Wildlife Cameraman Blog

Category Archives: Wildlife Cameraman Careers Advice

Wildlife cameraman careers advice in bite-sized chunks, taking in educational choices, personality traits and practical skills.

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 disappointed that they’ll give it to a charity shop. Then it will stay on the shelves next to a Bewitched CD until the manager finally throws it away. OK, I’m being insincere, and yet serious at the same time. Soon after starting to write this I realised that it could end up being a very negative post. On the other hand, if you’re a budding wildlife cameraman you might actually find encouragement here.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a very interesting chat with Doug Allan about new wildlife camera people coming into the business. I’ve had similar conversations with other will established camera people. There never was a true traditional path to being a wildlife cameraman; and there probably never will be. Right now there are many talented individuals graduating from wildlife film making courses, and I say good luck to them all. Is there room for the industry to accommodate all of these people? Not a chance, but with some luck, hard work, talent and persistence you might be one of the successful ones. Contacts in the industry will help you too. If you don’t have contacts, make them; you have no choice. For those of you still trying to break in I think this article on the IAWF website is still very useful.

wildlife cameraman and beyond filming in Argentina
A beach on the coast of Argentina – filming a colony of 20000 burrowing parrots

Looking ahead – wildlife cameraman and beyond. What if you do become a wildlife cameraman? What does life have in store for you? A relationship and mortgage? A solid oak mantelpiece stacked with BAFTAs, but children who hardly recognise you because you’re away so much? A book deal and an unlikely transition into the world of media celebrity? A shed full of redundant kit that you could not bear to part with and is now worth nothing. Nobody knows what life will bring, but I can guarantee that once you have a taste for being a wildlife cameraman you won’t want to do anything else.

And therein lies the problem – it’s like a drug, and getting your next fix is all that matters. You find yourself calling people you don’t know, and shuffling into conversations with strangers at media events. You’ll rewrite your CV until the person it represents is unrecognisable as you, and the 25th edit version of your show reel is still not quite right, but you ignore all advice to remove at least 25 minutes of it.

Finally, a miracle happens – you’re offered a proper job as a data wrangler, and you’re off. Of course, you’re not on a proper rate of pay, and in the excitement it’s easy to ignore the fact that low overheads and living in the UK don’t sit together comfortably in a sentence.  It’s a good job that your parents still love you otherwise you’d be homeless. But you’re going to be in South America for the next six weeks anyway so what the hell. The phone rings and the trip’s been cut to 3 weeks, and one of those weeks now clashes with another potentially amazing job. You opt for the second job, which falls through, but with a bit of tact and humble pie you climb back on board the first job, which is now just 2 weeks.

The pressure is on to succeed, to actually do something that your CV says you can. The truth is you are very good, fun to be around and willing to muck in. The trip is great, and you would have had a chance to do some operating, but the breeding season for the species that is the whole point of the shoot ends on the day that you land in South America, rendering the whole trip pointless. It’s not your fault, but it feels like it. You have no fresh material for your show reel, which remains at 30 minutes and 20 seconds.

As time passes by you come to appreciate the value of the £30k debt you accrued in doing your course. You’re qualified as a Shooting AP; you have all the skills. Again, the pay rate isn’t that good, what with budgetary cuts and all that, but the contracts are longer. You’re mum and dad still wonder when you’re going to get a proper job, and get out of the spare room, but things are looking up. All you have to do is make a brilliant job with hardly any money, which of course you do. Pigeon holes are, naturally, rife in the wildlife programme making world, and even though there are no pigeons in your series you find yourself in one. Everyone thinks you’re a shooting AP who can make diamonds from grit.

All you wanted to do as a shooting AP was play with the cameras and be out in the field. You wanted material for a classy, tight show reel and a chance of being a proper wildlife cameraman. You didn’t want all that office crap to deal with: talking to people and being nice on the phone; making coffee for colleagues that drive you nuts. You can’t decide now whether to broaden your skills base or become more specialised. You really want to be a long lens specialist, but there’s lots of competition out there and not enough work to go around.

You’re determined and you’re a survivor, and you make that leap because some of the footage you’ve shot as an AP is excellent. Getting enough work becomes even more of a challenge, but now you have a partner in life and growing responsibilities. Together you have a reasonable income and great hopes for the future, including a family. But as the work you so love becomes ever harder to come by you start to wonder whether you should have studied to be a lawyer and then you could afford to film wildlife purely as a hobby.

I’ll leave it there with my thoughts on ‘wildlife cameraman and beyond’. This rambling post represents represents some of the challenges that a wildlife cameraman will face on his or her journey. Whatever happens, it will be fun and interesting. It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle.

Another cameraman once said to me, ‘It’s not easy surviving in this bloody mad business.’ It is and it isn’t; it all depends on you. If you’re canny you might make good money, but if money is your motivation you’re probably looking at the wrong career. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t thinking about money when the photograph above was taken.


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 lot of what wildlife cameramen film is not actually wild at all. But ask any wildlife cameraman what they would prefer to film and it would be wild life, for sure. I’m on about the type of filming where you conceal yourself for hours, maybe days, on end. It’s the type of filming where the subject is shy, rarely seen by anyone unless they’re either very lucky or have made a huge effort. I’m not for one moment criticising the filming of subject matter that is relatively tame, because almost all wildlife filming comes with huge challenges. I’m just saying that wildlife filming as a career, becoming a wildlife cameraman, attracts a certain sort of person, there’s something feral about it. There’s some sort of connection with wild creatures deep in your spirit. Sadly, I don’t think there is so much of this filming to be had any more, unless you go out and do it for the hell of it. Sometimes it can be hell, I suppose, but it’s what we do.

watching wild life by David Stephen
Watching wild life by David Stephen

It was the title of the book above that made me ponder about wildlife versus wild life. The book was written by David Stephen, a Scottish naturalist. The link tells a little about David’s many achievements over the years.

To me this isn’t just any old book. This is the book that I picked up in Chepstow Bookshop when I was 12 or 13 years old. The shop owner must have wondered whether I would ever buy it. Every Friday, after school, I’d go in, procrastinating about spending my hard earned lawn mowing money on a small paperback. I knew that I’d get it eventually. What a little gem this book is. It’s written by someone who had been out there watching badgers, foxes, otters and whole range of wild life. I found it to be absolutely inspirational, and it’s the book that had me walking across the fields in the dark looking for badgers and goodness knows what else.


International Association of Wildlife Filmmakers (IAWF)

I have been a member of the IAWF for some years now.  The association was founded in 1982 to encourage communication and co-operation between people who are often isolated in the field., rarely meeting fellow professionals doing a similar job to themselves. The IAWF is association for professional camera men and women and sound recordists earning most of their income from making wildlife films. The IAWF’s worldwide membership includes many of the leading names in wildlife filmmaking industry.

Recently I joined the committee of the IAWF.  I’m a wildlife cameraman, and I don’t think my personality is much different to all the other cameramen and camerawomen around the world.  Being on a committee does not come naturally, but keeping and association like the IAWF alive, relevant and active is very important. In the last year or so one of the committee members put forward the idea of an affiliation with The Guild of Television Cameramen (GTC). The GTC was formed in 1972 and now has over 1000 members in countries as far afield as Australia, South Africa, the USA, Russia and Singapore. The majority live in the UK, are mainly freelance and work in all aspects of broadcast camerawork from corporate production and shoots for the internet through to mainstream news and current affairs, documentary and television drama. The affiliation of the IAWF and GTC is moving ahead very efficiently and it a very exciting prospect for current IAWF members.

We have been chasing current IAWF members for contact details to enable to affiliation to be 100% complete and efficient, but there are a few far-flung camera people out there who are proving difficult to contact or get a response from.  This is my last ditch call. Hello any outstanding IAWF members.  If you are not aware of the affiliation with the GTC, or if you are but have not returned the form, please get in touch with our secretary as soon as you possibly can. Cheers.