American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 64

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Deep Focus

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P

eter Zuccarini, In the Heart of the Sea's
underwater director of photography,
developed his skills while growing up in
the seaside community of Key Biscayne,
Fla. "It was a marine culture of free
diving, spearfishing, lobster catching, and
everything else you could do underwater,"
he says. "My dad had a waterproof Super
8 camera and I had a waterproof Pentax
still camera, so I started shooting when I
was just 11 years old, photographing
everything that was going on. Years later,
when I went off to school in the 1980s, I
started making water-themed short
films."
Scuba-certified at the age of 12,
Zuccarini later gained professional experience working for established experts,
including wildlife documentarian Bob
Talbot; photographer-filmmaker Bruce
Weber; underwater cinematographer
Pete Romano, ASC; and Imax specialist
Greg MacGillivray. He also learned on
the sets of such projects as Sea of Sharks
and The Everglades: Home of the Living
Dinosaurs - both of which were installments of Disney's New True Life
Adventures - and Dolphins (2000). "I
have always endeavored to make images
that are new and unfamiliar, while being
open to learning and seeing every new
collaborator as a sort of mentor," he says.
During prep on Pirates of the
Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (AC
Aug. '03), Zuccarini's name came up
when the filmmakers were discussing the
picture's extensive underwater needs, and
he was put in contact with director of
photography Dariusz Wolski, ASC. "I
took Dariusz to an Imax theater in
Miami to see Ocean Men: Extreme Dive,
which I'd shot with Bob Talbot, and that
got me on the picture. That was probably
my big break into Hollywood filmmaking, and I went on to do the underwater
photography on all three Pirates sequels."
Part of what made Zuccarini's
photography stand out was best showcased in the adventure drama Into the Blue
(2005), a show on which he shot and
directed elaborate underwater sequences.
"Because I came from a free-diving background," he explains, "we tried to be more
64

January 2016

bold with the camera movement, to
really explore that feeling of motion and
dimension. Avoiding the traditional
'epic'-but-static seascapes, we tried to
continually move the camera fast with
the action. That, coupled with the ability to direct these scenes, allowed me to
work in the fantastic colors and light
available in the Bahamian waters. The
rippled seafloor provides a creamy
bounce, and as a background it beautifully catches the patterns of refracted
sunlight."
Has the immediacy of shooting
digitally increased the appetite for
underwater photography? "Absolutely,"
Zuccarini confirms, "and I'm saying that
as somebody who's had a hard time
letting go of film. To my eye, the way
light transmits through water is just
better recorded by film. Looking into
the sun from underwater, or into
another strong light source, still looks
better on film, so it was hard to embrace
digital at first. But now we're delivering
a full-resolution HD image to our
director and topside director of photography, so they can instantly see and
understand what we're getting, which is
very beneficial for what we do. With
film, there was always a gap in that
understanding, but now that gap is
gone, and that helps me communicate
American Cinematographer

better and helps my collaborators on the
surface be more creative about how they
want to use the underwater camera
team."
Still, underwater photography
has its idiosyncrasies. For instance, the
choice of optics is a different consideration when shooting underwater. "Most
of what you know about using a particular lens on dry land doesn't apply when
using it underwater," Zuccarini says.
"The one constant is how they handle
flares when you look into a hard source,
but in terms of contrast or color aberration, they respond very differently
underwater. Also, shooting through a
foot of what looks like very clear water
is like putting diffusion in front of your
lens. So someone who favors a certain
lens because of contrast or color characteristics might enjoy testing lenses in
different qualities of water before
making final decisions."
Digital cameras may also perform
differently, says Zuccarini, particularly
in terms of contrast, but there are ways
to deal with the issue: "For instance,
with the Alexa, due to its dynamic
range, you can reduce or increase
contrast while retaining the color that
you were intending. Even in a tank,
where you have a lot of control over the
water, the image may be very different



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - January 2016

Contents
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - Cover1
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - Cover2
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 1
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 2
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - Contents
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 4
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 5
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 6
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 7
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 8
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 9
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American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 63
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 64a
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 64b
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 64c
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 64d
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 64e
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 64f
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 64g
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 64h
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 64
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 65
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American Cinematographer - January 2016 - Cover3
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