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.

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