BLOG: Outdoor Adventure Filming for Absolute Beginners - Part 1



As Director of Photography for adventure content, I often get asked for tips or tricks from my experiences. So I thought I would share a few with you.

Here I will outline some key fundamentals of camerawork. I will be crunching down huge amounts of information into bite-sized pieces, having to omitt huge areas of technical information. So just use these tips and tricks as shortcuts to ensure that creativity and content will remain the focus of the photography.


I often read about kits, cameras, lenses, resolutions, bit-rates, what’s new, what’s good or bad, and what’s hot or not. It’s great to have a guilty pleasure of geeking out on kits, but the plethora of gear with multitudes of features can be mind boggling and can sometimes lead to a lack of conviction that can detract from the essence of shooting simple, great video and stills.

You don’t need the fanciest of kit, and with smart phones most people are capturing incredible content.

In my opinion, the important thing is to not let the technical process impede the creative. There’s nothing worse than someone having to wait while you fiddle with the camera settings or missing the moment because you weren’t quick enough.


 A pretty extreme example of this was when I was out in Tanzania, in the Serengeti. I was asked by the producer of the show to go out in the morning to film a Cheetah chasing and killing a wildebeest. I got in the car with my guide, who immediately cracked up laughing, wiping away his eyes as he explained that to ensure a shot like this we would need a few months, and even then, it would not be set in stone. Too many things need to fall into place, outside of our control. With nothing else to do that day apart from try, we set off in a cloud of dust in search for our shot.

Without question, the Serengeti delivers on its promise of being the best that Africa has to offer when it comes to wildlife and natural beauty. That morning alone I filmed Vultures fighting over a dead zebra, a Leopard in a tree and then Cheetahs eating a fresh kill. It only took 20 minutes to get the shot we were after.

On the way back, we stopped to film a pride of Lions on a copy. Beautiful stuff, the light, the surroundings, all just perfect. Mid-way through, the first thing I feel is the Vehicle being slammed into reverse. I then hear screaming “the kill, the kill!,” while I’m asking him what the heck he means. All I get from him is “it will happen, it will happen here!” ... Realising that he means we are about to witness a lion kill its prey, I proceed to try and change lenses to the super long lens I had for being a long way off, but trying to put it together whilst being thrown around in the back of the 4x4 wasn’t the easiest.

We stop abruptly and I’m thrown into the perfect spot, “here, it will happen right here” as he points in front of us.

With the camera just about operational, I get shots of the lion’s eyes through the grass, as it seeks the unsuspecting Wildebeest. In that spilt second it occurs to me that this really needs to be in slow motion. After a quick change of frame rate, I take the risk, switch to 180 frames per second-- about seven times slower-- and hit record. As I wait and glance at the camera, to check the amount of space I have left on the card, I pause. It shows me six minutes (!?!?) ... The card lasts barely any time at all when you film in slow motion!... but I’m set up now so I gamble and decide to stick with it. Four minutes in and the lion is still watching, but no attack, she’s waiting for the perfect moment, and if it happens whilst I’m resetting my camera I’m not getting this shot. I have never known time to move so slowly, sweat pouring off my face, heart racing well above a comfortable pace.

Four mins and twenty seconds in, with a mere one minute forty left in the card and she makes her move. Springing into action from her hiding place, we see is the wildebeest exploding into a sprint. But thirty seconds later and it’s all over.

Filming is often all about choices, riding your luck and trying to stay calm in the moments that are available to you. Ambivalence and a lack of conviction can genuinely cost you what you desire, so keep it as simple as you can, do the basics right and you can end up with some extraordinary results.


Like any profession, succeeding at the basics is imperative. My aim is to give you a general understanding of what is happening in the camera, and what effect that will have on the image.

Most often when you adjust any one element on the camera, it will have a knock-on effect and another adjustment will have to be made. You are always searching for the balance between functions to achieve the desired effect.


 It’s all about the Physics or F I Z S I C S 

  • Focus

  • Iris

  • Zoom

  • Shutter

  • ISO

  • Camera

  • Settings

Master these 7 things and you’ll really get somewhere.

I can’t remember any other time in my career when focus was more important than when I filmed a real 727 airplane crash. It was an experiment 3 years in the making. Iris and zoom come a little more naturally, but focus can trip up even the most experienced photographer. It’s called focus for a reason and in the moments that plane came down while I filmed from a helicopter in a 500ft hover off to one side, I felt like my heart had moved up to the back of my throat. It can be stressful at times, but when you get it right, its super rewarding.


Bizarrely, it is not just the focus adjustment that determines sharpness of the image-- there are other factors to consider. Here is a shot where I’ve framed up the same shot, but one of them I’ve set the Iris setting of f2.8 and the other at f16.

Pic #1 (Shallow Depth)

Pic #1 (Shallow Depth)

Pic #2 (Deep Depth)     (NB: I had to increase the shutter to compensate for the increased amount of light because of the wider aperture - more on this later)

Pic #2 (Deep Depth)

(NB: I had to increase the shutter to compensate for the increased amount of light because of the wider aperture - more on this later)

Quite a bit different right? The 2nd photo everything is in focus, and the 1st photo gives you a much greater feeling of depth. The effect you use really depends on what you are trying to portray with your picture. For most of what I shoot, I am always looking for foreground to be soft so your eye is drawn towards the sharp, main subject of the image. But the beauty of all of this is that the power is in your hands. Interestingly, the second picture shows us what the lens is truly focused on and the position of your focus becomes much more critical when working with a wider aperture.


When I was a trainee, I drew a picture on my hand like this.

Pic #3 (my hand)

Pic #3 (my hand)

I used to make a twisting motion for hours on end and say “nearer, further” in my head to try and make the motion second nature so whenever I picked up the camera I wouldn’t get it the wrong way round. It really worked for me, it might not for you, but what I’m pointing at is that it’s really good to get to know your camera and make it an extension of yourself.

How you operate it is key. I’ve explained about turning the camera the right way, which is helpful for speed and efficiency. When shooting a moving image, as a general rule you should use manual focus only; you could possibly use auto for a second to bring it in, but then straight onto manual and it’s a constant adjustment as you film.

I mostly set my own focus and it’s one of the main skills required to be able to properly photograph anything. The movement of the focus ring is very fine and barely noticeable when something is far away from you, as something moves closer to the lens the movement gets bigger.

Different cameras have different degrees of quality to how well these functions operate and how they are set up on the camera, so it is often a case of trial and error.


The Iris can make a major creative difference to the amount of what is in focus in front of the lens, or the depth of field.

That is a creative decision, but the primary use of the Iris is to adjust the amount of light that come through it to expose the image on the chip block within the camera.

This works exactly the same way as your eyes. When it is very bright, your eyes automatically make the Iris in your eyes smaller. It does this to reduce the amount of light coming through it so you can view the world in a normally exposed way. When it’s dark the opposite happens.

Pic - Human eye Iris closed

Pic - Human eye Iris closed

Pic - Human eye Iris open

Pic - Human eye Iris open

Pic - Lens Iris closed

Pic - Lens Iris closed

Pic - Lens Iris Open

Pic - Lens Iris Open

The increments of the Iris are measured in f-stops. Different lenses will have the ability to go to lower f-stop values depending on quality and whether they zoom or not. We call lenses that can’t zoom prime lenses and theses are able to achieve lowers f-stops, let more light in (work better in the dark) and create an even greater exaggerated depth of field.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 edition of Be Inspired by Discovery Adventures

BLOG: When an Extreme Adventure TV Shoot didn't go to plan!



This article originally appeared in the September 2018 edition of Be Inspired by Discovery Adventures

My world had turned white ... and I’d lost any sense of which way was up, down left or right. I could vaguely make out some shapes ahead of me but beyond that nothing but an endless white blizzard.

 I was caught in a whiteout, on a documentary TV shoot, on top of a vast Icelandic glacier. Visibility had dropped to around 12 feet as a weather front of snow, sleet and fog had swept in cloaking the sun and turning a vast open location into a claustrophobic white world.


Days before I’d been standing in the same spot looking out across a breathtaking landscape of blue skies, snow and mountains that stretched for miles down to the North Atlantic Ocean. The world looked very different today.

I was on Iceland’s Skálafellsjökull glacier, the largest in Europe, making a new Engineering and Survival show. For months we’d been planning to recreate a crash site using a full-size plane fuselage and various other vehicles. The plan was to drop a cast of engineers onto the glacier to survive the extreme elements and salvage parts of the crash to build an escape vehicle. The set looked like something from a Hollywood disaster movie until the weather decided to throw a spanner in the works! In Adventure TV Filming you plan for risk and try to think ahead to all eventualities but as much as you might try, mother nature is one of the elements you have no control over. And in situations like this you just have to roll with the punches and keep going as best you can to try and produce some TV worth watching.


On day one of our filming, we learnt the hard way that glaciers often have their own microclimates. You can go from clear blue skies to a complete white out in minutes. The weather front that hit us was of epic proportions, worthy of any episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ (scenes from which, by the way, were shot nearby).


In these conditions it’s easy to get disorientated and caught out by concealed crevasses beneath our feet. Fortunately, our guides had marked out a safe zone with GPS but the menace of a crevasse opening up was always at the back of my mind. For a while everything ground to a snail’s pace and we were close to pulling the shoot. If conditions got any worse we’d have to abandon the show and evacuate down and off the glacier - months of planning would be lost.


Operating also requires agile, nimble fingers, but with wet, numb hands, turning a focus ring is no easy task. In sleet, moisture eventually seeped into all of our fancy, synthetic gloves. In the end it was a low-fi solution that saved the shoot. Generations of Icelanders have used old-fashioned wool gloves that despite taking in water, have an almost magical ability to keep the heat in and your hands functioning. We combined the wool with a bunch of hand warmers, stuffed into every available part of our clothing and the cameras kept on rolling.

As the shoot played out, as is often the case, the difficult conditions made for a raw and exciting episode and with just days to go the Icelandic gods took favour on us and finally the storm front began to clear. Gradually the curtain of cloud lifted revealing in all its dramatic, glory the majesty of the surrounding landscape.


While the visuals suffered in the first couple of days, we got the dramatic finale to the show we needed and we were pleased to discover that despite ending up with a bunch of destroyed viewfinders, most of the footage was in focus and the cast of engineers managed to escape the glacier!



BLOG: Travelling into the Unknown - Part 3



I’m very lucky. I get to meet so many incredible people from all over the world and document what they naturally do, where they feel comfortable doing it. Telling the stories of people who we often know little about is a real privilege that I never take for granted: Hard working Tuvan people from Siberia living in yurts, amazing Syrian refugees getting their lives back together in refugee camps, Baaka people living in the forests of the Congo, etc. Of course, not every individual within all of this diversity is perfect. However, if you concentrate on those who are kind, or even the kind of people with the attributes that would define them to be grumps, I always think that there’s a wealth of nice people and good company anywhere across the globe.

Being able to get along with people from different cultures, backgrounds, belief systems, and attitudes different from my own is essential in my line of work. You have to leave your own prejudices and judgments at the door and if you think you don’t have them, you are probably wrong. We all prejudice to a certain degree as it’s a very human thing to do. So being aware of how these work on your psyche rather than denying their existence is probably the best way to go.


“The kit we take to areas we know nothing about has to be fit for any terrain and circumstance.”


When writing about these experiences, I’m aware that it can sound a little like everything I do is amazing or perfect. The reality is that it’s not. The large proportions of these shoots can be stressful and hard, and they require a labour of love. It takes a lot of effort to get to these places with the necessary kit and make everything all work under a huge amount of pressure. In China, I had two cameras go down and I was barely able to make the rest of my kit continue to work. For me, that’s part of the challenge, and the bigger the challenge is, the greater the sense of achievement I would feel once it’s completed.

Adventure and discovery of the unknown, I think, has a place in everyone’s heart. So why not start small and see if the ember turns into a flame? One of the best adventures I ever had was taking our kids up the hill one morning so they could light a fire for sausages and watch the sunrise; one of the most magical mornings of my life.


"Not an ideal place for thousands of pounds worth of expensive filming equipment to be charging, but sometimes there is no other way.”

 This article originally appeared in the August 2018 edition of Be Inspired by Discovery Adventures

BLOG: Travelling into the unknown 2


Travelling into the Unknown in China


“The moment I have to stop filming and actually get a chance to look around me can feel quite surreal at times like this”

Adventure Filmmaking involves traveling to unknown places, with unknown people, the experience is not without its challenges. Arriving somewhere unknown is initially struggling because I’m immediately out of my comfort zone.

 On a past shoot in China, the only traveller from the UK, I flew out on my own and didn’t have a clue as to who I was meeting up with or where I was going. I mean, I knew the whereabouts I was aiming for in the country, but it’s tricky to visualise what it will actually be like when you get there until you see it with your own eyes. So, with the call sheet, itinerary, and my camera kit, I set off to Beijing. A quick stop there and then on to the provincial town of Xi An (home to the Terracotta Army).

On arrival, I was met by a friendly member of the production team. We jumped onto a minivan and made our way to HansZong in just 4 hours. If you have been to China, you’ll know that the driving can be, well, interesting… especially on roads cut into the side of cliffs, hundreds of metres drop off one side with the driver constantly beeping his horn to let other drivers know of his existence like a pulse of sonar; it’s stunningly beautiful, annoying, fun and terrifyingly scary all at once.

We arrived, had a quick meal where a chicken’s head and foot got scooped onto my plate, along with some blood tofu and vegetables; went to bed, and got an early rise to get the kit ready to shoot the next day. My room was freezing and initially I was a little shell shocked, confused, and anxious about what was to come. Fortunately, since I have been in this kind of situation a fair amount of times in the past, I was able to pull myself together, got all the sleep jet lag would allow, took a deep breath, and got out the next day ready to shoot.

What proceeded was one of the most fantastic adventures I have had to date. Huge repels into unexplored sinkholes, sleeping in the beds of old miners’ quarters, filming incredible rooms of stalactites, flow stone, and quartz that you would only expect to see on the set of a movie, and travelling nearly four miles into the Earth’s crust in search of underground vistas.


I always find it strange looking back on a lot of the things I have filmed across my career and this was no exception. If I were to watch something in a film or on television where I could see the cameraman squeezed into such a small space that you could hear the presenter saying “you have to breath out in order to move forward,” I would meet it with a mixture of shock, horror and repulsion at the idea of doing such a thing. The camera seems to paradoxically provide me with the mental strength to maintain a level of composure in such situations, providing me with an opportunity to comfortably step outside of my comfort zone.

I think a lot of this motive has to do with making sure I come back with the relevant content to tell the story. By putting myself in circumstances that many people may never find themselves in, it means that I can, in a small way, transpose that experience to the general public. I’m incredibly privileged to have this opportunity and I take the responsibility of this role very seriously. Arousing and driving emotional response from somebody who watches what I have filmed is my ultimate goal. Whether it’s repulsion, fear, happiness, shock or bewilderment, it’s all about the rollercoaster, the ups and downs of what happens around you that must be conveyed… It’s not always just about framing up a pretty shot.


This article originally appeared in the August 2018 edition of Be Inspired by Discovery Adventures

BLOG: Travelling into the Unknown 1
Ice from plane dan.jpg

By Dan Etheridge


As an Adventure Filmmaker, I have been to a lot of remote places and I’m lucky enough to be able to say that I’ve been to a few that nobody else has ventured to. It’s not a regular occurrence and I can remember each experience quite vividly. In some ways it’s a little tricky to gauge exactly what makes these places unexplored but the whole notion of being remote having been somewhere uninhabited is a fascinating experience. 



Firstly, how do you define its size? Ten square feet? A hundred? A mile square? Or a whole defined area...? If you want to make its definition on the smaller scale, anyone of us could find these spaces relatively easily. I personally think that’s the way to do it. This method would provide everybody the opportunity to get out there and be real explorers. 

The explorer that you were when you were a child; climbing unclimbed trees and finding nooks and crannies around every corner out in the woods. If you can take a few steps off the trodden path and find somewhere that you might potentially be able to say is undiscovered and nobody has ever been to, the whole world would be a much exciting place.

Personally, I’ve never really lost that feeling, it’s never really fully left me no matter how many trips or expeditions that I have been lucky enough to go on.


Filming in the in unexplored tunnels and caves of Hang Sơn Đoòng, in Vietnam, with the intention to discover whether this particular cave system was actually the largest in the world – the cave didn’t disappoint and was not only the largest but pretty incredible to see. This particular cave had everything from lakes, waterfalls, stalactites, stalagmites the size of houses, beaches, jungles, holes the size of a football pitches in the roof… all sorts of craziness and many of them not really properly explored before. It’s an amazing feeling to see and film something which no one before has ever looked at and experienced. It’s almost eerie and not something the human brain digests in a regular way. It’s mysterious.

I love that Einstein quote that says…

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” Albert Einstein

I really believe this statement. If you can’t stop and look at something simple like a ladybird walking on its tiny legs, powered by minuscule muscles and a microscopic brain, on a leaf that’s photosynthesising the energy from the sun, all in your own back garden… then you should try to experience it. It’s pretty cool when you allow ordinary things to blow your mind. The world suddenly becomes a more interesting place.

Enjoying the scenery and experiencing things that you wouldn’t necessarily call ‘normal’ in your everyday life, it’s this sense of wonderment and mystery that lies at the heart of adventure that drives me to film.

This article originally appeared in the July 2018 edition of Be Inspired by Discovery Adventures

BLOG: Packing for a Jungle Adventure Shoot 1
Nick on location in the Panamanian jungle.

Nick on location in the Panamanian jungle.


By Nick O’Meally

Packing for any extreme environment is never easy, whether it’s a 3-day shoot or a month-long expedition. Bringing the wrong kit can cause you all kinds of pain. When you’re navigating difficult terrain with bags and cameras, getting It right can literally be the difference between bringing a series home or not.

I’ve been lucky to direct shoots in challenging terrains all across the planet, from jungles to deserts and from low terrains to high mountains. Each environment brings its own unique challenges and clothing conundrums. If you hang around with enough adventure film crews, you start to realize the real professionals are extremely attentive about their kit and they will consistently use the same items that have been previously tested and utilized. The kit we take is not what you would often expect. 

So I’ve written a guide with packing tips for 3 distinct environments (Jungle, Mountain, and Desert), which will include a couple of key rules to follow and my 3 top specific kit items;

First up, Getting down and dirty in a Jungle.

Rule 1: Surrender your ego and clothing to the jungle!  


It sounds like a cliché, but jungles will literally chew you up and spit you out. All the experts who manage our safety and access constantly use the phrase; ‘Don’t fight the jungle... it will always win’.

So forget about packing heaps of technical gear designed to outsmart the elements or make you look ‘cool’ in your kit. The real jungle experts are a scruffy bunch, dressed in well-worn, light fitting, and dependable clothing. The ones that survive all seem to adopt a zen-like attitude as they get along with the environment and accept the minimal and practical mentality. See my next blog on dressing for the high mountain, where you’ve got more chance of pulling off the full Gucci-tactical look. From day one, you realise that your kit will get hammered and destroyed over the course of a shoot. After a couple of hours, knee deep in a muddy tropical swamp, you’ll look like a bedraggled castaway. Deal with it, embrace it, and don’t fight it.

Rule 2: Follow the wet and dry method; the jungle warfare way. 


Boil your kit down to two essential sets of clothing that will go into either a wet or a dry bag. You’ll wear one set during the day and change into your dry kit at night. That’s it. I’m not talking about a set of your favorite PJs. I mean the same kit you’d wear in the day. Dry and rotate, dry and rotate. You’ll stink after a while, but on the upside, you are less likely to scare the wildlife away.

The reasons for the ‘wet/dry kit’ are simple. Jungles are bloody wet. It will rain consistently for hours and/or stop and start all day long, so the weather will go from baking sun to a tropical downpour in an instant. It’s almost impossible to stay dry. Crews that are new to the jungle often make the mistake of packing the latest and technical waterproof jackets and trousers. These kits may keep you dry in a downpour, but in an atmosphere of 90% humidity, you’ll just trap all your body heat inside your latest kit and sweat like a pig. This situation blows. If you are directing a crew, it will seriously throw you off your game. So ditch the waterproof jackets and trousers during the day, keep them for the night when you get to camp, and accept that your shirt and trousers will just get wet. In a hot jungle, trust me, it’s the best way.


Read Part 2 of this article here.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 edition of Be Inspired by Discovery Adventures

BLOG: Packing Kit for a Jungle Adventure Shoot 2

By Nick O’Meally

Kit is vital for any Jungle environment, so it’s important you go for a simple and effective execution, rather than a technical approach with kit. Here are my 3 go-to items for these brutal locations:



A rookie mistake is to go for a short T-shirt or vest top. It’s hot and humid. While you may feel that wearing less is better to keep cool, trust me, you’ll regret it. Firstly, you will meet the Black Palm; an innocuous-looking plant that conceals horrid spikes that will shred your skin. The military calls them the ‘Bastard Tree’ because that’s exactly what you would shout when you grab a hold of one. A long sleeve will at least offer some protection and, importantly, keep biting insects at arms’ length, while shading you from the brutal sun.



Rookie mistake number 2. Don’t wear Gortex boots. Instead, opt for military style jungle boots like Altbergs. These boots have to be in my top 3 all-time items of adventure film clothing. I have worn them in West African Swamps on the set of Jungle Gold, Chilean rainforests, and across the jungles in Central America. In deep mud, rain, and rivers, your Gortex boots will just fill up with water. You will get trench foot in no time and you will have to be evacuated out of the terrain. I like Altbergs because they are designed with small-perforated holes to let water in and out. So your feet would get wet but they wouldn’t get waterlogged. The boots and your feet would just need to be dried out around your campfire at the end of the day. 



Heat exhaustion is the real deal in the jungle. You will feel super wet from the rain and sweat, so it’s easy for your mind to play tricks and forget that you are not taking in enough liquid. I recommend a hat that is comfortable, floppy (kind of goofy-looking, I know), and has a Factor 50 sun protection. I got a curly hair, which makes it a great place for jungle nasties like spiders to hang out, so any protection is welcome.

If you get the 3 items that are above this paragraph, you will become one with the jungle, allowing you to get to a place where you can function in a difficult environment and deliver a great shoot. Surrender your ego and get down and dirty!

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 edition of Be Inspired by Discovery Adventures

BLOG: The Making of Gold Rush - PT 2
Nick Alaska Claim Goldrush.jpg

By Nick O’Meally

One of the great perks of being out on the claim was getting to witness the Alaskan wildlife in all its raw glory. Every day we drove into the mine past iconic giant eagles and huge brown bears. I didn’t quite believe they’d be brazen enough to come into camp but we all carried pepper sprays and personal alarms. The pepper spray was mischievously referred by the locals as “seasoning for tourists.” Fortunately, we had some armed locals watching our backs at all times in case a hungry bear decided to stray onto camp. One evening, as we were packing up, I had a feeling that I was being watched. I looked up onto a ridge, where I caught a glimpse of a bear looking down at me. It was a sobering moment that made me realize that this outpost in Alaska was their world and we were just visitors.


I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this, but, at first, our miners were pretty hopeless. Machinery kept breaking down and everyone was learning on the job, constantly hoping today would be the day they struck the payload. As a crew member, it left you in a constant state of high alert. I was anxious not to miss filming the moment when they might pull a gold nugget out of the ground. I saw some gold that season but it took a long while for the guys to really get into a groove and strike it rich. Eight seasons later, I think they’ve got it down pretty well.

I remember Parker made a brief appearance in the season and we met his Granddad John Schnabel who has now sadly passed away. Parker was just another teenager growing up in the back and beyond and certainly not the huge star he is today.

My season at Porcupine Creek ended with the threat of being snowed in and stranded by the coming winter. Time had run out for the miners and Todd and his Dad eventually called time. We filmed an epic get out with a convoy of trucks and heavy machinery being dragged off the claim and back to Oregon. It was a fitting end to a first season. As I boarded the plane for home, I suspected we had witnessed something special, but we had no idea that Todd and his crew would return the following year with eight more seasons, when the guys would still be heading north to prospect for TV gold.

Nick Ice and snow goldrush .jpg

This article originally appeared in the May 2018 edition of Be Inspired by Discovery Adventures

The Making of Gold Rush - PT1

By Nick O’Meally

Eight Seasons in and PRODUCER and DIRECTOR Nick O’Meally takes a look back at making the very first season of the now legendary Discovery series, Gold Rush.

Finding TV gold is an elusive thing. As a producer you can come up with hundreds of ideas but only a tiny percentage ever see the light of day and make it onto the TV screen. So when you get to be part of what becomes a big hit it’s really an exhilarating experience. And if it literally involves finding gold – that’s even better!

I remember getting the call back in 2010 from a friend at Raw TV, the UK production company behind the Gold Rushseries. “There’s a bunch of miners and out of work guys intent on heading into the wilds of Alaska to look for gold. Just as in the old pioneer days, fancy coming along to document their story?” While the rest of the nation was struggling from the recent financial crash, these men were taking matters into their own hands by seeking their fortunes in America’s last great wilderness frontier. Who could pass up an opportunity to follow them into the unknown?

I signed up for the opportunity, and found myself, a couple of months later, on a small plane, flying over pristine wilderness that seemed to stretch on forever. I caught glimpses of glaciers and bears running for cover on route to Hanes Alaska. Today the Gold Rush miners are household names and the series has become Discovery Channel’s highest ever rated show, but back then the guys were just a rag tag crew gambling the little money they had on a genuine and gutsy idea. The project was raw and exciting and nobody quite knew what would unfold.


I joined the crew at Porcupine Creek a couple of weeks into the filming. I was one of several self-shooting Producers/Directors whose job was to record the stories as they happened in the mine. The machines were up and running and the now legendary glory hole was underway. Todd and his Dad warmly welcomed me but there wasn’t much time for long introductions. I was just another guy with a camera and they had fortunes to make. Just as the miners were learning on their feet, so were we, the TV crew. My first day of filming was brutal and chaotic in the cold and driving sleet. You learn quickly that the ground on an open mine is constantly shifting, like sand dunes on a beach. Scrambling up and down gradients while staying on your feet with one eye in a viewfinder was tough. It’s also a dangerous dance with heavy machinery and you learn quickly where the blind spot of a 15-ton excavator is. If you get it wrong you lose more than your camera lens.

For my first hour of shooting, I captured everything with the wrong colour temperature so all the footage had a blue wash on it. I was lucky we didn’t find a gold nugget in those first few hours or I’d have been on a flight home. It was a rookie error and not a good start, but I soon found my feet and started to learn how to navigate a working gold mine with a camera on my shoulder. 

This article originally appeared in the May 2018 edition of Be Inspired by Discovery Adventures

BLOG: A behind-the-scenes look at 'Parker's Trail' Guyana 3


Pioneering Filming Style

The production methods and stylistic filming techniques that were used to execute this show were genuinely pioneering, which added another level of excitement and interest to the production. Sam Brown, a very close friend of mine and the on-screen embedded Producer/Director, came up with an idea that each of the four main on-screen characters should have a camera on their chest which looked out to the jungle. The cameras would record their audio and POV (Point of View), pretty much, 24/7. Quite a tall order and strong demand to make, but Sam likes to push the boundaries. A challenge only fit for somebody nearing technical genius with a skill to make it into a reality. Step up, John Livesey. Not only did he make these devices with his own hands, he tended, repaired, and maintained them for the whole shoot in the middle of nowhere with none of the comfy support of the internet and stores… Oh, and he flew the drone…. And handled all the mini-cams… And a whole bunch of extra slow-motion work and god knows what else. Along with his trusted steed, Jake Martin, the pair managed the impossible.

This set-up allowed us as the crew to act as a kind of a follow-up team. We would essentially stand back from what was happening and allowed the action to play out from a distance. It helped with the natural feel of the whole experience and the story unfolded and developed without us having to be there all the time. The set-up also helped cover different perspectives of each crew members, which allowed us to catch up on the events and talk about them the next day. It provided an opportunity for us to re-engage with each other to find out about the struggles, opinions, and developments occurring within our group of intrepid miners. How Karla was putting up so valiantly with a bunch of stinking boys stricken with illness, how Parker was dealing with, well, being Parker, and how Rick was getting on with his phobia of spiders—this place had the biggest spiders I’ve ever seen. This jungle is a home to the Goliath tarantula, and that’s not even the biggest spider…

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 edition of Be Inspired by Discovery Adventures