Thursday, 5 November 2009

Filming Life: Highspeed slowmotion hippo photography

"Life" - is a recent 10-part BBC natural history TV series.

I didn't do very much for the series in the end - I was working on the Yellowstone series at the same time - but I did a trip to Zambia to film male hippos fighting. The white camera in the photo (by Tom Clarke) is linked to a laptop and does extreme slow-motion - the 'Leadership Challenge' sequence features in episode 1, still available on BBC iPlayer.

I spent about 10 days in this hide during a 3 week trip. Very hot and humid - no breeze inside and it was just before the rains come. Stressful physical conditions like this seem hard at the time while you are worrying if you'll ever succeed in getting any good shots and the clock is ticking - you have a limited number of days - and constantly fretting you're really in the best spot but when I succeed my long-term memory records it as a fun experience.

Hippos, like most creatures, don't fight seriously very often, even at the end of the dry season when there is the least amount of deep water for all of them to rest in in the heat of the day. Only one or two good punch-ups happened here in that time and only one of those was at the right sort of distance and position to film. The slow-motion camera is impossible to move quickly - it is powered by several exceedingly heavy tractor batteries - you have to choose a spot and stay there. Then it was a case of constant vigilance to spot even the hint of a power struggle developing and then being lucky with the anticipation to make sure the beast was in focus as it erupted from underwater.

I'll try and get a post done for my filming trip to Deception Island in Antarctica for the 'Birds' episode which features chinstrap penguins. There is a From the Field diary about it on the BBC site.

Wildlife DVD

"Through the Garden Gate - A Diary of the English Countryside" DVD.

Released 30th April 2010.

It's about the wildlife I spent a year looking for and found very close to where I live in an Oxfordshire village in England. It's a very personal view - I narrate the whole thing (don't worry, you hardly see me at all) and it's aimed at those who enjoy the purely observational style of popular natural history films. There's no music - just natural sounds, some of which were recorded by emminent wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson.

The film is a sort of antithesis to the years of globe trotting I have done filming for television documentaries for the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol - an amazing job of course but I've always wished I could do more filming work closer to home. The reasons why most wildlife films we see on TV are not about British wildlife are a subject for another time.

I am collecting ideas for the next film and would be glad to hear from anyone what they'd most like to see.

Visit to see the trailer and buy copies. Some of it shot on my local Wildlife Trusts reserves - 5% of procceeds go to the Wildlife Trusts.

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