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Galapagos

3 x 60′ documentary for BBC1

Galapagos

3 x 60′ documentary for BBC1

Galapagos

3 x 60′ documentary for BBC1

Galapagos

3 x 60′ documentary for BBC1

Galapagos

3 x 60′ documentary for BBC1

Galapagos

3 x 60′ documentary for BBC1

Galapagos

3 x 60′ documentary for BBC1

Galapagos

3 x 60′ documentary for BBC1

Galapagos

3 x 60′ documentary for BBC1

Director of Photography

3 x 60 min, BBC1 documentary

Sony F55, Sony A7s, fix submarine 5 camera rig, motion-control timelapse, aerials

Liz Bonin walks in the footsteps of Charles Darwin in the anniversary of his exploration of the remote archipelago in the pacific. Liz embarks on a scientific mission around the Galapagos islands – climbing volcanos and diving to 1000m below the waves – looking at the latest research in animal behaviour and joining scientists from around the world.

I was director of photography on the series along with Julius Brighton. I shot for a month on land and sea, and up to 1000m below the sea. Main camera was the F55 shooting raw, complimented with the Sony A7s on a small gimbal for B camera work. Additionally I used a D810 for timelapse and GoPros, A7s and Blackmagic Pocket Cameras for submarine work. I also filmed the VR for the series on GoPro rigs and the Nokia Ozo.

Galapagos

Darwin Island

Wolf Island

Designing a fixed rig, 1000m below the waves

One of my challenges was the design and implement a fixed camera rig in our main three-man submarine. The sub only allowed enough space for the pilot (Buck Taylor), Liz Bonnin and one scientist or cameraman (me). The deepest dives were due to reach 1000m below the surface and would take up to 8 hours, so I had to design a fixed camera rig that could provide enough varied coverage for a whole sequence, and last for 8 hours both in media and batteries. Furthermore, the rig would need to automatically manage the change of light from direct sun at the surface to total darkness at 1000m down.

After much testing I went for a GoPro rig of 4 cameras, supplemented with an A7s and spare, independent GoPro.  The GoPros were modified for primes lenses so I could select shot size optically when designing the rig, allowing for enough visual contrast such that a whole sequence would cut together well and not be too ‘samey’. All camera recorded off-board to a central deck taking their HD feed, and applying timecode and audio.

Lighting was key and once in the Mesophotic zone the sub needed to be supplemented with internal lighting. I wanted a degree of shape and texture in the light. However, I was working with a tight space barely 1.5m across, while allowing good human low light vision and a safe working environment for the pilot.  I opted for small LED tubes which allowed soft, yet directional key light.

“GoPros were modified for primes lenses so I could select shot size optically”

Filming the mission was a mission in itself

Capturing Liz’s adventures in the Galapagos was a mission all in itself. The array of filming techniques employed to be able to tell the story with the flexibility and production value required months of planning, testing and research. The most basic of kit was the F55 with a long lens for PTCs and wildlife. It was the all the other shots that would require considerable testing and innovation. Aerial and submersible filming; day and night scenes; slow motion and timelapse all had to be accomplished.

Submersible filming

Throughout the 5 weeks in Galapagos Liz and I were due to do numerous deep-sea dives around the Galapagos.

We had two subs for each dive; one presenter and contributor sub and one camera sub. Liz’s sub was piloted by Buck Taylor and had three seats, leaving one free for a scientist or myself. The sub is 1.5m across, so limits camera options inside so I opted to design a fixed rig enabling the extra seat to be free for a scientist to accompany Liz on the dives.

The camera rig had to record for up to 8 hours in HD without running out of battery or media. All cameras would need to be genlocked and able to manage their own exposure changing from sunlight at the surface to near complete darkness at 1000m below the surface.

Having tested many cameras I kept returning to the GoPro Hero 4. I had the cameras adapted with primes lenses to remove their native ‘look’ and powered all cameras externally and recorded them externally also. That enabled genlocking and sync with the radio mics, making ingest swift despite it being 5 cameras at 8 hours each.

The primes lenses on the GoPros enabled me to design a rig that would cut nicely between wides and mediums live, and they had a filmic feel which is what I was keen to accomplish despite the physical restrictions.

Wildlife

One of my main duties was capturing as much natural history shots from the locations we visited with Liz.

F55, raw recorder with Nikon 200-400mm f/4 lens, 1.4 Teleconverter.

Aerial

Aside from our drone operated by James Blake, I shot aerials from the Alucia’s helicopter. I spent 4 days on the skids predominantly flying sideways while shooting out of the open door with a stabilised gimbal and A7s. The idea was to capture the angles that the drone was unable to reach, and also make the most of the range of the helicopter, meaning using the Alucia as a base we could get to islands that otherwise would be unobtainable.

Timelapse

I was opportunistically shooting as many timelapses as I could across the weeks on location.  I was fortunate to have spent 5 weeks in the Galapagos a few years earlier with David Attenborough for the filming of Galapagos 3D. On that project I was exclusively shooting timelapse so I was keen to build on this and not repeat shots that I had already got.

I had a motion controlled slider and pan / tilt head with a Nikon D810.

Further reading

BBC's Galapagos site

Visit the BBC’s own mini-site to find out more

The Times Review

Read the review of Galapagos by Andrew Billen

Guardian's Review

Visit the Guardian newspaper review

The Telegraph Review

Read the review by Gabriel Tate

Evening Standard

Visit the Standard’s review

Liz Bonnin

Visit Liz Bonnin’s website