charles Hayden Planetarium, Museum of Science, Boston
Underwater 360º Photography:
Keith Ellenbogen – MIT CAST Visiting Artist / Assistant Professor Photography SUNY/FIT
Allan Adams, Associate Professor – MIT Dept of Physics
Stitched and edited by Jason Fletcher
Charles Hayden Planetarium, Museum of Science
The MIT Edgerton Center and Jim Bales
The Roy Little Fund at MIT
The MIT Alumni Class Fund
Wildlife Conservation Society, Glover’s Reef Research Station, Belize
Conferences & Festivals
— Further Fest 2017 (Nashville, TN)
— ESO Supernova Planetarium (Garching, Germany)
— Portable Planetarium (Karnataka, India)
— Portable Planetarium (Huelva, Spain)
— Melbourne Planetarium, Scienceworks (Melbourne, Australia)
— CCAF Observatory & Planetarium (Farra d’Isonzo, Italy)
— Museum of Science, Charles Hayden Planetarium (Boston, MA)
— Slippery Rock University Planetarium (Slippery Rock, PA)
— Ho Tung Visualization Laboratory & Planetarium (Hamilton, NY)
— Collier County Public Schools, Portable Planetarium (Naples, FL)
— ESO Fulldome Archive
— Dome Club (UK)
— British Fulldome Institute
— Kosmos Scientific de México