Going Deep

Cinematographer Howard Hall captures coral reefs, swarming sharks, and life below 300 feet

Jan 2, 2003
Outside Magazine

Immersed in his art: IMAX lensman Hall shooting near Fiji    Photo: Mark Conlin

HOWARD HALL HAS FILMED in the waters off dozens of countries and documented several new marine species in his 25-year career. But since May 2000, the 53-year-old Californian has focused on what may be his most ambitious project to date. As director of photography for Coral Reef Adventure, the $10 million IMAX film that debuts this month in North American theaters, Hall and his nine-man crew spent more than 400 hours in the Pacific, diving below 300 feet 21 times to document never-before-seen seascapes near Fiji and French Polynesia. Did working at depths of more than 300 feet make for a rough shoot?
It was challenging enough to film while wearing mixed-gas rebreathers, which we needed to go down that far. It's even harder when you're dealing with huge amounts of equipment. We had strobe lights implode; pieces of gear flooded. Even half-knot currents are significant when you're carrying a 250-pound camera that's bigger than you are.

What's the coolest thing you saw down there?
Off Fiji, we saw a rare school of hammerheads—a swirling mass of three or four hundred sharks hanging off a reef wall. It looked like a living tornado.

Did you get it on film?
Nope. The camera failed on about 50 percent of our deep dives—including that one.

We hear your wife underwent some deep-sea dental work.
Michele, who's the film's production manager, had her teeth cleaned by three-inch-long cleaner shrimp—which feed off algae and debris in fish mouths—in Fiji. Opening her mouth really wide signaled the shrimp to come in and do their thing. You could see their pincers plucking at the taste buds on her tongue.

You've made thousands of dives. What keeps you going?
It's still great to go into the ocean wilderness and see new things. Below 300 feet it's all unexplored. There aren't many places left on the planet you can say that about.

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