This is a sequence that I shot for the upcoming natural history series "Secret Life of Predators," which will air this Friday (9/20) on the National Geographic Channel and NatGeoWILD. Shot in Kenya and South Africa, this sequence was one of the most rewarding experiences of my wildlife career, and I had the pleasure of working with one of my closest friends, the talented field producer Sarah Joseph from NGT.
I have to say, this trip was a whirlwind. After being stuck in the Kathmandu airport for three days waiting for weather to break, the 45 minute helicopter ride into the mountains was all the more satisfying. I could hardly believe the beauty beneath me as we flew low over small villages, terraced hillsides, ancient temples, and into the Himalayas. The contrast was stark as I left the all-too-familiar hectic urban world of a Southeast Asian city behind and entered the incredible serenity of a quiet mountain village in paradise.
As we landed, I unlatched my seatbelt, the door of the helicopter swung open and I hit the ground running. I had been filming during the flight, my camera was ready and I knew the rest of the crew would be waiting for me. I was filming a behind-the-scenes special for Discovery, and the production we were covering was already on location and underway. I took deep breaths of the thin mountain air as I ran across a muddy field, down a muddy path and into another muddy field to reach the cast and crew as they began filming a crucial scene (did I mention there were leeches?). Television field production (almost) never lacks excitement, and it was a shock to enter this new environment so abruptly and begin working so quickly. But that's what makes this job fun.
I shot on the Sony F5, which I found to be a very capable field camera. I had worked with it previously on commercial shoots, but never in a demanding field environment. It held up quite well in the hot dry dust of Kathmandu and in the fog and rain of the mountains (don't tell the rental shop). I was a bit disappointed to leave the beautiful Cabrio 19-90 lens (and my tripod) behind in Kathmandu due to helicopter weight-restrictions (we had originally planned to travel by plane before the weather changed our plans). After trimming every bit of excess weight off of our kit, I ended up with a handheld F5 with Canon stills lenses. Not the most ideal setup for ENG work but it did the job. I always love getting comfortable with a new camera in the field, and despite the challenges of working with a camera so new that many of the features are still disabled, I was impressed by the F5's performance.
The shoot went well and I enjoyed living in that small village. It was certainly not without challenges. We worked long hours and I have been battling a cold recently, which made for some sleepless nights in my tent, but the momentum of the shoot kept me going. Despite that, it was impossible to avoid the magnificence of that place. Every detail was beautiful: the green moss and orange fungi growing on cold dark stone walls, the mosaic of pastures and fields broken by narrow walking paths and fences made from forked tree branches, the cows in the fields, on the roads, and in our camp, the finches and sparrows chipping at sunrise, and the waves of dense fog that could quickly envelop the entire village and that caused the surrounding mountain scenery to be in a constant state of change. As the helicopter landed to pick us up a few days later, I felt satisfied with our work but yet sad to be leaving so soon. I love to travel and I always come home with that itch to get right back out there. Ok, maybe after a few days of rest.