How David Attenborough’s Camera Crew Capture’s Wildlife

David Attenborough’s nature documentaries are some of the most creative and engaging programs that educate the masses about climate change, our natural world, and the beautiful species that occupy it. In a new documentary called West Isles, camera crew members spent three years at home filming domestic life, and now, they’ve revealed the amazing ways in which they’re able to take some of their detailed shots. 

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West Isles is a new documentary set to broadcast on BBC One this month. Sir David Attenborough is set to narrate the series. Being one of the most well-known scientists behind a slew of popular nature documentaries, many are curious as to how camera crews are able to capture some of the rarest and well-detailed shots of our world’s wildlife. 

According to Katie Mayhew, surprisingly one of the biggest obstacles they have to overcome is lighting. “We rely on light to make everything look gorgeous. If the light’s not there, you have to think fast about how you’re going to make it look as lush without it,” she says. 

Alastair MacEwen, whose first credit was for Attenborough’s Life on Earth in 1979, discussed how he set up a two-week shoot during the summer on the River Isle in Somerset to capture the life cycle of  the banded demoiselle, “three weeks later you’re still waiting for the clouds to break,” he says, emphasizing the reasoning behind why it takes years for these documentaries to come to life.

“It was really difficult to frame things out because wild habitats are so small, but for certain sequences there was a conscious decision to include human structures. For toads on roads, we had to feature humans because we were telling the story of them getting squashed and how it’s increasingly difficult for them to migrate through our human habitat.”

Mayhew also discussed how the first year of filming was a “weather disaster,” especially when it came to capturing shots of migrating toads. “The second year it was warm enough to migrate but it was absolutely torrential rain for the whole shoot. The kit got soaked and completely caked in mud. 

Things became increasingly difficult because we were filming at night. Everything is covered in mud, you can’t even get clean hands to operate anything, and you’re trying not to step on any toads.

We’d do one shot, the lens would be caked in mud and the toad would’ve gone off in the wrong direction. I thought it would be easy filming toads because they’re slow but actually it was rather difficult,” Mayhew explained to The Guardian

Wildlife series also tend to be controversial as some use film from zoos to better capture certain wildlife behaviors, however, for West Isles production agreed to only film wild animals, despite their disagreement that using images and film from animals in captivity is just as useful as capturing animals in the wild. 

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 “To say that doing a few things in the studio is faking it is missing the point. Bringing animals into a studio is not desirable but if we do it, we do it because we need to get at the animal’s level to see what is happening.”

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The finale episode of West Isles is set to focus on the wildlife and natural world of the British seas, which are known for having a wide array of colorful marine creatures and nutrient-filled seas that contribute to multiple ecosystems. 

Doug Anderson is a marine specialist who is passionate about marine conservation; conservation in general is the underlying message of most of Attenborough’s narrated productions. 

“I felt an enormous sense of responsibility for all the people I know who have been campaigning for greater protection of British seas over the last two and a half decades. My family included. And that was a heavy burden. I really didn’t want to let people down,” Anderson explained in regards to his experiences filming marine life. 

Overall, the series will likely be yet another wonderful display describing the natural wonders of part of our world while emphasizing a message of conservation and saving the planet. 

“In the past, most natural history programs didn’t touch on that [conservation]; they didn’t think audiences wanted to hear it. But now times are changing, people are engaged and want to know about climate change and habitat and species loss. I’m proud it is part of the series,” Mayhew stated.