How to become a wildlife cameraman

BBC wildlife cameraman John Aitchison shares his expert advice. 

John Aitchison

How did you turn your interest in wildlife into a career?

It is important to spend time watching wildlife. I learnt about film-making by reading up on the subject and viewing as many wildlife programmes as I could. I would then analyse these programmes until I understood what kind of shots were needed. It is particularly important to understand this when filming sensitive animals. As I often work from a hide or on my own I need to be able to decide which type of shots to capture to allow the producer and editor to tell a coherent story.

Do you need to have formal training to become a wildlife cameraman?

I have a geography degree and spent time as a student learning how to make films. My first job was in the film unit of the RSPB, which allowed me to gain a lot of practical experience. Some of the best cameramen have degrees, others have film qualifications and some assisted other cameramen.

What is the best thing about your job? 

There isn’t a typical day in this job. One month, I might be using a long lens to film nesting eagles and the next I might be on a boat, looking for something fleeting and exciting, such as dolphins feeding on a shoal of fish. Sometimes I use small remote cameras on poles underwater or inside nests to get the shots I need. 

What advice would you give to aspiring wildlife film-makers? 

There is no substitute for grabbing a camera and getting out there. Choose an easy subject close to home so that you can spend lots of time focusing on it. Ask yourself, ‘Is my heart really in this? Do I know much about wildlife and if not how could I learn?’ The BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol offers occasional camera training bursaries and there are two wildlife filmmaking courses at Salford University and the University of the West of England (see below for more information). 

How to train as a wildlife cameraman

· The BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol occasionally offers bursaries to work on a natural history series alongside experts. Vacancies can be found on the careers section of the BBC website

· MA Wildlife Filmmaking, University of the West of England, Bristol

· MA Wildlife Documentary Production, University of Salford, Manchester

· Oceans Campus, South Africa offers wildlife filmmaking, underwater photography and wildlife photography courses, which aim to ‘equip aspiring documentary film makers with the skills, techniques and expertise required to produce a professional wildlife documentary’.

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