Wildlife Cameraman Blog

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Santa Claus and the Covid Curse

Last year I worked on a wildlife film about the realm of Santa Claus. It seems likes years ago as it was a time before Covid. I remember missing a connection in Helsinki because the flight from Heathrow was late taking off. Flying for the wildlife cameraman and woman this year has been near impossible. It got me thinking about Santa Claus and the Covid Curse.

I experienced something in Finland that is hard to find in most parts of the UK. Silence! And by silence I mean the total lack of human noise, and the subtle beauty of nature’s soundtrack. When snow fell from the spruce branches you could hear it land below, and corvid calls carried from far away. At times I thought I could almost hear myself freezing up.

Santa Claus - the Covid Curse
Looking out of a hide in Finland

In Finland I spent many hours in hides filming magnificent golden eagles. Once, while in the centre of a forest, a wolverine posed in front of the camera, which was a life first for me. Then out on a snow covered pasture a great grey owl, took centre stage, and what a fine flyer she was. But not just a fine flyer, a silent flyer – death on wings if you’re a vole.

Back home with Covid

Back home a year later a remarkable thing happened in a field in South Wales. Yet another hide covered me up, but something was different. Silence here too. I could not hear the distant hum of the M4 motorway. Neither could I detect aircraft heading across the Atlantic to America, nor Easy Jet flights coming into Cardiff. Lockdown was near total. and the effect on noise pollution was startling. ‘If only it could always be like this, ‘ I thought. Though in all seriousness we’re sick of this bloody virus now, some of us literally.

I had permission to film kingfishers in the most self isolated way possible. For company I had their calls, an increasing chorus of warblers and finches and the babble of the brook. All was wondrous until lockdown eased. One morning a lone motorbike seemed to be using the M4 as a drag strip, minus exhaust pipe or regard for speed limits. Just that one vehicle wrecked everything for everybody, and that was just the start of business as usual.

Everyone had been talking about lockdown getting people used to a new kind of living. We would appreciate nature more, be nicer, reassess what we found important. Maybe governments would even redirect precious public funds into improving rich habitats instead of destroying them. Fat chance of that.

Santa Claus and the Covid Curse

Perhaps I was being naive about a seed change, or just impatient to see it happen. Covid has spelt tragedy for so many individuals and their families; there cannot be a person who has not been touched. While we look for cohesive and effective action we seem to witness disarray. As a wildlife cameraman out alone in the field it is easy to feel immune from life’s everyday problems. It’s a place where my mind wanders, sometimes down apocalyptic pathways.

The Demise of Santa

I had a vision of Santa breaking Covid protocol and flying across Christmas Eve skies. After distributing gifts to the children of France he heads for the White Cliffs of Dover, a welcome sight, you would think. Rudolph senses it first, a flash in the distance as activists release the first Covid busting anti aircraft missile. Rudolph regrets the warmth emanating from his glowing nose; it’s a heat seeking missile. They have no chance.

Days later in the aftermath I walk through the carnage of intolerance, antlers, gifts, wrapping paper and bits of beard strewn across the South Downs and wonder what it’s all come to. Under the blood stained remains of Santa’s hat I find a plastic toy resembling Donald Trump. I pull the ring on the back and it says, ‘Destroy all life on earth, we don’t need it. You’ll be glad you voted for me. It’s gonna be great, really great. ‘

GTC IAWF Zerb magazine

The GTC IAWF Zerb magazine is a twice yearly journal. The magazine has been around since 1973, which was the year after the Guild was started. I have idly wondered about the name from time to time, but nobody seems to know why it is called Zerb. What’s in a name? In this instance it’s short and memorable and that’s probably all that matters. Whatever you may think of the name, members hold the GTC IAWF Zerb magazine in high regard. Whenever I open it I know I will always find cutting edge information relevant to working camera crew.

GTC IAWF magazine cover
Zerb magazine – packed with information

Zerb, GTC, IAWF and the wildlife cameraman

The IAWF is affiliated to the GTC and I wrote about the affiliation a while ago. Twice a year I receive a copy of Zerb in the post. I have to be honest, it takes me quite a long time to read. Usually I sandwich its reading between popular crime thrillers, classics and the weekly Lidl bargains of the week newsletter. Over the past couple of years I have written one article for Zerb and encourage IAWF members to write articles too. Zerb usually comprises ninety pages of detailed information and that’s why I take quite a long time to read it. In every edition I will find at least one article by a wildlife cameraman and I learn something from every article. Today I picked three random copies of Zerb off a shelf in my edit room and here is a summary of what they contain.

Zerb – 3 random copies

The first copy of Zerb that I picked up included, for instance, an article by Sinclair Stammers who joined IAWF some years ago. Sinclair’s speciality is filming the invisible, because he gets a kick out of filming what the naked eye cannot see. In the article Sinclair describes the fascination of filming minute insects, parasites and bacteria. If you like watching horror movies I think you will be impressed by some of the photographs! Because of problems with vibration Sinclair built a studio modelled on a nuclear bunker.

The second copy of Zerb featured articles by two IAWF members, Hector Skevington-Postles and Ryan Atkinson. Hector describes his experience of tracking and filming snow leopards in Himachal Pradesh. Snow leopard can be invisible too, but not because they are small. Hector talks about ‘getting your eye in’ to actually see the animal, and how satisfying the whole job was. Ryan Atkinson subtitled his article, “In, Under and On the Edge.” Some of Ryan’s work his metal strength to the limit, and the physical strength of both himself and the kit to the limit. To quote one part of the article, “Every location comes with unique challenges, but none more so than the humidity and heat of the jungle.”

The third copy hosted an article by Dick Harrewijn, and in picking it up I decided to read it again. Dick had just finished a big project in the Netherlands and talks about storytelling. He worked closely with another director, and the article looks in detail at how they went about filming the wildlife project. He talks about equipment choice, shooting styles, and how working on a whole project was a dream come true.

What’s in the rest of Zerb

I didn’t realise this until just now, but you can subscribe to Zerb. It’s really good value, and not just for the wildlife cameraman.

Sigma UK customer service

Very recently I had to make use of Sigma UK customer service and have to say that I was very impressed. This post concerns the 150-600mm Sports lens which I have written about before. Looking back I find I have written about it several times. I’m not the only wildlife cameraman that uses this lens. Lots of keen amateurs and professionals use it.

Sigma lens UK customer service
A hide with internet connection

Sigma 150-600mm lens

I’ve used the Sigma 150-600mm lens for video work for a couple of years or so believe it to be optically very good. You can’t compare it to a dedicated broadcast video lens, but for the price it is a good lens. On a tripod I find that the balance changes ridiculously when you zoom in or out. As a result that makes camera movements for television work difficult to accomplish smoothly. Neither is it a sequence building lens because the difference between the wide and telephoto ends of the lens is not great enough. Other than that I find it to be well designed apart from one small detail.

Lens Hood

While out in the field recently I had a reason to contact Sigma UK customer service. The lens hood of this Sigma is a substantial lump, and although it serves its purpose I don’t like it much. When you put it on in the reverse direction for storage I often get it jammed and that really gets on my nerves. There’s a tiny screw that holds on a lug that tightens into a groove on the lens barrel. Unfortunately with repeated use the screw can fall out, and it often does. I was setting up in a hide on a river the other day when the screw fell out and the lug fell off. Have you ever tried finding a screw the size of an ant in long grass? I found the lug but I didn’t find the screw.

Rapid Service from Sigma UK customer service

I knew I wasn’t going to fix the problem there and then. As luck would have it I had a faint data signal and did a bit of internet surfing. Quite quickly I found out that lots of people lose the screw out of their Sigma lens hood. Lots of blog posts suggested an Ebay site where I could buy a replacement. Other people had got by with using tape. One post mentioned that Sigma UK customer service had been very helpful. I found the email address for customer service and dropped them a line there and then from the hide. I was very impressed when a chap wrote back almost immediately. He said that he’d send a replacement as soon as he could, free of charge. Now that’s what I call service.

Guild of Television Camera Professionals

The Guild of Television Camera Professionals is an independent craft organisation for professional TV, digital and film camera personnel. The GTC supports and facilitates excellence in moving image production. GTC members are predominantly professional camera people across all moving image disciplines. The International Association of Wildlife Filmmakers (IAWF) is affiliated to the GTC. This is… Continue Reading

wildlife cameraman and beyond

wildlife cameraman and beyond Wildlife cameraman and beyond: it sounds like a bad title for a low budget movie. One day you’ll find it at the bottom of the £1 bin at Asda. You’ll be tempted to buy it for your friend, who just loves ‘those David Attenborough films’, but your friend will be so… Continue Reading

Watching Wild Life

Watching Wild Life ‘Watching Wild Life’. It’s a small point, perhaps, but you don’t see those words written quite like that any more. You’re more likely to see ‘watching wildlife.’ Wildlife cameraman, the job title, is a label, but equally, Wild Life Cameraman could be too. Is there a difference? I think there is. A… Continue Reading

Working with Inspirational People

Working with Inspirational People I think it’s true to say that I work with inspirational people almost all of the time. With regard to passion for nature conservation people don’t come more inspirational than Iolo Williams. I’ve worked with Iolo for more than 5 years now. From time to time I work with other well… Continue Reading

The Spirit of the Kite

The Spirit of the Kite ‘The Spirit of the Kite’ is the first novel in a series called, ‘The Life and Times of Tudor Morgan’. Tudor Morgan is a wildlife cameraman that I created from  my wildlife filming experiences over the years.  The idea started out as a screenplay for a film.  To be honest,… Continue Reading

Iolo Williams – M4 relief road will plough across Gwent Levels

Iolo Williams – M4 relief road will plough across Gwent Levels Iolo Williams – M4 relief road will plough across Gwent Levels.  For several years the Welsh Government has threatened to drive a new motorway through the Gwent Levels.  It’s the sort of thing that governments do.  Perhaps they think that they will leave a… Continue Reading