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.
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 results. This is a series of photos that any wildlife cameraman could take. In the taking some of them reveal something that I was not aware of at the time. It’s not startling, revelationary behaviour, but it is at least mildly interesting. Perhaps its even QI. If you want to identify birds on your garden I recommend this link from the RSPB: identify
I took lots of pictures of this female blackbird. Most of the time she was gathering insects for her chicks. I swear, you could stare at that lawn and not see any of these insects for love of looking.
The same bird seemed to know when the pots were being watered. It’s an old wildlife cameraman trick anyway. Wildlife in the garden is aware of our activities. Most of the time they seem to be escaping from us, but much of the time they are ‘clocking’ what we do and when. Water around the pots makes the ground soft, and often brings worms right to the surface. Bingo for the blackbird.
This male blackbird is less tolerant of people than his mate. He is quick to fly to the fence, ready for a hasty departure, whereas his mate will hop around our feet practically. Here he is perched on one leg, something that birds do quite frequently.
This bird was a mystery for a while. My Mum kept saying that a huge black bird was taking all the food from her feeders. From her description it was not impossible that it was a raven. But I was doing some gardening down there one day and this confident rook turned up. It perched on the chimney quite patiently until I took the hint and went inside for a cuppa. Only then did it swoop down and gorge itself on suet balls. Not obvious at the time of taking, this snap captures the nictitating membrane that protects the rooks eye. I think this is correct: a rook normally feeds by plunging its beak into the soil, the membrane should protect the eye while still allowing it to see to a degree.
You don’t have to be in the jungles of Indonesia to see birds displaying. This cock sparrow was giving it everything: tail up, wings straight and back, breast feathers primped and puffed out. It was calling its little head off.
Water is really important for birds at this time of year. They drink and bathe frequently, especially when they are looking after chicks. This female had just been in the waterfall and perched for some time on the fence. She held her wings out alternately in the breeze, presumably so that they could dry out fully.
The humble on-off switch 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… Continue Reading
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
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.