Behind the scenes

Scene and Herd: How do you film wildlife?

BBC wildlife shows are crammed full of spectacular imagery and jaw-dropping moments from the natural world.

They frequently include scenes and behaviour never before witnessed on camera. But how are these spellbinding pictures captured? We go behind the scenes, as some of the BBC’s filming experts reveal all…

Don't breathe

Filming mini-beasts, like the extraordinary orchid mantids seen on ‘Life Story’, offers a host of problems. Staying focused on the tiny invertebrates as they move through their environment requires incredible skill and concentration because even the slightest movement of the camera can ruin a shot.

If you breathe too hard in the wrong direction… you might blow them away."

Nick EasterWildlife filmmaker
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But there’s an additional issue, as wildlife filmmaker Nick Easton explains: “You have to be careful with your breathing… If you breathe too hard in the wrong direction… you might blow them away.” But ultimately this literally breath-taking project was worth it. “It’s some of the most rewarding filming I’ve done.”

Don’t stick out

Snub-nosed monkeys that live in the mountains of China are thought to be where the ‘Yeti’ legend originates, as they have only been glimpsed on rare occasions. As producer Emma Napper reveals, filming them for ‘Seven Worlds, One Planet’ meant spending time with the creatures, initially at a distance, to allow them to get used to the small crew and their equipment. By the time the monkeys had accepted them and they could get closer with handheld cameras, they were lucky enough to capture a remarkable, vicious fight between rival groups. “Being able to show people something they haven’t seen before, that’s such an amazing feeling,” Emma says. “That awe at the natural world.”

Be brave

Filming lions is not without its dangers. Filming lions at night presents even more hazards. Using night-vision goggles and infra-red cameras, the ‘Planet Earth’ crew could make out elephants and lions at an African waterhole, but with the naked eye they were in pitch darkness. As director Jonny Keeling explains: “We were quite naïve, which I think is probably a useful thing to be in filmmaking sometimes.”

Now I’m going to get eaten alive."

Jonny Keeling'Planet Earth' Director

However, as the lions all began to bellow and roar around their open-backed vehicles, Jonny was convinced his team were on the menu, thinking, “Now I’m going to get eaten alive.” Luckily, the lions didn’t recognise the humans as prey and were more interested in fighting each other. Later, the pride focused their efforts on a young elephant, which the crew’s incredible footage shows being hunted and killed.

Cover all angles

‘Seven Worlds, One Planet’ features the unforgettable sequence where leopard seals hunt young gentoo penguins. To capture these scenes in the harsh waters of the Antarctic, multiple cameras and locations were used. As producer Fredi Devas explains, the shoot required a drone camera operator, another on the shore, and a third diving with the animals in the freezing, glacier-filled sea. It’s difficult to predict the reaction of the animals until you’re in there with them, as well as being physically enduring. As Fredi says, “It’s all about remaining tranquil, calm, and zen-like in the water, to capture those amazing images.”

Featured image © Ken Kiefer 2