Planet Earth, Frozen Planet, Blue Planet, Human Planet, Life and Ocean Giants are documentary titles you're probably familiar with. Created by extraordinary individuals, these programs are filmed over lengthy periods of time in often what are uninhabitable conditions.
Doug Allan is one of those cameramen, pushing boundaries, risking life and limb for our viewing pleasure. Winner of four Emmy and four BAFTA awards, he's clocked up over 500 hours of filming under the ice and can often be found at the poles capturing unforgettable footage.
Having just finished his "Life Behind The Lens" tour, it was now time for him to step in front of mine. I was lucky enough to attend Doug's nationwide tour in Somerset where he had me hanging off his every word. During the interval and in between book signings I approached Doug and asked him if he'd feature in the "I Am..." series. A few quick e-mails later and we have a date for our photoshoot.
The whole idea behind the "I Am..." Series is to capture the individuals in their working environment, however as you can imagine it would be hard to get out to Antarctica for a day! We tried contacting a few locations to see whether they would let us in to photograph, but sadly to no avail. Not to be defeated, Doug grabs his dry suit and we head down to Clevedon to simulate what Doug is widely known for, filming in and underwater.
I must stress at this point, to spend the day talking with someone who is an inspiration to you is a real privilege. Conversations from camera equipment to tales from the Artic left me feeling like I’d known Doug for years.
I'm often mocked for the amount of equipment I take on location, however Doug put that to shame as we piled in the numerous Peli cases. Parking up as close as we could, families on their easter holidays were relaxing nearby. It amazes me, that despite Doug walking through the car park in a full dry suit carrying the 25-30kg underwater camera housing that was used in "Ocean Giants", and myself lugging various bits of lighting equipment around we drew very little attention. Doug thought it must clearly be an everyday activity for them.
The coast is always windy, and I started to feel a little bit sorry for Doug on his day off as he climbed into the cold Bristol water, however when you consider he's used to temperatures of -25°C in Antarctica I’m sure it felt relatively warm.
As unprepared as I was, Doug very kindly lent me his wellington boots to wade out in. With my Elinchrom Quadra kit on the nearby dry bank and the fact my boots were now filling up with water, the distance we could head out was limited. Doug found that he was too buoyant to get any lower in the water level, and proceeded to weight himself down with large rocks placed on his legs! Kind passers by helpfully held my Deep Octa as it started to take on the properties of a kite in the wind. Trying my best to lean over and get my 5D Mark II as close to the water level as I dare, without filling up my boots with any more water it made the shoot a challenge.
Ironically, I think I ended up wetter than Doug did. I cannot thank him enough for taking the time out of his busy schedule to feature in this series; he's an absolute legend! If your interested in learning more about Doug and his fascinating career, feel free to take a look at his website here. The next time your watching a documentary such as those listed above, you can think of Doug as he spends nearly ten man hours filming for one minutes worth of television.
I can thoroughly recommend his book "Freeze Frame - A wildlife cameraman's adventures on ice", packed full with 35 years worth of unseen imagery, thoughts, tales, and insights from the far ends of the earth. Jokingly, as we parted company Doug mentioned the next time we shoot it should be underwater... More than happy to take you up on that offer! :)