Yanbaru, Forests of the North

Yanbaru, Forests of the North

Yanbaru, a green and verdant place on the island of Okinawa.
Yanbaru? “What or where the heck is that”? I hear you ask. Well it’s been an astonishing past few weeks since last writing. Happy to say that the lack of entries have been down to the positive eventuality that I’ve been out in the wilds with little to no Internet connections and very weak at best when there was. My favoured part of the job is of course the scrambling through snake infested forests, wading up rivers and experiencing that sensory overload, visual, aural and mental, when completely surrounded by nature. I have recently been documenting the wildlife that inhabits the forested regions of Northern Okinawa in Japan, a region known simply as the ‘Yanbaru‘.

I recently set out with the intention not just to discover what the Yanbaru had to offer, I already had a good idea of that due to accounts from friends who live on the island of Okinawa where these forests are located. Wild encounter wise I elected to document the adventure using a smart device, in this case an iPhone6S Plus, as a way to show people just what is possible beyond the ‘selfie’. Having secured awesome accommodation, basic is the way of life here, I was able to document the adventures I had spanning a two week period. Walking between 20 to 30km a day I had formulated a route that took in certain locations where I tended to see specific species at varying times of the day. Amongst the ‘zones’ I created in my mental map were spots such as ‘Turtle Crossing’ where on a number of occasions I encountered the Ryukyu Black Breasted Leaf Turtle. Another of the favoured spots was ‘Woodpecker Way’. a place I could sit shaded from the brutal Summer sun and listen to, and watch, the antics of one of Okinawa’s rarer of bird species, the Pryers Woodpecker.

Whilst the ‘Habu Hangout‘ was a great place to potentially encounter some of the species of venomous serpents endemic to the region it is not an area that I frequented without ensuring I was wearing my trusted Rocky anti snakebite protective boots. I was out there solo, to get envenomated by one of these potent toxins would be compounded by both the isolation and potential lack of cell connectivity, I have a family that I love very much, I don’t take that risk and am more than happy to fly the Rocky Boots flag as they certainly live up to their tag line, ‘Confidence in Action’.

Beyond the standard encounters with other species, many of which are documented throughout the series of Six short films that are now online, there is maybe one species that posed the biggest issue when trying to film. Even though I saw many individuals along what I called the ‘Rail Trail’ it proved to be the biggest challenge of the project to film the most illusive of all species in the region, the Okinawa Rail. This all came to a head on the very last day as I was evaluating the possibility of filming inside a captive breeding facility until a local mentioned to me about, well I’ll let you decide on how weird the solution was. Watch how that was accomplished in Ep.6 of the series – ‘Yanbaru’, Forests of the North.

For the imaging nuts, like myself, I opted for the iPhone6S Plus for the fact that it shoots in 4K but I eventually elected to shoot the master footage in 2K. This was just simply down to reducing the intensity of the Workflow. Also the fact that whilst the camera is a great option the sensor remains very small. In the instances I would need to boost ISO or use the Zoom I would instantly deteriorate the image quality so that was going to happen in either 2K or 4K. My final delivery was always intended to be 1080P for web so the compromise was made. Shoot 2K master, deliver in 1080P. The resulting image, IMHO, stands up very well. I also elected to use the Moondog Labs 1.33x Anamorphic Lens to get that cool 2.39:1 extreme cinematic aspect ratio, again just to add something new to wildlife imaging, something out of the norm. For stability I also ended up using the iOgrapher case for the iPhone6S Plus as not only did it offer a two handed grip but I had the potential to place mics and lights on the unit to basically streamline the rig for a valid production module in the challenging surroundings of a forest.

I shot the complete project using the FilmicPro iOS application. It is an app that is well thought out, intuitive and simply in my opinion offers the best and biggest bang for the buck. Never had any issues with it except I found as the device memory became occupied the launch times would get progressively longer highlighted by one in particularly annoying moment when I was in a very rare encounter with an Okinawa Rail and the app took literally two minutes to fire up, needless to say I missed that shot. Apart from that one time though the app worked a charm.

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