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When A Moment With Wildlife Brings You To Tears

Sony Brand Ambassador Stan Moniz (@StanMoniz) recently traveled to Tonga and Fiji with his friend and fellow Sony shooter Jay Clue (@jayclue). In Tonga, Moniz was diving to photograph and film humpback whales, and in Fiji he was on an assignment. We sat down with him to learn about the trip, what it’s like to be up close and personal with humpback whales, how he packs camera equipment for heavy travel trips, and much more. (And you can learn more about the gear his friend Jay Clue uses for topside and underwater photography HERE.) Interested in more conservation and wildlife photography? Check out our Club with the International League of Conservation Photographers in the Forums – a space for all conservation photographers, filmmakers, and storytellers or those aspiring to be one.

Product Preview – In This Article You'll Find:
Sony FX3
Sony ZV-E1
Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master II
Sony 14mm f/1.8 G Master
Sony 70-200mm f/4 Macro G II

Photo by Stan Moniz. Sony FX3. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master II. 1/250-sec., f/7.1, ISO 100

Photo by Stan Moniz. Sony FX3. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master II. 1/250-sec., f/7.1, ISO 100

How do you ensure you don’t miss a once-in-a-lifetime moment? This content creator takes us through his gear and preparation for the life-changing encounter.

An Incredible Encounter With Wildlife

Tonga is known for their humpback whale encounters. Each winter, the whales visit Tonga to breed and give birth in warmer water. Moniz was able to dive in the water with them and witness some truly incredible scenes, including seeing a mother nursing her calf. “It’s quite an experience. Every dive was different and the mom became really comfortable with us. The guide would jump in the water first to make sure everything was safe and then we got to experience such incredible moments with moms and babies.”

Photo by Stan Moniz. Sony FX3. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master II. 1/400-sec., f/3.5, ISO 100

Photo by Stan Moniz. Sony FX3. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master II. 1/400-sec., f/3.5, ISO 100

Moniz says that spending time with the whales is a deeply emotional experience. “The first time I saw them in 2018 I started crying. Literally my mask was just loaded with tears and I teared up again, seeing the baby interacting with its mom. It's a whole life-changing thing, and it’s such an emotional connection to nature. It’s very spiritual in a sense. It’s very humbling.” 

He continues, “It’s a piece of life, a memory that I will forever hold on to and it’s hard to explain to somebody until they experience it. That’s the reason why I’m a photographer and filmmaker. I want to portray these stories through my Sony cameras and help people connect with nature and conservation.”

Capturing The Moment

While prepping for this trip Moniz had a few considerations when selecting gear. First off, he would be traveling quite a bit and lugging his gear around, so he needed a simple, lightweight kit. Secondly, he would be photographing and filming topside and underwater, so he needed a kit that could easily handle both. And finally, he knew that these experiences were precious and wouldn’t come around again soon, so he needed reliable gear that he could count on to get the job done.

Moniz settled on bringing the Sony FX3, Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master II, Sony 14mm f/1.8 G Master, Sony 70-200mm f/4 Macro G II and the Sony ZV-E1

For his underwater work, Moniz used the Sony FX3 with the Sony 14mm f/1.8 G Master and Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master II. “Those two lenses are my primary setup for underwater for the AquaTech housing I use. It’s not scuba housing but it can go down 40 ft. If I know I’m diving pretty close to the surface, like you do when you’re with whales, it’s the perfect setup because it's so lightweight and easy to dive with.” 

This was Moniz’s first experience using the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master II lens in these conditions. He said he was blown away by the quality and improvements from the first generation. “It’s sharp from edge to edge. I didn’t see any distortion at all, and the focus breathing is incredible. Plus it is so so much lighter, I could hold them both in my hands and tell which one is which.” In addition to these qualities, Moniz mentioned the focus is much quicker and overall offered everything he could ask for. He primarily shot with this lens during the whale experience.

When he’s shooting underwater, Moniz is always in Shutter Priority mode. He also has a custom button set so he can easily switch from stills to video. For video, Moniz shoots in S-Cinetone. “It has a lot of dynamic range, so you don’t have to overexpose like you do when you’re shooting in SLog 3.” For this trip, he shot in 120fps quite a bit because he felt like it was more cinematic and could always be sped up if he decides he prefers it faster. Moniz primarily went on this trip with video in mind, which is why he selected the Sony FX3. “But it’s no slouch when it comes to stills. I’m more than happy with the images it produced.”

Photo by Stan Moniz. Sony FX3. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master II. 1/250-sec., f/8, ISO 250

Photo by Stan Moniz. Sony FX3. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master II. 1/250-sec., f/8, ISO 250

For his topside work, Moniz brought the Sony ZV-E1. He loves the compact size along with the focus tracking capabilities. He’d frequently attach the Sony 70-200mm f/4 Macro G II lens. “That combo is a tiny powerhouse. I also used it for my astro work attached to the Sony 14mm f/1.8 G Master. It worked great, it is the best travel astro camera, in my opinion.”

Packing Camera Gear

More and more, Moniz is selecting his kit for its travel ability and general versatility. The kit Moniz brought on this trip was small enough that everything, including his underwater housing could fit in a backpack. “My whole thing is about traveling as light as possible and Sony just continues to make smaller and stronger stuff.”

Photo by Stan Moniz. Sony FX3. Sony 14mm f/1.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/5.6, ISO 100

Photo by Stan Moniz. Sony FX3. Sony 14mm f/1.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/5.6, ISO 100

Moniz shared some of his top tips for packing and traveling with his camera equipment. He says that the first thing is to find a bag that you love – one that sits on your frame comfortably. “I’m always on the quest for a great backpack, right now, I’m using the Atlas Backpack and it’s great.” When packing the bag, he says you need to put heavy stuff in the bottom, that will help it sit on your back better and not put too much pressure on your shoulders and neck. And in terms of organization, the important items should be in one place – pick an easy to access pouch or section. If you scatter your important items around, it becomes too hard to find things and causes unnecessary stress.

Moniz recommends taking on the “less is more” mindset, especially when it comes to cables. He always takes two of each cable and no more. “Try not to overpack. I know it’s difficult, I’ve broken zippers on bags before trying to stuff everything in. So now I really try to only take what I need.” 

Photo by Stan Moniz. Sony FX3. Sony 14mm f/1.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/3.5, ISO 100

Photo by Stan Moniz. Sony FX3. Sony 14mm f/1.8 G Master. 1/250-sec., f/3.5, ISO 100

He does recommend always bringing two camera bodies. That way if anything were to happen to the first one, you have a backup. He typically brings the Sony FX3 and Sony FX30. For his underwater work, Moniz specifically brings two cameras that can fit into the same underwater housing. 

Stay up to date with Moniz and his epic adventures by following him on Instagram (@Stanmoniz).

For more tips on photography, gear and packing, be sure to join the conversation over on the Sony Alpha Universe Community Forums. Specifically interested in conservation and wildlife photography? Check out our Club with the International League of Conservation Photographers in the Forums – a space for all conservation photographers, filmmakers, and storytellers or those aspiring to be one.

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