David Attenborough’s latest landmark natural history series – Seven Worlds, One Planet airs on BBC1 Sundays from 27th October 2019. The seven-part series uses cutting-edge technology to explore how the characteristics of each of the planet’s continents affect the animals that live there. After finishing up working on Blue Planet II (which you can read more about on my blog) I filmed underwater sequences for the Asian (ep.2) and Australian (ep.4) episodes of Seven Worlds. We had an incredible team for both stories and I got to shoot some amazing fish behaviour in locations that were totally new to me.
For the Asian episode I filmed whale sharks feeding on bait fish at an Indonesian fishing Bagan. These are semi-permanent fishing structures and can be found all over South East Asia. The whale sharks are attracted in by the bait fish that are caught in the nets there. Toby Strong filmed the topside elements of the sequence while I worked underwater and at the surface (for split shots) with Jason Isley assisting. The sequence was directed by Lucy Wells and we were assisted logistically by Lighthouse pictures and Pearl of Papua diving. It was an incredible experience to get up close to the largest fish in the sea. They were pretty boisterous and really had no qualms about pushing me out of the way to get to the food. At one point we had nine individuals around the Bagan. I estimate the largest was approximately 12m long and the smallest was 4m.
The underwater shots were important but the key to this sequence was the half-half (split) shots at the surface. The whale sharks would stand almost vertically in the water column with their mouths half in and half out of the water. The huge gulps they took created a big vacuum which water and fish were sucked down into. In close up it almost looked like the bait-fish were being sucked over the edge of a waterfall. To capture this well I used an extremely large dome on my camera (see pic at top of page). This made it possible to get sharp focus both in air and water. It also gave more surface area for the water to move over which meant it was easier to keep the water line steady through the shot. One of the biggest issues with this kind of shot is beading, where droplets of water form on the surface of the dome. Once this happens the viewer becomes aware of the camera and the shot is ruined. I have a couple of tricks for dealing with that but I’m going to keep them up my sleeve 😉 Diving a Bagan at Cendrewasih bay was something that had been on my list for a long time so it was particularly satisfying to do it for Seven Worlds.
Australia was another shark sequence but this time the subject was grey reef sharks. I was tasked with filming cleaning behaviour at a shallow cleaning station on the Ningaloo reef system. Here grey reef sharks use the cleaning services of small blue-streak cleaner wrasse who pick off parasites and dead skin from the sharks. This cleaning block is so shallow that you can actually see the sharks cleaning while snorkeling at the surface. These sharks are particularly skittish so to attempt to get close enough to get great shots we used a combination of closed circuit rebreathers (rEvo in my case) to limit noisy bubbles, and specially designed camouflaged wetsuits. These wetsuits had another trick in that they had a titanium mesh woven into the neoprene to attempt to dampen the wearers electrical field and so be less obvious to sharks.
We needed all the help we could get as conditions were far from perfect. Strong current and visibility of around 5m made the shoot extremely challenging. Cleaning station shoots are really one of my favourite shoots as I can hang out patiently and really craft a story over time. There’s no second guessing about locations – you just sit…. and wait… and film.
I was also really impressed with the Coral Bay area of the Ningaloo reef overall. There was tons of healthy reef and a great selection of big animals to swim with including Manta rays, Tiger Sharks, Whale sharks, Turtles and many more. I highly recommend a trip there in the season around April-May. Thanks to everyone from Infamis expeditions for their help on the shoot. This sequence was also directed by Lucy Wells and we had Alex Vail, Andre Rekura, Jason Isley, and Jo Stead on the team.
Check out the trailer below for a peak at some of the amazing visuals and read the official press release about the series from the BBC website…
Seven Worlds is a brand new, ambitious landmark 7×60’ series for BBC One.
Each one-hour episode will transport viewers to a single continent and tell the story of its spectacular wildlife and iconic landscapes.
The series will reveal just how the particular characteristics of each continent – their shape, size, climate, ancient past and position on our planet – have given rise to and shaped the unique animal life found on each of our seven worlds.
In this series we will discover why Australasia is full of weird and venomous wildlife; why North America is a land of opportunity where pioneers succeed; and what the consequences are for life racing to compete on the richest of all continents, South America.
The series will have its own signature look and style, developed using cutting-edge technology. Stabilised camera systems, drones and mini cameras will be deployed to capture new wildlife behaviour. Epic landscapes will be filmed using the very latest techniques, allowing audiences to experience each continent like never before.
The programme will view the continents through their greatest natural wonders: the Congo, the Amazon, the Sahara, the Himalayas -and by telling dramatic animal stories in those extraordinary wildernesses, it will uncover the fundamental truth about what makes each one of the seven worlds unique.
Seven Worlds, a 7×60’ series for BBC One, is Executive Produced by Jonny Keeling for the BBC’s Natural History Unit and is co-produced with BBC America. The Commissioning Editor is Tom McDonald, Head of Commissioning, Natural History and Specialist Factual. It will be distributed globally by BBC Worldwide.