Colour: The Spectrum of Science

Helen Czerski goes in search of the colours that make up planet Earth

BBC 4, 3 x 60′.

Colour: The Spectrum of Science

Helen Czerski goes in search of the colours that make up planet Earth

BBC 4, 3 x 60′.

Colour: The Spectrum of Science

Helen Czerski goes in search of the colours that make up planet Earth

BBC 4, 3 x 60′.

Colour: The Spectrum of Science

Helen Czerski goes in search of the colours that make up planet Earth

BBC 4, 3 x 60′.

The science of colour

We live in a world ablaze with colour. Rainbows and rainforests, oceans and humanity, Earth is the most colourful place we know of. But the colours we see are far more complex and fascinating than they appear.In this series, Dr Helen Czerski uncovers what colour is, how it works, and how it has written the story of our planet – from the colours that transformed a dull ball of rock into a vivid jewel to the colours that life has used to survive and thrive

…across the spectrum

In the first episode, Helen seeks out the colours that turned planet Earth multicoloured. To investigate the essence of sunlight Helen travels to California to visit the largest solar telescope in the world. She discovers how the most vivid blue is formed from sulfur atoms deep within the Earth’s crust and why the presence of red ochre is a key sign of life.

Death Valley

Gold Panning

Solar Observatory

Camoflage

Bees

Herschel

Fireflies

NASA

Director of photography

I was responsible for principal photography across the series visiting some fabulous locations including; SOFIA (NASA’s stratospheric observatory), fireflies in the Appalachian mountains, a gold smelters and caves under the Cotswolds. We filmed over the summer and autumn of 2015 in the UK and USA.

Seeing the unseen

In the series we see not just the visible spectrum, but the invisible one too as we explore UV, IR and thermal IR too. This involved a variety of cameras including specially adapted cameras for UV vision, IR and thermal imaging cameras from FLIR.

The main camera for the series was the F55, with B cameras including the A7s, and Pocket Camera.

Finding the photons

One of the aims Director Alex Hemingway and I had for the series was to capture a live action sequence with Helen surrounded by fireflies in the forest of the Appalachian Mountain in the USA. Ever the way with tight budgets we only had one night in which to see the remarkable natural spectacle, shoot a sequence with Helen and the contributor plus get all the nighttime shots of the little beetles doing their mating display.  To up the ante, we aimed to get Helen in sync with the fireflies too.

Shooting on the Sony A7s – the king of low light – and a gimbal, along with a fast prime lens we ultimately managed to capture the whole sequence long after the F55 was unable to see any light at all.

To finish a remarkable night off Helen did two superb PTCs in the forest. We had by now run out of time, so I lit the forest and Helen with just one Bi-Colour 1x1 LED panel and did the PTC again on the A7s. Helen nailed it first time, and we all headed home to breakfast and bed. It’s a shot I really like – fast to setup and accomplish yet looks good and the depth in the forest adds a scale that could easily have been lost when you consider all we had was one LED to light both presenter and scene.