BBC Reveals Hacks Used To Capture Unique Wildlife Photography

The photography team in charge of BBC Two’s widlife programme Life Story travelled the globe with 23 tonnes of gear to get up close and personal with animals great and small.

Four years of filming over 29 countries in six continents added up to an eye-watering 1,800 hours of footage—300 terabytes of data.

To impress viewers that are tired of the views often seen in such documentaries, Life Story wanted to get close enough to record the tiny male peacock spider’s colourful mating dance, fast enough to make it seem that the viewer was running alongside a cheetah, detailed enough to capture the intricate ‘crop circle’ formations of the Japanese pufferfish and sufficiently innocuous-looking to avoid spooking groups of animals when in their midst.


BBC Cameraman Kim Wolhuter trailed a wild cheetah and her cubs for 18 months and used a gyro-stabilised camera to get close-up footage on them on the run. Source: BBC / Sophie Darlington

In order to do so, some kitbashing was in order.

The ‘Meercam’—allegedly like a steady cam turned upside down—allowed the team to easily film six inches off the ground and brought a new level of drama to a family of markets standing off against a cobra.

‘Camballs’—commercial surveillance cameras placed into spheres that can be placed then operated from a distance—allowed the team to film the action without startling the subjects.


Documenting the pufferfish’s ‘crop circle’ sand patterns. Source: BBC / Kat Brown

Filming the ‘crop circle’ formations of a specific breed of Japanese pufferfish’s presented a particular problem—extreme detail and various angles were required. They created an underwater studio with a camera that could be tracked around to give a fish-eye level view of the building of the structure, with an additional structure giving the team an aerial view of the finished piece.


A hideout for filming arctic foxes for BBC cameraman Rolf Steinmann. Source: BBC / Sophie Lanfear

BBC Worldwide’s Creative Director Dr Mike Gunton told CNET, “In ‘Life Story’, we wanted people to experience what it is like to be in the middle of the action and on the shoulder of the animal, no matter what they are doing.”

“For that new perspective, the crew jury-rigged surveillance cameras, tweaked lenses, built underwater rigs and customised cameras to get as close as possible to the action. In short they kit bashed until they found a way to capture the previously ‘unseen stories’ of nature.”

Title image source: BBC / Theo Webb