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Zambian Heat

Punishing heat in North Luangwa. 
We measured 58 degrees C in the sun, but as this would be a world record I suspect we were wrong. 
Very, very hot.
The landscape was scorched, the Mwaleshi river evaporating more each day and all electronic gear was left struggling at these temperatures. 

Whist the Red Epic soldiered on, the fans would run noticeably higher. DSLR's shut down, monitor fans were screaming, a hard disk recorder and a laptop shut down. The best approach in these conditions is shooting dawn and dusk in the low flaring warm light. And then hiding from the harsh relentless overhead heat of the day. Sun umbrellas are your only defence at midday.

A distinctive hard light burnt throughout the shoot, as the water sources became dramatic battle grounds for survival.

The performance of the Selex Merlin TI thermal camera at night was impressive, this utilised by our two Natural History teams. The only one of its type in the world, it looks like a prototype, but delivers breathtaking monochromatic night scenes. Heat patterns and fine textures were made apparent in trees, grass, water and sky. The detail and subtlety of its thermal image are unlike any I have seen. Its not destined for any sync-shooting though as the fans raged audibly in order to cool its sensor to sub zero operating temperatures.

Great Lakes on the Sony F55

Shooting in Canada on the Great Lakes. Beautiful remote waterways, untouched islands and big sky.

The camera package was a Sony F55, shooting 4K in its Raw mode at a base rate of 59.94P. 
For glass I utilised 3 new PL zooms for the first time. The Fuji Cabrio 19-90mm T2.9, the Fuji Cabrio 85-300mm T2.9 and the Canon 15.5-47mm T2.8. 
Whilst providing an interesting focal range the 85-300 proved quite difficult to focus, its accelerated throw more reminiscent of a stills lens than a cinema lens. This I found a bit debilitating on a long lens, where subtle focus following is usually the order of the day.

The two wider choices were far more versatile. I can see why the Cabrio 19-90 has proved so popular as this extended focal range is great for fast doc style work. The 19mm doesnt quite get you there on a S-35 sensor however... so I lived a lot on the Canon 15.5-47. 
Swapping between these zooms regularly made me realise how big a part is played by 'muscle memory' in operating, as the differing focus throws and gear orientation from Fuji to Canon was distracting. 

Both of these lenses offer slightly extended focal ranges over many of the zooms out there, and both seem to resolve well. But I must admit to having been spoilt by the Angenieux zooms that I so regularly use. The flair quality, the 'bokeh' and the general 'look' of both the Canon and the Fuji I found diminished by comparison.
But good workhorse documentary focal ranges. 

A great shoot with a great team, travelling as fast and light as this package would take us.
Here with some more 'verite' grip choices:

The data challenges of shooting 4K Raw on the F55 were fairly sustantial. Sony's Uncompressed Raw is very data hungry! 26 minutes of record time on a 512G card. We shot an average of 5Tb a day...and over 100Tb across 3 weeks of shooting. This necessitated a back up to LTO and a DIT- heavy approach. 6 laptops, 4 LTO decks and tireless work by the fantastic team doing this.
But its not a solution particularly suited to a documentary workflow. I would say this enormous data flow combined with the 3 second delay in recording when shooting Raw(yes that was 3 seconds!) makes this the wrong choice for anything other than a drama style shoot... and this with a robust data team.

As a cost effective HD solution the F55 is interesting. Its low light performance is great and the ability to change mounts from PL to EF at speed is a plus (although I do worry about 'play' in the Sony PL mount.) I did find the 960x540 viewfinder tricky for focus, this with all of the peaking tools active.


As a 4K solution I would definitely look elsewhere.
That the camera delivers less than 4K after debayering with this truckload of data makes the Red Epic significantly preferable for 4K shooting. Throw in some slowmotion (none available on the Sony at 59.94P 4K Raw) instant recording (rather than 3 seconds later) pre roll if you need it and 6K resolution and the Dragon is a 'no brainer' all day long!



After desaturating colour for much of my career, its great to occasionally embrace its vibrancy.

  Ungraded Epic Dragon screengrabs.

The extended colour depth of the Epic Dragon sensor proved essential for this piece. The camera's skin tone rendition, given this much disruptive colour, was remarkable.

The 'look' was achieved with a mixture of heavily gelled Cineo TruColor remote phosphurs, strong Blacklight, the magic of 16oz Studios...and the genius of director Michael Lindsay.

City Rain

Filming rain in London. 
Night city rain always provides a photogenic mix of water and light, where every surface turns into either mirror or lens. Shooting at 50fps and 100fps helped to bring some 'weight' to the fall of the rain. Defocused headlights, store front reflections and silhouettes... all movement seen through a mist of tiny liquid lenses.

The large Epic sensor at 5K mixed with close focusing primes at F1.4 lent a more abstract look to the piece.

Red Epic, 5K, Nikkor AIS 85mm F1.4 and 35mm F1.4.

Red Epic Dragon 2.39:1

Shooting Elders for Serkan Nihat, a film set around the rituals and storytelling of a traditional family meal. 
Although an intimate dialogue piece, the decision was made to shoot with a 2.39:1 frame. This as we were looking for obscured imagery, moments seen past  foregrounds and the over-lapping of relationships that the wide-screen frame can be so effective for. 

Screengrabs: Epic Dragon, Angenieux Optimo 45-120mm T2.8, 
2.39:1 aspect ratio.

Although the original purpose of the widescreen frame was to capture sweeping panoramic landscapes, its impact on tight shots is possibly more acute. Here the 'weighting' of a frame can feel more hightened than traditional aspect ratios. Within so linear a canvas, a subject placed hard on the edges will substantially affect the perceived balance of the frame. Off-centred framing becomes far less casual than say with 1.85:1. The resulting spatial 'discord' can be used to strong narrative effect. 

Shooting on spherical zooms (Angenieux 45-120 on the A camera and 30-80 on the B camera) left us able to keep some of the spontaneity in the dialogue. The formal qualities of the 2.39:1 frame aside, we wanted to keep a sense of naturalism that I think spherical glass delivers. Anamorphic glass would arguably have been too artificial a look for the piece, its artefacts too glamorous, too 'Hollywood.'  



Filming heat in a Heatwave. 
As if the ambient heat is not enough, we introduce multiple burners and flame bars.
Heat itself is not visible to the camera, just its effects on the air and light. We read as 'hot' the flares of the sun, the movement of heat haze that a flame bar induces on a longer lens or the shift in colour temperature towards the 'warmer' end of the spectrum. Even the red sand of our location contributes to the look of Heat.

“I can feel the heat closing in . . .” 

William Burroughs, The Naked Lunch 

Waiting in Wales

Waiting for wind in Wales.
Tricky stuff to film, wind, in that you can't see it. 
Only its effects are visible, its trace in the movement of sand, clouds or sails. These best captured in either slow-motion, or time- lapse.

Staying in Burry Port, the small Welsh bay where Amelia Earhart landed in 1928 to complete her trans-Atlantic flight. 
In the local hotel where she spent the night, I found this photograph. I love this image. The plane, the clothes, her posture, her assured expression.

"How lovely your country is. The stillness and the silence brings back again the almost awesome feeling which came to me as, hour after hour, we pushed forward through the thick clouds and fog. It was as if we were alone in the world. To think that 48 hours ago I was in America and now I am in Wales!"

Amelia Earhart 1928


The last time I filmed in Egypt was on the eve of the "Arab Spring". Now returning 4 years later the political landscape has changed radically. A transition in stark contrast to the singular, unchanging ancient landscape that the country is so famous for.

The literally 'awe' inspiring Karnak temple in Luxor is dedicated to the sun god Amon Ra. It is oriented so as to transmit the rising sun of the winter solstice through the temple. This architectural consideration of light extends through all of the art work, where the relief work is modelled through finely sculpted shadows... 'painting with light' on a monumental scale. 
The structure is still as imposing as it was intented to be, designed to house the completeness of power that was once identified with the Pharoahs person. This is art and achitecture as a monumental narrative of Power...and its enormous presence is a joy to film.

We moved on via Cairo to Alexandria to float above the underwater city of Heraclion, now 7 miles off-shore, which once housed an even grander pharaonic landscape. 

Heat, sand and salt water constantly conspired to kill the gear. 
As ever with these light and heat levels the Hot Mirror ND's worked overtime. On a typical day I utilised both a Schneider Truepol and a 1.2 HMND, reducing the 800 ISO down to a more workeable 25 ISO... whilst the hot mirror blocked the 'heat' from polluting the sensor with 5 stops worth of infra red light.


River Monsters Season 6

Great to see Season 6 of River Monsters has been such a hit with US audiences... setting new network records... ITV next!

Great memories of shooting 'Jungle Terminator' and 'Body Snatcher' with Jeremy in Peru, Brazil, Bolivia and Guyana. 

Diane Arbus

'The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.'
Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus 'Child With Toy Hand Grenade In Central Park' 1962