This is my all time favourite shot. It would not have been possible without the help of an expert, here, Oxford cuckoo guru Mike Bayliss. The aim was to film a cuckoo laying in a reed warbler's nest, and several times we had come very close. After many hours in the hide I heard this female land heavily in the reeds to the right of the nest - I can still hardly believe it happened.
This type of filming has been about 80% of my work these last couple of years...presenter led programmes with a good percentage of wildlife filming. Gavin Thurston was on RInca Island 2 weeks before the rest of the crew getting the 'meatier' sequences.
There were two of us working on this one, the other cameraman being Keith Brust. Filming often brings with it privileged access, and this was one of those times. I spent many days on my own on the Vermejo Ranch in New Mexico, ticking off shots from the list. Other times I was with a crew and a team of scientists trying to unravel the mysterious language of prairie dogs.
Autumn and the Wye Valley makes for a wondrous combination. The locations here are just a few miles up the road from our house. We can't take the credit for nice light and conditions, but you can make your own luck by being out there early as often as you can in the best locations.
Not being very big can be a massive advantage sometimes. Imagine a small rowing boat with a wooden hide on board and a small slit to poke the lens through. Then knock out the bottom of the stern of the boat. Cram yourself inside with a tripod and start walking slowly towards the flamingos whilst occasionally vanishing into holes in the bottom of the lagoon. I love this job.
Over the years I have done quite a lot of set filming. In all honesty I find it quite stressful, as the priority has to be the well-being of the animals. In any case, if they're not relaxed they're not going to behave naturally. These little chaps were on loan from a research project. We were always hoping that they would breed while in our care, but they never did.
Being a wildlife cameraman doesn’t make me sick. It’s official. At least, so far it hasn’t made me sick.
I’m not talking about medical sickness caused by gastroenteritis or other afflictions. I’m talking about sickness caused by motion. It is an interesting subject and you can read more about it on the NHS site here. If your prone to the condition don’t read it while in a rowing boat.
Years ago I remember a close call. I was a young assistant cameraman travelling in the back of a Volvo Estate. Volvo Estates were the cameraman’s bees’ knees in those days. I was wedged into a tiny space surrounded by piles of kit and cases. We were travelling at some speed down a French country road. I had both hands in a black changing bag as we were shooting loads of film and there was hardly any time to change film stock. All of a sudden the typical sweaty symptoms came on and I feared that I’d have to ask the rally driver in charge of the car to stop. Luckily it passed.
Over the years as a wildlife cameraman I’ve been in many nausea inducing situations. Most people will agree that filming from boats and aircraft can be challenging. I once filmed from a crop spraying helicopter over the south of France, and that was quite unpleasant: it was very hot and cramped; the little thing was victim to the slightest wind so we were bouncing around all over the place. Those were the days when you had to peer into a small viewfinder: there was no separate monitor that you could sit back and watch. The combination of the movement of the aircraft and staring at a view that is unrelated to your actual movement is challenging.
Test the theory
The picture above shows a recent shoot off the Great Orme, North Wales. We were on a relatively small boat to film seabirds on the cliffs. The captain couldn’t approach the cliffs too closely, and to avoid getting too close he kept the diesel running. The problem with this is vibration. So we backed off a bit and killed the engine for short periods. The problem then is that the boat is under no control and is at the whim of the sea. Within a few seconds the boat starts to go with the swell. Looking through the viewfinder I found the cliffs going up and down so much that it was impossible to achieve any usable shots. You can compensate for this by tilting up and down, trying to keep a spot on the cliff as centre frame as possible. I had some success with that. Over cranking also gives you a fighting chance.
Just as a test I played back some random footage in the camera, watching it while the boat lurched out of sync with the shots in the viewfinder. What this does to the brain I can only speculate. It must be very confused. I found it mildly nausea inducing but was happy to say I could think of bacon sandwiches without any negative effects.
Being a wildlife cameraman doesn’t make me sick, thankfully.
Unusual grey heron encounter I had an unusual grey heron encounter the other day. Ask any wildlife cameraman and they will have an unusual wildlife story to tell. This one took the whole crew by surprise. I am part of a team filming a series about wildlife in towns and cities. It really is surprising… Continue Reading
Wildlife in the garden Wildlife in the garden can bring a lot of pleasure to anyone. You can even watch it through the window if getting around is a problem. Once again I’ve been messing about with lenses. Testing them on wildlife in the garden is an easy option, but can turn up some interesting… Continue Reading
I'm a freelance documentary and wildlifecameraman, wildlife photographer with a track record for filming blue-chip natural history and presenter and contributor led documentaries for the BBC, ITV and other major television channels. Most of the time I film TV programmes with natural history as the subject matter, but I happily film sport, music videos, drama and other types of television documentary.
It is slightly inaccurate to say 'wildlife photography' as a description for 'wildlife filming', but all wildlife cinematographers become used to the alternative title. Being a wildlife cameraman is very different to taking still photographs, though the principles of getting close to wild behaviour and respecting the subject are exactly the same.
From the outside a career as a wildlife cameraman looks like a very attractive way to live. It is, but it doesn't suit everyone. For young people, take advice from someone who is doing it, then see if you can assist them in any way. You will have to persevere... and persevere.
Filming wildlife is something that I love. Like many colleagues I'd happily do it for nothing... and sometimes I do. Many of us would continue to film wildlife as a hobby if it were not our profession.
This article by Matt Hamilton is a really great description of a part of a filming trip we went on last year.