What's the hardest part of filming wildlife?

10 January 2023


Film camera



Tom, you film wildlife documentaries and you told us about this staggering experience you had out whale watching, but what's it like actually on the ground? I think people have begun to demonstrate how they get some of that footage in some of the films. It's become en vogue, hasn't it, to show what it took to do it. How hard is it to go and get that footage? Is it literally hours and hours of tape and most of it ends up in the bin for five seconds of sequence to show people?


Tom - Well, you don't record all the time. There's actually a really neat function on many film/video cameras where when something happens and you press record, it will also save the previous five or 10 seconds or 300 frames or a thousand frames if you're rolling at high speed. So you don't need to record all the time if you've got that function. In the 'making of's, the behind the scenes, often you see people waiting, and people often say, 'well you've got to be very patient.' My experience has always been that, if you're in the lucky position that you are just waiting, that's great, because most of the time one of you has got a maggot hatching from your skin or you've forgot to charge the batteries, or the animal has migrated somewhere else, or your visas haven't come through or you've dropped the camera in a lake.

If you've actually managed to be in the right place at the right time and all you've got to do is wait, and plus there is a certain self-selection that the kind of person who becomes a wildlife camera person is probably quite happy by themselves waiting. but I mean there's a lot of, of uncomfortable. I mean, I made a documentary about called the Batman of Mexico where we went and filmed bats and that was really the main challenge there was that humans are awake in the day and bats are awake at night. So we just got really tired. And if you have to spend time in bat caves, you're basically sitting underneath them while they're defecating and urinating continuously. And the caves are often full of cockroaches, and we were just wearing flip flops and shorts and vests because it was incredibly hot.

But we were wading through knee high guano and there were centipedes on top of it and sometimes we filmed the snakes that were catching bats and we had to lie in pitch darkness and the only person who could see was the camera operator. We didn't want to disturb the bats, so we had to film with a wavelength of light they couldn't see, but we couldn't see that either. So he could just see all these snakes coming out of the walls and dangling around our heads and so all we could hear was him groaning in terror and we could just imagine it. But that's all kind of fun if you like that kind of thing. But each animal has its own challenges and I think the people who are drawn to film those animals often kind of like those challenges.

Chris - I think you've just done wonders for just drawing people into being a wildlife photographer.

Tom - Well it's a highly competitive field and if I've put anyone off, I'm delighted because it'll just extend my career. No, it's really nice. Join in.


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