As part of a film project of my local wildlife, I’ve been trying to film several different species that all show particularly well at the same time of year – in particular some wild flowers whose blooms coincide with peregrine chicks fledging. The latter require more time investment than the flowers, so I thought I would focus on them for a while. As I got more and more into the project, I lost track of time and to be honest focused on the peregrines for a little bit too long. I was struggling for time as they seemed to be active most between 5-7 in the evening, and my weekday film slots were limited to 6-8am and 7-9pm. So I decided to give it one last big go: I spent 14 hours on the edge of a cliff on one of the hottest Saturdays and Sundays of the year (and managed to get a nice half-leg tan line which, a month later, is still there and looking ridiculous).
I wasn’t ecstatic with the footage but it wasn’t bad and so I thought I would push it until Monday morning before moving on to things I, in an ideal world, should have already done as time was really running out. Tuesday morning around 6.40am I get a text from a fellow peregrine-watcher saying: “Ester, where are you? The peregrines are missing you!” Would you believe that for the first time in a while they decided to come over to this side of the gorge and were putting on quite the show. Nothing had changed – not the temperature nor the wind direction or strength. And to make matters worse, my friend subsequently tweeted me an excellent picture of one of the young birds, extremely close by.
My frustration was immense.
Once the rational side of my brain took over again, I started asking myself: how do professionals do it? They spend months in the field and I’m sure they’ve been in countless of these situations before themselves. I took it to the pros and confronted them with the question: at what point is enough, enough?
My first victim was Paul Williams, Assistant Producer at the BBC NHU, and his words were very reassuring: “you never catch the best sequences, you always miss the animals at their best and you always want more time.” According to Nigel Pope, Director at Maramedia productions, the answer is “whatever is financially and logistically possible”. As they filmed Hebrides: Islands on the Edge in just two years with only one main cameraman for the topside (land) shots, logistics were all rather complicated moving lots of kit great distances to get everything within the same season. “If you have the money and can afford the time you stay as long as you can.”
The more people I spoke to, the more it seemed that my little tale was the norm rather than the exception.
I decided to confront wildlife photographer and cameraman Sandesh Kadur, who will often spend extra time in the field beyond what he’s actually being paid for.
“We need to do the best we can in the window of opportunity we have. I try not to constrain myself to time especially while trying to get animal behaviour. The longer you spend in the field the better and deeper your observations and documentation will be. Maximise your time out there, but don’t fret about not being able to be there an extra day or kick yourself in the behind for not having been there a day sooner. We just need to stay focused and positive in the endeavour to document the amazing natural world around us!”
“There is no black magic” said Peter Cairns, award-winning wildlife photographer, gave me a few minutes of his time to give me his two pence on the situation. “Very few photographers are reluctant to take on assignments with a time limit: they’ll often get paid for only a few days and stick it out until they’ve got work they’re happy with.
My best shot is the one that the guy next to me took and I didn’t. You have to be philosophical about it because if you don’t and beat yourself up, you stop enjoying it. It’s 90% frustration, boredom, disappointment and disillusion but you do it for the 10% – a 9:1 ratio of preparation, observation, learning their tolerance etc, and pressing the shutter is almost a formality. You take those terms or give up.”