35mm lens – The perfect compromise lens that’s not a compromise
I’ve only recently discovered the prime 35mm lens. I feel a little stupid and embarrassed that it’s taken me so long; but if I could only have one lens on my camera for the rest of my life it would be my 35mm.
I started working in television in the late 80's. My first paid work was on David Attenborough's Trials of Life when I was 16 for the BBC Natural History Unit. My job was to help cameraman Rod Clarke film kingfishers. It was a great gig and it confirmed my dream of becoming a wildlife cameraman.
I then spent the next ten years struggling to become one working on programmes such as the BBC's Bird in the Nest, Hotshots, Nature Detectives and many more. When I was 24 I got a job on the BBC Natural History Unit cameraman bursary scheme which was a fast track to become a fully fledged cameraman. I spent two years in cameraman heaven, traveling the world filming wildlife - giant otters in the Amazon, alligators in Florida, lions in the Masai Mara.
At 26 I had finally made it - I left the BBC and become a freelance cameraman. Then of course I decided I wasn't happy with just filming, I wanted to make the programmes too. My lucky break came not long after going freelance. My wife Philippa and I cooked up a programme idea with Mike Gunton, who was then head of the Natural World series at the BBC. The idea was simple, we wanted to film the ordinary lives of the ordinary animals that lived on the river outside our house.
The idea was fairly boring and neither Philippa or I had ever produced a film before but Mike took a massive risk on us and gave us a commission.
Me and Jamie.
For nearly two years Philippa, Jamie McPherson and I shot 'My Halcyon River'. It was a very scary time, we didn't really know what we were doing and we didn't really know the rules (in hindsight this was to our benefit). We eventually stopped filming and went into the edit. Philippa was a good script writer which was a great help but beyond that we didn't have much experience cutting a film. However we were in safe hands, with top wildlife editor Nigel Buck and Mike Gunton's wisdom we managed to craft a 50 minute documentary. When the film was finally finished we didn't like it much. The audience seemed to though and the film become a hit.
In the days following its first transmission the Radio Times received more letters requesting its repeat than for any other film in their history.
It was judged by the industry to be one of the top ten wildlife films of all time and its style of nostalgic music and character study became very influential in wildlife film making. It then won a string of awards across the world including a Panda Award for Cinematography at Wildscreen film festival. The Royal Family even requested a copy for their Christmas viewing! Philippa and I were a bit chuffed. I still receive several emails a month about it to this day, 8 years after its transmission. I like the film now. I watch it back sometimes and it makes me smile. It's very calm and very honest.
My Halcyon River confirmed Philippa, Jamie and me as film makers and we went on to make a few more Natural World films after that - The Wild Wood, On The Trail of Tarka, Wye - Voices From the Valley and Victoria Falls 'The Smoke that Thunders'. We tried to stick to our homegrown methods of film making - passion, beauty and emotion taking preference over everything - oh and of course having a kingfisher in every film!