Yoga Video – Behind the Scenes

It was a joy, mostly, to shoot yoga instructor Ka’ale Sea performing feats of grace in the gushing mist of a tropical waterfall.

We had just a couple hours to capture teaser stills and video for the up-and-coming launch of Waterfall Yoga at Nihiwatu Resort, in western Sumba. And since the bamboo platform for this offering hasn’t quite left the ground, we were further challenged to find flattish perches on which to prop Ka’ale and cameras.

Thankfully, Ka’ale is a pro, and made a one-legged squat on a boulder look effortless. “That’s the move!” I said. “Can you do that 20 more times?” She didn’t bat an eye.

By capturing a wide shot of Ka’ale’s full sequence, followed up by “B-camera” cutaways of the same moves (“Perfect knee bend! Do it again!”), we got just enough footage for a two-minute flow.

Lensbaby Control Freak – Rock ‘n’ roll!

The dreamy, creamy shots were courtesy Lensbaby. This was the first time I’d strapped one on for video on my Nikon D7000. I’d seen a Lensbaby in movie mode while fixing some reconstruction sequences on a production of Man vs. Monster. But that was a Lensbaby “Composer”, and sure enough, it’s the more forgiving lens in the heat of action. Not like my “Control Freak” which is 150% manual, from the poke-em-in, pry-em-out aperture rings, to the accordian-like tilt/shift focus, flexed by two hands, or better yet, three.

The strategy: I picked an f8-ish ring from my quiver, which offered maybe f0.8 depth of field with the lens mid-squish. Next I hunted down a sliver a focus (“Hold that squat!”), and once I found it (at last!) I probed gently all around it, rocking the lens and/or my body in the rhythm of breath. It was like meditating, save for the cuss words, and the odd shots where my wobbles jived with Ka’ale’s, which were quasi-orgasmic.

Hoodman loupe — Keep out of reach of rodents!

None of this would have been possible without a decent loupe. Sadly, mine was barely decent as the night before its eyepiece had been half-eaten by rats! They’d marched past my Toblerone and cashews and went straight for my $5-a-nibble eyecup. Tragic! I’ve yet to find a camera loupe dealer in Indo, let alone Sumba. Anyway, even half an eyecup was indispensable for a 3-point brace on the camera (make that 20-point, with the rat nibbles) and for fishing out “sweet spots” of focus.

Since the dawn of DSLR video, there’s been a proliferation of loupes that cost more than most used cameras. ‘Til now, I’ve been happy strapping on my $90 Hoodman loupe (better known for reviewing still images) with a couple over-sized hair ties. The Hoodman comes with a nifty case. Use it!

Wallacea: Stepping Stones between Supercontinents

Bali as seen from Lombok

Bali as seen from Lombok

Brochure I produced for the 150th anniversary of Wallace's journey to Indonesia

If you think a journey from Bali to Lombok feels farther than it is, join the club. Back in 1856, a British naturalist made the same observation. His name was Alfred Russel Wallace, and the biological rift between these twin neighboring isles is now known as “Wallace’s Line”.

“In this Archipelago,” Wallace wrote home, “there are two distinct faunas rigidly circumscribed, which differ as much as those of South America and Africa, and more than those of Europe and North America: yet there is nothing on the map or on the face of the islands to mark their limits.”

Wallace discovered the Bali-Lombok division—along with more than a thousand new species and a working theory of evolution—by luck. It helped, of course, that he traversed some 14,000 miles through what is now Indonesia pinning and pickling, tagging and bagging some 125,660 specimens of natural history.

Wallace on chasing butterflies

Roughing it for eight years, Wallace might have been Asia’s first ecotourist. He settled comfortably into huts where we now bunk up at losmen. He hired indigenous guides, treating them with a respect nearly unheard of at the height of the British Empire. And he traveled by all means of local conveyance—cargo ships, dugout canoes, a Moluccan prahu and a treacherous but endearing Bugis schooner. The very unreliability of the transport offered him great serendipity:

“Having been unable to find a vessel to Macassar, I took passage to Lombok, where I was assured I should easily reach my destination. By this delay, which seemed at the time a misfortune, I was able to make some very interesting collections in Bali and Lombok, two islands which I should never have otherwise seen. I was thus enabled to determine the exact boundary between two of the primary zoological regions, the Oriental and the Australian.”

Endemic Seram Cockatoo

Endemic Seram Cockatoo

On Lombok, it was the cockatoos that first caught Wallace’s eye. “This is the most westerly point on the globe where any of the family are to be found,” he noted. He also spotted honey-suckers and Megapode mound-maker birds “here first met with on the traveler’s journey eastward.” Bali’s barbets, fruit-thrushes and woodpeckers, meanwhile, were nowhere to be seen. Nor were there any of the tigers or rhinos known from the western islands of the archipelago. Further years of observation led Wallace to sum up “…we shall find that all the islands from Celebes (Sulawesi) and Lombok eastward exhibit almost as close a resemblance to Australia and New Guinea as the Western Islands do to Asia.”

Tarsier - a primitive primate of Sulawesi

Indeed, there could be no stranger neighbors than Asia and Australia. As Wallace explained, “it is well known that the natural productions of Australia differ from those of Asia more than those of any of the four ancient quarters of the world differ from each other.” Wallace had no way to know how ancient these quarters were, or where they had all come from. But our modern understanding of continental drift suggests that Indonesia is in fact the reunion site of long-lost supercontinents.

It all started back in the Mesozoic era, some 150 million years ago, when Pangea, the mother of all supercontinents, split in two. Laurasia (today’s North America and Eurasia) headed north and Gondwanaland (South America, Africa, Antarctica and Australia) ventured south. Each took their own share of animals: dinosaurs, most notoriously, but also some newfangled creatures—early mammals, followed soon after by birds.

Marsupial cuscus, Seram Island

By the curtain call of the Mesozoic (65 million years ago), dinosaurs were down for the count and mammals had split into rival factions. Modern placental mammals had old-fashioned, pouch-bearing marsupials on the run. Up in Laurasia, where the placentals got their start, marsupials were squeezed out by 30 million BC, save for a few crafty possums. But down in Gondwanaland, the marsupials ruled the roost. Only a smattering of placentals had clambered aboard the drifting continent, now breaking up yet further. Placentals stood no chance in Antarctica when it froze solid 14 million years ago. And in South America the mammal wars got totally out of hand—placental sloths and armadillos grew as big as tanks to fend off pouch-bearing “wolves”, “bears” and “saber-toothed cats”. But even those marsupial beasts were doomed 3 million years ago when South America slammed back into North America and its armies of real bears, wolves and cats.

Komodo Dragon

This Komodo dragon would have looked wimpy next to a fossil cousin in Australia that measured twice his length.

Which left Australia as last the outpost for kangaroos, koalas and other keepers of the pouch. Modern mammals never made it that far—save one or two. So today, watching this old chunk of Gondwanaland inch closer to Laurasia is like witnessing alien worlds on a collision course. Strange creatures now intermingle along the stepping stone islands of Nusa Tenggara, Sulawesi and Maluku—a mixing zone known as Wallacea.

Lesser Bird of Paradise

Lesser Bird of Paradise, Papua

Three curious features distinguish Wallacea:

First, you find endemics—species living on one island and nowhere else on Earth. (Sulawesi boasts 88 unique birds and 82 unique mammals.)

Second, you find mad experiments in evolution. The babirusa, a primeval pig with tusks erupting through its nose, begs the question “Why?”

Third, you find an “island effect”: a trend for animals to be oddly big or small. No where is this more famous than on Flores and Komodo islands. There, fearsome lizards the size of “dragons” inspired the film King Kong. And just thousands of years ago, Flores was prowled by dog-sized rats, cow-sized elephants and people no taller than five-year-olds. Smaller, in fact, than Tolkien’s hobbits, which inspired the nickname for a new fossil human species discovered in 2003.

Wallace, himself, might have been shocked to find that 150 years after his passage, such startling discoveries await among the islands now bearing his name. At this rate, there must be plenty more on the horizon. [END]

Archaeologist Thomas Sutikna examines the Homo floresiensis skeleton that he and his team excavated from Flores in 2003

Archaeologist Thomas Sutikna examines the skeleton of Homo floresiensis that he and his team discovered on the island of Flores in 2003. What other "Lost Worlds" remain to be found in Wallacea?

Wallace on new discoveries

Wallace brochure


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Wallacea: Stepping Stones Between Supercontinents, © Djuna Ivereigh, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. Excerpts may be reproduced with a credit to DjunaPix Indonesia Photography, linked to http://blog.djunapix.com/2010/05/wild/wallacea-supercontinents.