Category Archives: Filming

Expedition Oman

February saw me back in the Middle East and out on a shoot of a very different nature: it wasn’t about nature. A ‘typical’ natural history shoot might involve a very small crew operating in isolation in the wild for a number of weeks, usually tracking animals that have a frustrating propensity to run away. That paradigm was left behind from the outset on this production as thirty crew, sponsors and extras dressed in period sailor costumes descended upon Ras Al Hadd to film re-enactments for a historical documentary.


A motlier bunch of rag tag castaways you never did see

This film examines the fate of the crew of the Dutch East Indiaman, Amstelveen, wrecked on a desolate and remote stretch of Arabian coastline two hundred and fifty years ago whilst en route from Batavia (modern Jakarta) to Iraq. For the few survivors cast upon the shore, the ordeal had only just begun as they now faced a desperate and seemingly endless journey through a hostile wilderness to rejoin civilisation. Details of the crew’s passage and their encounters with the local Bedouin have recently been unearthed in the diary of one of the castaways, Cornelius Eykes (Milan Collin, Deepeei Films).

Eykes was suprisingly tech-savvy for an 18th century sailor.

Eykes proved to be suprisingly tech-savvy for an 18th century sailor.

As well as shooting production stills (a selection of which can be found in the galleries here:, I was also camera assisting for self-shooting director, Gilles Frenken, and operating whilst he assumed an acting role. This was a pretty hectic week with a lot to fit in as these re-enactments went on to make up about 20 minutes of the completed film. With so many people involved, time is quite literally money and it pays to be clinical and efficient. It also helps prevent your volunteer army from becoming distracted.



Quite a bit of material was shot handheld to be able to get in amongst the action and so Gilles had opted for an EF mount C300 with L series photographic lenses and a range of Carl Zeiss Compact Primes, plus an onboard stereo-mic for shooting sync. I was pretty impressed with the image straight off the camera – it’s certainly sharp with the compact primes and although the limited bit depth and dynamic range obviously places certain constraints on your shooting style, the set up is light enough that you really can comfortably shoot handheld all day.

Shooting handheld, stranded sailor style

Both Dutch and English versions of the film have been produced. The Dutch version was aired on the 21st of July on Dutch public channel NED2. Discussions are currently underway to enable the English version to be shown on the Discovery Channel in the near future and I’ll be sure to update you if that turns out to be the case.

Arabian Sunset

‘my own desert places’

For more info about the story of the film and including thoughts from director Gilles Frenken, check out this somewhat quirky article from a local daily:


Sulawesi Macaques

At the end of 2012, I headed out to Tangkoko National Park in North Sulawesi, Indonesia with Rolf Steinmann and his beloved Alexa in order to spend 7 weeks in the jungle capturing the magical, cheeky, frequently-frustrating but endlessly loveable antics of the Sulawesi Macaque, also known as the Mohican Monkey.

I am the Mohican Monkey

‘Check me out; I am the Mohican Monkey!’

Like many species living in close proximity to man, the Sulawesi Macaque population has crashed in the last couple of decades. This film, an upcoming BBC Natural World, aims to look at the reasons behind this population decline and asks the question – are these the last of the mohican monkeys? Rolf and I, however, were assigned the rather more cheery task of capturing the behaviour and characters of these, most stylish of primates. December marks the onset of the rainy season and the magical morning mist.

OK. Maybe that was worth getting out of bed at 4 am for.

An effective antidote to a 4 am start.

It also marks the start of mango season and the monkeys, well, they eat a lot of mango. Initially this made our lives easy as, rather than roving far and wide, the macaques stayed in a relatively small area, making it a simple task to rejoin the group each day. However, after a short-while it became plain that it would be rather challenging to capture them doing much of anything else. Partly because, when they weren’t eating mango, they were getting to grips with the film equipment.

Sulawesi (1 of 1)

‘Can’t seem to get the exposure for some reason…’

That or sleeping…

Another hard afternoon in the jungle. What d'you mean it's only 10am?

‘Another hard afternoon in the jungle. What d’you mean it’s only 10am?’

Fortunately on this shoot we had the luxury of time. In wildlife shooting, time makes all the difference and slowly the boisterous, affected behaviours gave way to a more natural insight into the everyday lives of these monkeys.

Mmmm... tasty!

‘The full mohawk today, sir, or just an exuberant quiff?’

'Hey! No running, diving or bombing!'

‘Hey! No running, diving or bombing!’

The Alexa, as ever, performed flawlessly and really allowed us to make the most of the little light that made it down to the jungle floor; even then the aperture was pretty wide most of the time. The two stops that the doubler cost meant it was really only useable in the more open areas, however the scrub was so thick in most places that the doubler was only called for in the open areas anyway. The 30-300 was beautifully sharp and the image straight off the camera is mouthwateringly crisp and rich, the high bit depth yielding super silky tones through the shadows. Carrying a super 35mm camera, a full shooting days worth of batteries, a range of PL lenses and a fluid head through the jungle on the side of a steep volcano between a team of three is certainly a work out and we had some reservations going into it; the image delivered, however, certainly justifies the effort and I’m really looking forward to seeing the completed film this autumn. As usual, absolutely no problems with reliability, despite the heat and oppressive humidity. In fact I recall only one occasion when Rolf’s faith in the hardiness of German engineering wavered perceptibly.

'My turn!'

‘My turn!’

After seven weeks in the jungle it felt pretty strange to come back to the city. Even the smallest of things seemed alien. Still, perhaps that isn’t so different to the jungle…

'WTF is that?'

‘WTF is that?’

To check out a selection of images captured during our time in Sulawesi visit the Faunagraph gallery here:


A Barge Less Dived…

[embedit snippet=”roberts-barge-vimeo-video”]

Finding the Wreck

Almost a year ago Marcus and I headed out to check out some marks in the hope of finding something new to dive. Our plan to survey three or four sites that day was cut short by inclement weather, however the time we had yielded some success; the echo revealed something standing 3m proud of the seabed at a depth of eighty meters near to the first mark. We trawled backwards and forwards for an hour or so marking waypoints every time we got a hit, hoping to build up an idea of how big the thing might have been – this gave us an estimate of forty to fifty meters, although bouncing around in rough seas in a small rib didn’t give us too much confidence in the accuracy of the results! Old reports described Nevil Adkins and Tim Seed diving on ‘Robert’s Barge’ in a location and depth that seemed to match this site, although no position had been listed in the account. Was this the same barge? Or something new? Whatever it was, it certainly looked like it was worth a dive.

Robin explores the well encrusted bow of Robert's Barge

Almost a year passed until this April when I put a plan together with some other members of the Ras Al Hamra Sub Aqua Club to head out and dive the site Marcus and I had located previously. Despite being favoured with very respectable visibility during the descent, towards the seabed it became a bit milky and so we were at nearly 70m before the outline of an open pipe barge, completely empty and sitting upright on the silty seabed, loomed into existence below us. Any ambiguity as to whether the site was the same one dived by Nevil and Tim was definitively dispelled as they’d left a can with an inscription attached to a ladder at the stern.

Welcome to Robert's Barge

Tim and Nevil’s claim on the wreck: ‘Welcome to Robert’s Barge. First dived Wednesday 9th May 2001 by Nevil Adkins and Tim Seed’.

The site is small (smaller than the echo suggested) and dark but eerily beautiful. Sunk forty years previously and having only been dived once to date (to the best of our knowledge) it was also well colonised and undisturbed. Given the depth we only had a brief bottom time to get the shots for the video, which is correspondingly short, but I’m sure you’ll agree has a haunting beauty.

Hopefully we’ll have more to report before too long; as the saying so nearly goes ‘there are plenty more marks in the sea’. 🙂

P.S. Apologies for the quality of the stills in this post – they are frame grabs from the video footage.

Wildscreen 2012

Wildscreen 2012Wow! I’m just back from a pretty epic Wildscreen 2012. Great to catch up with old faces and meet plenty of new ones, all the while geeking out on a fantastic ensemble of seminars, sessions and screenings. Festival highlights included seminars with Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Dr Jane Goodall, and on a personal note, seeing some of the footage Rolf and I shot for Wild Arabia cut, graded and on the big screen during the Alexa presentation. Congratulations to the Frozen Planet team for a magnificent haul at the Panda awards and particularly to Mark Smith who also won the much coveted Golden Panda for My Life as a Turkey. Already looking forward to 2014!

Wild Arabia Team’s Photos Make NAB Issue Of ARRI News

ARRI News Front Cover

ARRI News NAB Issue 2012 – Click to download full PDF from

The Wild Arabia team are currently feeling pretty smug that the promotional photographs we took of Rolf with his Alexa have been included in the NAB 2012 issue of Arri News. In fact, Rolf is even on the cover! Congratulations to Chadden, Mandy and Ahmed (and I even managed to sneak one in myself!). Click the image above to download the full issue from ARRI (pdf).