South Lakes Wild Animal Park: The Ultimate Interactive Experience

After looking back at my posts, I’ve realised that I never actually talked about my filming at ‘South Lakes Wild Animal Park’ back in May 2013 so that’s what this post it about.

I first approached the zoo just before Easter last year after deciding that I desperately needed some more experience in filming animals. If I’m going to film animals in the wild then

having a go at filming animals closer to home seems like a good way to practice and gather some more skills in that particular area. When they got back to me, I was told that the zoo would like a short promotional video about the hand feeding elements and after having visited the zoo in the past, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do what I enjoy and get up close to some of the animals at the same time. The only problem at this stage was the fact that, as the name suggests, the zoo is in the South Lakes in Cumbria whilst I was down in Wales in Cardiff but luckily I was off back home for a bit the next month and so it all seemed to come together quite well.

That was until I checked the weather reports. Oh dear. It had been quite nice leading up to the filming; all the pre-production planning was done and I was looking forward to getting back out and doing some filming but the weather didn’t think so. It was going to rain. I worried quite a bit beforehand as my camera isn’t very waterproof and my cover can get in the way but there was no point worrying about it; it’s always best to just get on with things instead of dwelling too much on what could go wrong. So we set off hoping for the best and looking forward to the day’s filming.

The filming itself went well and it was nice to get up close to and take part in some of the hand feeding with the animals as well. The giraffes in particular were a highlight as their inquisitiveness led to some good shots along with the curiosity of the lemurs who made sure that there was definitely an entertainment aspect to the film! Likewise, the penguins wereScreen Shot 2014-03-17 at 17.34.08also incredibly entertaining and one in particular to a shine to my camera and tried to have a little nibble before wandering off to be fed some more fish along with his friends. It was definitely nice to be able to see such well looked after animals and see other people learning so much about the conservation projects needed to save so many of the species.

During the day, as expected, it did rain quite a bit so it was a case of getting all the outside shots sorted in the odd dry patch and pretty much fitting in around the weather. It was a bit annoying at times as I needed to get shots of the visitors walking around the park which was a little bit hard when people were running for cover every 10 minutes but I think we got there in the end! Filming isn’t always straight forward and if it is, expect something to go wrong in post-production!

Overall, I have to say that although it was challenging at times, this particular promotional film has to be one of my favourite projects. Being able to interact with the animals whilst also maintaining professionalism was a valuable lesson and one that I know will be incredible useful in the future. I have heard a lot of people talking about zoos and saying that they are cruel places and yes I agree that some of they are but this one definitely isn’t. The animals are free to wander in huge enclosures and with the expansion of the park, even bigger spaces to roam around and they aren’t forced into the hand feeding activities; they can come and go as they wish. If they were herded in and forced to interact with the visitors then I wouldn’t have filmed there but that really wasn’t the case. My only complaint is that it would have been nice to have taken some more photographs as well as filming, the big cats were the perfect subjects, but I suppose that’s for another visit!

Here is the final promotional film:


Through The Eyes Of A Dog

It’s not often you look at things from the perspective of a dog; after all, all they seem to want is food, sleep, walks and hugs but I thought I would have a go anyway. As I was looking through some of my pet photos, I noticed that you could see the reflections of what they were looking at in their eyes and it got me thinking about seeing from a dog’s eye perspective. It’s only a small gallery but by highlighting their eyes I think it’s an interesting way of looking at your pet and makes you think a little bit about what it’s like to be a woof (even if it is a little bit strange!).


Do Natural History Films Really Make A Difference To Natural History Issues?

As the tension builds in the stadium and the roar of the crowd intensifies, the huge whale is catapults it’s trainer out of the water with a few flicks of it’s powerful fluke before they both crash back down with a splash. To some this is the icing on top of a great holiday, seeing a killer whale up so close and interacting with them.  To others it simply shows how low we have sunk in the name of entertainment and after typing ‘SeaWorld’ into the news, it is clear they are not alone with numerous articles asking them to retire it’s orcas into sea pens. But what is it that has sparked this public outcry? A film called Blackfish (dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite)

Mother Gorilla
Conservation films can make a huge difference to the issues they talk about.

When it comes to discussing the effect films have on conservation issues, we must first look at the term ‘conservation’ itself. As a word with so many connotations of nature attached to it, it is only natural to expect it to feature in the majority of nature programming and yet this is not the case. There seems to be a consensus that issues like poaching, captivity and deforestation are just too difficult for the general public to be subjected to and so to include them in many programmes would be risking the viewing figures the broadcasters so desperately crave. Yes, viewing figures are the lifeblood of programmes desperate to survive in the multichannel environment but in saving them are we not effectively killing the wildlife we exploit to create them? Wildlife documentaries owe nature for their success and so it is vital that we give them something in return. It seems that the documentaries that do so are an endangered species in themselves. Perhaps it is fear of failure that forces filmmakers into accepting the broadcaster’s wishes and from the perspective of an aspiring filmmaker, I understand the reasons behind this. Nevertheless, with a vast number of issues directly due to human involvement it is up to us to help nature recover before we lose some species altogether.

With this in mind, however, when natural history documentaries do choose to centre themselves around a certain issue, the resulting effect can be huge. Take for instance Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s recent film Blackfish; a documentary showing the truth behind SeaWorld’s infamous ‘Shamu’ killer whale show. Since it’s screenings and the DVD  release, there has been a public outcry. The combination of actuality footage filmed by members of the public, horror stories of attacks on trainers and interviews with former SeaWorld trainers created a graphic and heartbreaking image of life as a killer whale performer and seemed to tug at the heartstrings of the viewers. Thousands of people have taken to social media sites to voice their opinions and show their support for various captivity campaigns, myself included.  The real question is though, would the film have created such debate and support without the use of the internet and of course social media sites like Facebook and Twitter? Blackfish would most certainly have raised eyebrows and got people talking but without it’s online presence connecting people and wildlife organisations globally, there is a high possibility that the message would not have been received by a so many. Similarly, the graphic imagery of blood stained water littered with the bodies of dolphins shown in The Cove (dir. Louie Psihoyos) prompted it’s shocked viewers to take action with letters to authoritative bodies to help end the annual Taiji dolphin drive and campaigns are still ongoing. Ultimately it seems that when combined, film and the internet contribute hugely to the tackling of conservation issues by not only raising awareness but also providing a way to be involved as well.

On the other hand, sometimes the inclusion of environmental concerns can cause unintentional problems for the ecosystems they are trying to save and the BBC’s blue chip series Frozen

With more children disconnecting themselves from nature, film can play a vital role in reconnecting them.
With more children disconnecting themselves from nature, film can play a vital role in reconnecting them.

Planet is a prime example of this. Throughout the series, there was a distinct undertone of climate change and global warming warnings conveyed via stunning cinematography and sweeping music to encourage viewers to take action and help to save the planet. However, soon after the series was broadcast it was reported that travel agents had seen a surge in the number of people wanting to visit the frozen plains of Antarctica (The Telegraph, 2011). Arguably this led to people disturbing the native wildlife, disrupting their breeding cycles and impacted upon their survival rates and so contributing to their problems as opposed to helping end them.

Finally, it is important to mention that films which don’t have a direct focus upon natural issues can still have a positive effect upon them. With the RSPB revealing that “children have less contact with nature than ever before” (2013), sometimes a good wildlife documentary is all it takes to reconnect them and inspire them to get involved themselves. For me, watching The Blue Planet (BBC) as a child chartered the path of my life and directed me towards wildlife filmmaking and so I strongly believe documentaries can make a significant difference. Of course it is important that these programmes are appropriate; the graphic nature of a film like The Cove would not have the desired effect as would the BBC’s Deadly 60 but by inspiring children we may produce a new generation of conservationists and that’s definitely something to aim for.

To conclude, natural history issues can be aided by natural history issues but perhaps not without some assistance from other media forms. Whilst many documentaries are providing viewers with information on issues they may not necessarily be aware of, like captivity in Blackfish, it is these platforms which allow their voices to be heard and help to really make a difference.  All in all, the film form is a powerful thing and so if it can be used to change opinions, it can be used to change the world.


Starmer-Smith, C. (2011). Frozen Planet: The Lure of the Antarctic The Telegraph. Available: Last accessed 24th Nov 2013.

Johnson, W. (2013). ‘Disconnected children’ mean nature is at risk. Available: Last accessed 26th Nov 2013.

Blackfish (2013) Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite [DVD] United Kingdom: Dogwoof

The Cove (2009) Directed by Louie Psihoyos [DVD] United Kingdom: Diamond Docs

The Blue Planet. BBC (2001) Television

‘Winter’ (2011) Frozen Planet. BBC One, 23 November 2011. Television.

Deadly 60. BBC (2011) Television

Photography At The Zoo: Take 2

Bitten by the bug of zoo photography (again!), last week we headed to Bristol Zoo to have another go. With such a wide variety of animals and a completely different way of showing them, it was a lot of fun trying to capture them in the best way possible. The glass, at times, proved to be a bit of an issue as it was a very sunny day and so there tended to quite a lot of reflection but the animals were all active and playful which made it all the more interesting. The lions in particular were some of my favourites as I’d visited last year when they were only tiny so it was nice to see them growing up and still so much trouble!

After last week’s post, I’ve had a few people commenting and saying that zoo photography really isn’t an achievement because you know where the animals are and so the mystery is taken out of it. Whilst I do agree with this, I think that as with anything it is important to improve your skills and practicing to get better and so for exotic wild animals there is no better place than a zoo or safari park to do so when it’s hard to travel abroad. As long as the animals are cared for well and there aren’t any welfare issues then zoos can be the perfect place to prepare yourself and learn more about your own style of photography.

Capturing Captivity

After being provided with a couple of tickets to Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm in Bristol in exchange for some marketing photographs, we headed back there on Thursday to try and obtain some better shots of the lions. It was a particularly chilly day so armed with hats and gloves we set off towards the big cats to have a little look at them first and to prepare a bit. Straight away one of the females walked over and seemed to know we needed to take photos of her, slowly walking to her sister, yawning and turning to face us. I had thought it would take a lot longer to get such good images and so I was pleased that we were then able to have a look around at the other animals as well including my favourites, the giraffes, and the magnificent tigers.

A lot of people have been saying that zoo photography is a cheating version of wildlife photography but I couldn’t disagree more. Yes the animals may be easier to spot but the majority of the time you have to be very patient and work around a number of obstacles in order to get a vaguely decent image. It’s a perfect opportunity to ‘rehearse’ your photography skills on wild animals that you wouldn’t normally be able to see and whilst I strongly oppose zoos where the animals are kept in terrible conditions and are quite clearly miserable, I find them extremely useful places for photography and expanding my knowledge and skills. Whilst researching this particular genre, I also came across a number of articles that pretty much said that unless you are able to make it look like the animal is in it’s natural environment, then you are taking an amateur approach. I think whilst this can be the case, showing some of the background can add a lot to a photograph like the cage and a big cat- it adds a lot to the mood and contrasting ideologies present in the images. I’ve chosen to use this method as well as trying to eliminate it too as I am very interested in showing the truth through my work as well as the contrasting ideas of freedom combined with captivity.

Barking on the Beach

Going to the beach is always fun but it’s always a lot better when there’s entertainment; in this case it came in the form of three dogs. Whilst it was extremely cold and windy at times, they all seemed to enjoy themselves, especially JJ who loved splashing around in the sea and it gave me the opportunity to practise a little more pet photography (which is always good!).

Autumn at Roath Lake

Today was yet another rainy day so rather than wait in, we decided to make the most of the rare dry spots every now and again and went to visit the birds of Roath Lake. As soon as we got out of the car there was a swan waddling over to us and seemed intrigued by what we were doing. He then spotted his reflection and proceeded to watch himself for quite a while before slowly sliding down the muddy bank and rejoining his friends. After a little walk up and down photographing various geese, ducks, pigeons and sea gulls, we had to make a quick exit as the heavens opened once again and it began to rain again. I did manage to get a few photographs of the birds though and here they are…

Guide Dogs Event at Cardiff Castle

On Thursday 10th October 2013, Guide Dogs held an event at Cardiff Castle celebrating their partnership with Cardiff Council. It began with a meet and greet session with a few of the guide dog where a number of school children were able to learn more about their work and the importance of the charity. This was followed by a demonstration of a typical guide dogs’ behaviour with the demonstration dog Delphi on an short course in order to show the his reaction to obstacles. The event concluded with a walk around the castle walls and a little trip up the Norman shell keep section before a quick photo shoot with a few VIP guests. Definitely a day not to have been missed!

Torture in Taiji: The Annual Slaughter

I recently wrote about the slaughter of the pilot whales in the Faroe Islands and so I think it’s equally important that I cover the current events in Taiji, Japan, better known as ‘The Cove’.

At this very moment, a pod of pilot whales have been cornered and the horrific slaughter is in progress. Since October 4th, the group has been held hostage in the cove and has already endured strong winds and tides. Now it seems they are to endure something so much worse- a slow and agonising death.  As with the Faroese grind, the whole process of the slaughter is not only unnecessary but incredibly brutal and it shocks me every time I read about it.

Once a pod has been spotted, they are surrounded by boats and confused with loud banging noises before being driven into the bay and cut off from freedom. The next day, fisherman enter the area and begin slaughtering each animal one by one with a slice to the brainstem.  Now put yourself in their positions.  You and your family are herded into a building where

A screenshot from the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians live stream shows a large number of pilot whales trapped against the rocks and a blood stained sea.
A screenshot from the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians live stream shows a large number of pilot whales trapped against the rocks and a blood stained sea.

you are then kept hostage for at least the next 24 hours, watching as one by one someone you love is taken away and murdered right in front of you. Imagine the pain you’d feel and now think about what those whales are feeling right now. Whales are known to have extensive emotional capabilities so to say they don’t understand is not an option- they quite clearly do. As I’m writing this a mother has been tethered to rocks and is bleeding profusely and yet other whales just won’t leave her. I think this shows the true extent of their feelings; they know exactly what is happening and they want to reassure each other as a human family would. It’s beautiful and an absolute shame that it always seems to be under tragic circumstances that these things are demonstrated so clearly from beachings and strandings to slaughters like this. They need to end.

This isn’t even the most horrific part of it but to be honest I don’t think it’s possible to single out a specific part. Instead, another terrible part is when the juvenile animals are herded back out to sea after being forced to watch their mothers and fathers suffering , watch the surrounding water cloud with their blood and listen to their painful dying cries. After witnessing these horrors and at their young ages, there is a high possibility that the young ones won’t even survive.  It’s incredibly painful to think about how the greed and gluttony of Taiji fishermen causes so much destruction and yet they just can’t seem to see it for themselves. It’s not that these people look at what they are doing and empathise with the whales, all they see is money. They know that they have to remain within the quota set and so only keep the largest whales for the biggest profit. The way the fisherman approach this murder seems so callous and harsh it’s as though they don’t even see what they are doing. There is no emotion on their faces- you can almost see the pound signs flashing in their eyes. Incredibly wrong.

I think one of many things that are so awful about this slaughter is the fact that the fisherman repeatedly call it “pest control”. I may be mistaken here but I’m pretty sure that nobody goes out looking for pests to bring back and then kill. I wouldn’t go out trying to get myself a nice long tapeworm or a flea infestation- nobody wants pests. I’m also positive that humans evolved to live on land and not in the oceans and so for them to also imply that the whales are stealing “their” fish, is so incredibly implausible and so wrong. Likewise, as with the pilot whale meat in the Faroe Islands, the meat itself contains very high levels of toxins so realistically it’s dangerous for both species and so so unnecessary.

Of course it’s not just the sale of the whale meat that funds the Taiji dolphin drive, it’s also the captivity industry.  This season so far 31 bottle nosed dolphins have been captured and sold to dolphinariums bringing in huge profits of around $9,000,000. It’s such a shame that this industry is still so popular when the thrill of dolphin watching in the wild is there. I really hope that with ‘Blackfish’ highlighting this issue and ‘The Cove’ showcasing this slaughter, people realise that it’s just not worth the animals suffering at the hands of greedy, self indulgent people and stop supporting it.

The last two weeks has seemed so hopeful with 15 ‘Blue Cove’ days. Due to bad weather conditions, fisherman had been unable to venture out far or even at all which did mean thatdolphin_slaughter_taiji_japan_the_cove_brooke_mcdonald_14 many cetaceans had escaped this terrible fate. Unfortunately this has come to a sad end. Dead whales are currently being transported ready for slaughter whilst the remaining pod members are forced to swim in a stained red cove, no doubt mourning the loss of their family.

It seems that the end is nigh for the pilot whales in the cove and soon many lives will be changed forever. There may not be much we can do for them now, as upsetting as it is, but their deaths will serve as a painful reminder of cultural practices that need to end.  It’s estimated that over 20,000 cetaceans suffer at the hands of the Taiji fishermen every single year and with the high level of police presence, it’s extremely difficult to get close to intervene.  I think it’s vital that this problem and blight on conservation efforts is repeatedly shown to people so that the news can spread and more can get involved.  I’ve said it before in my last blog about the Faroese grind and I’ll say it again, there’s no place for this in society anymore; not in a world where education and knowledge is so prevalent. Things need to change right now and I for one hope they do so soon.

If you want to know more about the Taiji drives and get live updates, please visited the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians for a live camera feed and twitter updates.

Pigeon (Camera) Shooting

When you say the word pigeon, most people will screw their noses up and mutter the word ‘vermin’; understandable really as there are countless tales of how they spread diseases. However, after spending quite a lot of time watching them eating seed and scraps on the roof outside my flat (we even named one Bertie), it struck me how interesting these birds actually are. Every night at the same time they would swoop down from the trees in their little groups and wait expectantly for food- so reliable you could set the clocks by them! After a while it was easy to see their little personalities shine through and although I know these birds do spread a lot of disease and over populated, they really are a very intriguing species.

My latest gallery of photographs has been created in an attempt to showcase the pigeons’ personalities from their insufferable cocky attitudes to their inquisitiveness. After all,  they aren’t going anywhere fast so why not try and see them in a different, comical light?

The Plight of the Pilot Whales: Murder in the Faroe Islands

‘Blackfish’ highlighted the issue of captivity, ‘The Cove’ showed the brutality of the Taiji dolphin drive but to us here in Europe these can seem quite far away. However, on a small island above the UK equally horrifying events take place a lot closer to home; the annual grind of the Faroe Islands.

Dating back to the 16th century, the hunt sees over 800 pilot whales killed each year and with the current death toll standing at 901 and set to rise, it’s clear that this year is no different. Each hunt is conducted in a horrific and brutal manner that quite obviously causes the whales a lot of pain and yet still the Faroese defend their actions. Spotters are sent out to look for pods and once identified, the islanders are then informed and the whales are driven towards the shore where they are then beached. Those who don’t beach themselves are pulled ashore by their blowholes where they  join the others and are then killed via a cut to their spinal cords. Now it’s pretty clear the distress this would cause, after all think about how frightened you would be if you were gathered together, dragged around with a hook in your airways and then be sliced open. To think of a human being attacked in this manner is horrendous and yet when another mammal goes through it, there just isn’t the same reaction.

It’s a fact that culture and tradition make the world such a rich and exciting place, but perhaps there should be some restrictions when it comes to tradition and animals. The Faroese have practiced this form of hunting for hundreds of years and although it does unite a community, they are united by pain and suffering. Yes they uphold ancestral activities and yes they do come together, something that is often lost in the land of technology and social media, but shouldn’t there be a way of doing this without the inevitable agony?  And is the hunt even necessary anymore?

In the past, the Faroese hunted whales for food as the rough island terrain meant that they were unable to grow anything well but nowadays when the islands depend on fish imports, the whole process seems to be becoming less relevant to survival. Not only that, it has been proven that the meat itself contains a considerable amount of toxins including mercury which can then lead to various health problems from cancer to infertility. It’s recommended that less than 200g of whale meat a week should be consumed by men and that women and children should not eat any at all so surely if nothing else, this proves that the grind is no more a source of food than a cruel blood soaked tradition.

Another painful element of the drive is the fact that up until now anybody has been able to take part in the drive, even those who have no idea what to do. They may have been spectators in previous years and may have read about it but when it comes to doing it, they are simply not prepared. The average length of time it takes for a pilot whale to die is 30 seconds, a very long time when you’re in absolute agony and can last up to a few minutes. It’s inevitable that with inexperienced people, this time is most definitely going to increase and cause even more distress to the whales and their families who will most certainly be suffering near by. Thankfully, the Minister of Fisheries in the Faeroe Islands has now stated that as of May 2015, those taking part in the grind will now be required to take part in a course and obtain the pass certificate at the end of it. This may not necessarily be a ban on whale drives but there is the chance that it could be the start of their end. According to EarthRace representative Runi Nielson, “A large majority of the participants in the grinds who at the moment just show up and take part, will not bother to take these mandatory courses and by doing so will exclude themselves. The fewer people taking part, the less a part of the Faroese way of life the grinds will become.” Let’s just hope this is the case and that some time in the near future, there will be an end to the pain of the pilot whales.

It’s important to keep an open mind about issues and balance each side but it’s also important to know what is right and what is clearly wrong. To use that fact that the pilot whale is not an endangered species should not be a relevant argument; humans aren’t endangered species but if a group of people decided that they wanted to round up a few hundred families every year and kill them, there would definitely be a lot more to say about it. It’s not just pilot whales being affected by this either as it’s legal for them to kill white-sided dolphins, harbour porpoises and bottle nosed dolphins as well: in August this year 430 white sided dolphins were killed. More cetaceans who are subjected to torture. It’s time that this cruelty came to an end.

If this hasn’t managed to convince you of the plight of the pilot whales, take a look at this video and see the panic and pain they suffer for yourself.

Help to end the Faroe Island grinds by signing the petition here.

Mischief in the Moray Firth

This is a collection of photographs I took a while ago now, back in August 2011 on a visit to the Moray Firth, Scotland. I’d been there quite a few times before but not with a good enough

I'd been to Chanonry Point before but only with a small digital camera.
I’d been to Chanonry Point before but only with a small digital camera.

camera to get any decent pictures and so on this particular occasion, I was very pleased that I had it with me!

My family and I had arrived at Chanonry Point quite a while before the dolphins arrived and it was starting to get quite nippy when somebody spotted a dorsal fin in the distance. Everybody seemed to rush forward at once so trying to position myself in the optimum spot was quite challenging especially when combined with the tide creeping up the beach. But it was definitely worth it. For the next half an hour, the resident bottle-nosed dolphins glided through the waves, hunted for fish and performed magnificent aerial displays. As somebody who has been adopting Moray Firth dolphins with WDC, formally WDCS, for many years now, it was really nice to see some of the dolphins I’d read about so many times before on Charlie Phillip’s blog and seen a few times prior to this trip as well. I think being able to identify them as Moonlight, Mischief and Sundance was an added thrill to the whole experience as was the adrenaline rush of seeing them so close and in the wild. I did go back last year and although we did see them again, the weather conditions were horrendous and it was a lot harder to get any photos of them. That’s all part of the charm of wildlife watching though, the challenge of spotting, and I wouldn’t change it at all.