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.
The humble on-off switch is one of the human interfaces with the camera. For the wildlife cameraman it is a very important one. Most of us prefer to have a switch on the tripod handle. There is a simple reason for this. The right hand will be glued to the tripod handle. The left will be on the focus ring of the lens. Even scratching your ear, or other parts of your anatomy, can demand huge inner psychological trauma: dare I risk taking my hands off the rig? Well, you know what I mean. There is a very limited range of tripod handle switches for cameras, and all of them are expensive for what they are.
The picture above is a simple LanParte on-off switch. Well, let me revise that. It is an on-off switch. I bought it here. The information that accompanies the unit states that it works with Blackmagic and Sony cameras using the LANC protocol. It’s a very nice little unit, and comes with a sturdy clamp that slips over a tripod handle. It might fit some handles well, but the inner diameter is about 3 cm, which is very ‘fat’.
The switch comes apart with four Phillips head screws. The body construction is a solid aluminium alloy, anodised. So is the red on-off switch. Those are the two main non electronic parts of the switch. Why did I take it apart? Because it does not work with a Panasonic AG AF101. It won’t work on any Panasonic because Panasonic has its own protocols. If you connect this unit to the S/S of a Panasonic with a 2.5 mm stereo lead nothing will happen when you press the button. If you adapt the 2.5 mm up to 3.5 mm and plug it into the zoom-focus-iris connector of the Panasonic it will have some effect, but not what you want. For an on-off switch this starts to sound ridiculously complicated.
Inside the unit has a momentary switch, a circuit board and a female 2.5 mm jack. For my Panasonic the circuit board is redundant: it is designed to communicate with Sony cameras (and Blackmagic). The Panasonic s/s (start stop) terminal works like this: close the circuit momentarily and the camera will start; close it again momentarily and the camera will stop. That’s all I want it to do. I could pay £160.00 for one of these but there is little point, as the lenses I have for the AG AF101 do not have motorised zooms. I really do only want the humble on-off switch. From a wildlife cameraman point of view, the simpler the better.
It seemed a shame to destroy the insides of the LanParte, but it had to be done. I removed the circuit board entirely. A new momentary switch sat very nicely on a pedestal within the body of switch. A 2.5 mm jack also fitted very neatly. It only remained to solder the correct terminals of the jack to the switch and screw it back together. There are probably easier and cheaper ways of doing this, but the switch is aesthetically very ‘sweet’, and doesn’t look like it’ll fall to bits in use. It should stay on the handle of the tripod for the duration of shoots without too much trouble. That said, watch this space.
Canon EF Micro Four Thirds Smart Adapter I took delivery of a Metabones Canon EF Micro Four Thirds Smart Adapter Mark IV the other day. It was supplied by Epic TV. It was bought as part of a wildlife cameraman rig. I didn’t want to buy a new camera. The aim is to get a few… Continue Reading
The F-stop Shinn 80l camera rucksack I have just taken delivery of an F-stop Shinn 80l camera rucksack. It took me quite a while to decide on buying one for wildlife cameraman work. There are not many camera bags as large as this one. Most large camera rucksacks that I have tried have usually been… 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.