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Laos – the new Thailand. PORTRAIT & CULTURE PHOTOGRAPHY

Portrait/culture photography with the G9 and GH5

I recently went out to Laos on my first assignment as an ambassador for Panasonic to solo shoot a short film about the unbreakable bond between an 80-year-old mahout and matriarch elephant. Alongside the videography I took stills of the people, places and culture around this most beautiful and mysterious of countries – one that is so often overlooked in between it’s more popular cousins; Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. I can’t recommend visiting this ethereal and magical slice of Indo-Asia; it’s one of the few remaining Asian countries that can offer you a genuine experience of the culture without hoards of tourists. You can have precious moments to reflect without running into paparazzi or drunken party goers (yes, even in Vang Vieng!) So if you’re keen to learn about Laos and what you can photograph/do in the city and villages – look no further!

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Humans – such a complex and fascinating species, and perhaps of all the animals that roam our vast planet. Over 7000 different languages spread over 7 vast continents, all 7.4 billion of us are as unique and beautiful as the atoms that make up our universe.

Without getting too deep and sounding rather philosophical, I am of course referring to the very nature that defines us as human – our intelligence, our curiosity, and our emotional capacity. These qualities are the very essence of humanity and is something we can all relate to – across all boundaries regardless of cultural, language and political differences.

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Faces are incredibly expressive for a reason. There are 43 muscles in the face, most of which are controlled by the seventh cranial nerve (also known as the facial nerve). This nerve exits the cerebral cortex and emerges from your skull just in front of your ears. It then splits into five primary branches: temporal, zygomatic, buccal, mandibular and cervical. These branches reach different areas of the face and enervate muscles that allow the face to twist and contort into a variety of expressions. This is something I really love to capture when photographing people, I am inherently wildlife photographer but have been keen to explore what makes us as supremely evolved animals tick.

It can be trickier to photograph that moment in time where your person makes the smallest of expressions – which makes the challenge all the more enjoyable. In film you can shoot off speed and capture this more easily, I always shoot 50/60fps for people to highlight their subtle emotions rather than 75/120, the latter would only be in situations where my character is moving incredibly fast or for a special effect (usually in sports where you can go up to 2000fps). Again the eyes always draw me in because they are among the very first features we notice when passing by or meeting another fellow individual – so much can be read emotionally by looking into them. I mention looking into them – never at them, because this cuts you off from the persons true essence. I believe that a lot of portrait photography is about building trust, even if for a brief moment passing by, and ALWAYS ask for their permission!

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So first a little history lesson; and yes I’ll make it a quick one I promise. It is of course the summer season! But you’ll want to know what you can do with that amazing camera that you got for your holidays, right? 😉

Despite it being one of the poorest countries in South – East Asia, one of the things you notice, is that nobody dies of hunger. This landlocked country is known as the ‘fruit/vegetable basket of Asia,’ and most families manage, not only to meet their needs, but even to put an important part of their small earnings to one side so as to participate in what small futile pleasures that make life enjoyable. Laos is a country of smiles, where composure and serenity reign and from where a sort of karma and an invigorating energy exude – from your local flower lady to the monks praying for our happiness. Laotians say that this special karma, was born with Laos, many centuries ago.

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The Lao people (Hmong, Hill tribe, monks, Buddhism). With nearly 5 million inhabitants on an area half the size of France, Laos is one of the least populated countries in S.E. Asia (17 inhabitants per km2). Laos counts about 80 ethnical groups which can be grouped into 4 families. Each group speaking its own dialect and having its own customs, traditions, religion, etc.

Laotians have an easy-going, smiley and amiable character; and quite Latin (I’m half Spanish so just saying!) in that they generally prefer to take their time, the same as in their way of life, savouring each moment not overthinking or worrying about the future, unlike the hustle and bustle of other mega Asian countries or indeed our own. This is one of the things that decidedly give this country its exceptional charm, completely the opposite to the Vietnamese or even Thai restlessness – which is partly why I wanted to visit this staggeringly beautiful country. It’s so often overlooked for it’s more famous surrounding countries.

Whilst the Laotians primarily practice Bhuddism, Hmong people are traditionally animist, worshipping the spirits of their ancestors and the surrounding environment. Shamans (Ouanung) are called upon to communicate with the spirits, seeking their advice in moments of ill health and village adversity. It tends to be that a spirit is upset and offerings such as livestock are made at the spirit’s request. Most Hmong wear amulets around the wrist or neck to ward off bad spirits – and you can buy their amazing jewellery and hand crafted artisan gifts in the night market..

Every house has an ancestor spirit altar where food and water is placed to please them. During Hmong new year white paper is put on the columns of the house and a chicken is killed in their honour; and there were certainly plenty of them going around (waking me up at 3am every morning!)

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Monks – it is estimated that about 1 in 3 male Laotians join a monastery for at least some period of their lives, ranging from a few months or years to an entire lifetime. Most novices enter monastic life at an early age, learning the ancient chants and sutras, while also attending a regular school with a curriculum similar to that followed by most young students around the world. For many children in rural areas of Laos, joining a monastery is the only available option for education. Life in the monasteries can be tough and some novices from remote communities are only able to visit their families once or twice a year. The young monks follow a strict daily routine, living communally, sharing food and daily chores.

 

Camera: G9

The low down on the G9 before we get technical; this camera packs a powerful punch in terms of features. From the 4K, 60P, 4:2:2 GH5 goodness that was released late last year (I’ve been shooting with since February 2017), came the photographic brother that boasts:

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  • No Optical low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter
  • 20MP micro four thirds sensor
  • ISO sensitivity from 200-25600.
  • 5-axis Sensor-shift Image Stabilization
  • 3″ Fully Articulated Screen
  • 3680k dot Electronic viewfinder
  • 20.0 fps continuous shooting
  • Built-in Wireless
  • 658g. 137 x 97 x 92 mm
  • Weather Sealed Body
  • 6.5-stop built-in image stabilization system
  • 4K UHD recording in 24/25/30/50/60p.
  • Full HD recording in 25/30/50/60p.
  • Long GOP compression.
  • 4K UHD 3840 x 2160 video resolution high-speed video recording up to 60fps.
  • Full HD high-speed video recording up to 180fps
  • CINELIKE D and CINELIKE V photo styles.
  • Depth from Defocus AF.
  • Mini jack input for an external microphone.

 

The Lumix G9 gets the same 20.3MP Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor as the Lumix GH5, which means that, as on that camera, there’s no low-pass filter. And if 20.3MP isn’t quite enough resolution for you, the G9 also features a new High Resolution mode, which outputs files at the magnificent equivalent 80MP. This works by combining eight images that have been taken in rapid succession, with small sensor shifts between each one, which means that, unlike with some rival systems, a tripod is a must when using this mode. Whilst I don’t use this mode because of storage  (the 20MP images are amazing enough as they are!) it’s a nice little feature to show off with. In timelapse mode you can go all out with this and pan/crop as far in as you want. The auto focus is ridiculously fast, even a cheetah couldn’t outrun this little baby feature and it’s one of the quickest on the market.

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The double SD card slot means you can shoot jpegs on one card and RAW on the other which is quite handy when you decide if you want to keep the JEPEGs or vice versa.

Ergonomically I love this camera – the buttons sit right where you fingers rest where with the tip your finger you can zoom in before pressing the shutter button (a specialism of this model for telephoto users – hence why this is geared towards wildlife photographers). Also I’ve put this through its paces in the humidity when hiking to caves and through the leech, tick infected jungles (!) and of course the (light) rain – and it handled this well. On a more recent trip it handled the freezing constant rain too, was really impressed by its rigidly. 

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There are of course video recording features like the GH5 but please bear in mind that this is not a video camera like its brother. So it has much less features but can still record both HD and 4K resolutions in MP4 format, 4:2:0 colour sampling and 8-bit colour depth, lacking the internal 10-bit capabilities of the GH5 so your video is noticeably more compressed. However, it is possible to record 8-bit 4:2:2 in 4K 30p via an external recording device, I’ve always got my trusty Atomos Ninja Inferno to do the job.

The responsiveness of the camera was perhaps the standout feature for my day with the G9. After over 2,000 photographs the battery was still going strong and the results were strong in almost every case when shooting a timelapse – so this certainly bodes well with wildlife photographers. All in all it’s a great stills camera more than a video one (go for the GH5 or its newer sibling the GH5s) – you should give it a go!

And now for a little more technical details with examples from my travels, each with a key theme to help you decide what and how to shoot on your next project.

 

Key factors to think about:

1. The light – I can’t begin to describe the beauty of this country in terms of light – it is ever changing and so incredibly awe inspiring words can’t do it justice. Play with it. Follow it. Bask in it.… use it as the ultimate tool to create images that capture the nature of your subject – human, animal and/or landscape. ALWAYS shoot in MANUAL for such images, as well as in RAW so you can also have as much fun in lightroom and Photoshop (just kidding it’s more fun actually being there…). Remember to adjust your variable ND if you’ve got one on.

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P10442942. Movement – we are by nature very mobile, with our physical movements to the way in which we live our lives in chaotic urban settings or indeed nomadic lifestyles in the countryside. Capturing that sense of movement is fun when you use different techniques – so here I wanted to shoot a timelapse at one of the many famous night markets in Luang Prabang to highlight this. Using the 3 axis shark slider mini you can programme the movement with the easy to use app – video of that up soon!

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Shade – this helps with your tone and mood. A lot of black and white stills photographers will focus on the varying light and shade to get their feelings and message across – fear, love, joy, happiness, sadness, admiration, hatred, hunger, elation…. removing colour makes you think of how to tell your narrative in far more sensitive ways in a way similar to producers of B&W movies back in the 60’s would have directed their shots. Patience when using natural light to frame your subject is KEY!

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Playfulness – this is one of the defining characteristics that makes us intelligent mammals. It is seen across the animal kingdom, from dogs, to horses, tiger cubs to humpback whales – and again is a universal motion that transcends boundaries (or species). I feel that as a photographer you certainly have an influence in bringing about this feature – although children are the easiest to capture with this emotion; as they are devoid of the adult tendencies to judge, criticise and generally be more grumpy!

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Textures – peoples skin, their hair, their clothes say a lot about them as individuals. I don’t mean in a vain sense but you can gather a rich array of information about them as characters or background what they get up to and how they hold themselves. The culture in Laos as mentioned above is so incredibly rich and vibrant – it hits you with it’s sharp saturated colours, like those of a bold acrylic painting. I often think England  is the complete opposite, and draped in a sweet, soft glow and the light painting it in equally soft water colours. The food, dresses, festivals streets and of course magical temple offer this in glorified abundance. When first arriving in the Capital, Vientiane, my senses were overwhelmed by such a variety of colour, shade and patterns – all of which are a joy to capture.

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The remnant French archways and colonial architecture among the hotels and homes, the soft, large shapes of the many fruits adorning the markets and of course the magnificent sharp, elaborate temples – of which the country has over 100’s. I was very excited indeed to go on my very first ‘temple run!’ Such exquisite colour – would be nice to see such comparably colour in our own churches and places of prayer. In this particular temple, one of the largest and most superlative in the city, I used the 12-60mm 4.6 lens with a 46mm Gobe variable ND filter. It was a bright, sunny day, and whilst I would have liked to capture it during the golden hours, I felt that it wouldn’t do it’s full colour spectrum justice. I also used the Panasonic 100-400mm lens for some closer details of the statues and patterns adorning the holy site.

Monks are of course a central part of the religion and culture in Laos, and something that I was especially eager to photograph. Again the bright, bold colours highlights the amiable and fun personalities of the locals, whilst the actual reason for their colour choice lies in ……. At first I’ll admit I was rather shy and reclusive at photographing them out of courtesy and etiquette – but then you quickly realise that all it takes is a smile and polite gesture to your camera to ask their permission… and 9/10 times you’ll find they are more than willing to have their photo taken. This one was taken at the same temple as above.

Here I was rather lucky to see a group of young monks walking along the mighty Mekong riverside front as I went out the first day to explore – the light was perfectly aligned with one of the tallest of the (collective noun for monks?) group. I moved myself into position from the opposite side of the road and so that I could frame the rather beautiful verdant green parasol against them as they paraded along. Again this was with the 12-60mm and I did use photoshop to tweak the highlights – but I can promise you that the colours were just as vibrant and enchanting.

 

Emotion 

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I think this particular title is highlighted in all of the above mentioned – as texture, colour, shade all feed into our emotions and how we react to each image or film clip. It’s one of the most basic principals in cinematography and where the Director of Photography will work closely with the director to create a specific look and/or feel to the film. Photography also uses this principal and of course a lot of it can be touched up and edited in software later. This is quite often where all the magic happens (sorry to burst any bubbles – but I’m guessing many of you reading this are well aware of this!)

Washer woman cleaning off her dinner – people look so incredibly timeless in Laos, I could never tell how old she was.

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So a handy little anagram for what to look out for when photographing people include:

H- humour: So this can work both ways. They can be (and this is most of the case!) laughing at you and find your odd demeanour and camera geekiness quite entertaining; don’t wait for the moment to pass – snap away and capture the moment!

U- unique: What’s unique about your subject (person)? Have they a standout feature, eye colour, beautiful smile, scar, long/short/frizzy/straight hair? Whatever is distinctive about your person, make sure to celebrate an honour it by making this one of your focal points of the image. It’s what makes us all special.

M – movement: Just slow down that shutter speed and experiment with your person, especially if they’re moving. Adding a little motion blur to your image can bring it to life and give you a whole different angle to play with.

A – activity: What does your subject do? Are they dancers? Crafts people? Artists? Scientists? Whatever it is they do, try to photograph them in their element doing what they do best – not only will this make them more comfortable, but you will certainly make the image more genuine and interesting to the viewer.

N – ature: Try to capture and set your human in their environment, their natural habitat that represents them. I really can’t emphasize this enough, a single image of a person in whatever comes naturally to them is key to capturing their essence.

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My encounter with the people of Laos has been a magical one at that – their resourcefulness, peace and positivity reflects the equally majestic landscape where they are able to sustain and feed their families – securing a better future for all. Family is certainly a huge part of this country, and everyone plays their part in taking care of each other – with young girls cooking, cleaning and taking care of elderly relatives – with the men earning a living in the farms and wives working like wonder women in the rice paddy fields. For me the most surprising thing was seeing how happy they were compared to another poor country I recently visited, Kenya. I can now see and understand this to be partly due to the abundance of food which is far more readily available than it is in Africa. But also the spiritual belief and conviction they have that their Buddha/deity/spirit guide will help them live a prosperous life in the here and now – as well as the next should the reincarnation cycle not be broken…

Until the next post – all about the wildlife in Laos!

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My top 5 ways to fend off ‘Blue Monday’…

Kate on Conservation

Apparently today is the most depressing day of the year. Cold January Mondays, can be a miserable time as it is, without the thought that statistics are against us, as well as the rainy British weather.

I figured it would be a good time to escape the January blues and indulge in the beauty of nature, and some of the incredible conservation heroes working hard to secure a future for some of our planet’s rarest wildlife.

Here are a few of my top suggestions for getting through the day.

1. Try out Gorilla Safari VR

A free app for your phone or mobile device, Gorilla Safari VR was developed by vEcotourism.org and released by the Born Free Foundation over Christmas.

If you’ve not tried it yet, the app — available on Android and iOS — begins at Born Free Foundation’s headquarters in Surrey and takes users on an immersive adventure (either using a VR…

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Natural wonder: Sir David Attenborough

Happy Birthday Sir David Attenborough! As I am sure we all know, last week marked this great mans’s 90th; a person who has more than anyone changed our relationship with the natural world, enthusing countless generations to appreciate the variety of life on our planet. His dedication, passion, relentless enthusiasm has undoubtedly inspired more people in our world to care and want to make a difference. I certainly am on this pathway because of him as well as other incredible individuals (including my mum!).

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SO what makes him our natural treasure?

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1# His enthusiasm

From collecting fossils as a child in Leicester, to loving creatures big and small, ugly and beautiful, his appreciation for all animals is why we love him so. He even says he is no animal lover, much to the bewilderment of many. However he is the ultimate curious intellect and shares a fascination for all of nature, and not the gushy anthropomorphic rantings of a bunny hugger…

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2# His knowledge

Not only has he racked up 32 honorary degrees from Universities across the country (more than anyone else), but having studied natural sciences at Cambridge then Anthropology later…his knowledge of all living creatures and the biological, chemical, physical process that govern them is second to none. Go on, ask him a question!

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3# THAT voice.

His dulcet, hushed tones, as well as powerful vocals mix into just about the most recognizable natural history narration voice of all time. David = Nature God. His warmth and clarity both hooks and fascinated you. I think I’ve spent most of my waking life listening to his voice either through the television or radio podcasts. I’m even starting a petition for a David Attenborough Tom Tom guide…

“..And here, we have the Lyre bird…”

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4# Humble by nature

Despite his numerous awards, degrees, honours..he still remains a humble and grateful being…he loves economy class and never forgets to greet or thank you…

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5# He’s been there for you: in B&W, Colour, HD, 4K, 3D and 360 baby

He is the only person to have produced television in B&W, Colour, HD, 4K, 3D and more recently with his VR dinosaur 360 video clip. He’s so with it  even us youngsters have to keep up with him. I reckon a holographic projection David will be available soon…

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6# Impact

Sir David Attenborough joined the BBC as a trainee in 1952, and his early career included the highly different television debate programme, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? But his audaciaous and determined nature meant that he wanted to show audiences new ways of making films and a life outside the television studio. The result was the hit series ‘Zoo Quest,‘ which combined live studio presentation with footage shot on location for the first time. He made us CARE about the natural world through education and entertainment. 

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7# He’s SO quotable

A master of verbal carpentry, his written scripts result in some memorable quotes, here are my personal faves;

“A hundred years ago, there were one and a half billion people on Earth. Now, over six billion crowd our fragile planet. But even so, there are still places barely touched by humanity.”

“Our planet may be home to 30 million different kinds of animals and plants. Each individual locked in its own life-long fight for survival.”

GO on, give us another…

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8# His wicked sense of humour

We’re no stranger to his witty, whimsical and wicked sense of humour. He’s been asked onto several major chat shows more than twice and his gentleman like attire and charm  is irresistible. Even Cameroon Diaz can’t get enough of our David! More recently during an interview on BBC Radio One, Sir David was asked to narrate the video for Adele’s new song. He even gave it the trademark Attenborough voice-over.

“Like all pop stars, she needs to hunt to survive,” he begins. “The lesser spotted Adele is about to be everywhere again.”

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9# He’s travelled more than anyone in history

Since his television career back in the 1950’s he started travelling around the world, and is now the most travelled person in the HISTORY of mankind...that’s some impressive migrating. It seems his life has been perfectly timed where he saw the world in its former pristine self… And so he’s not only just seen more wildlife, people and places than anyone else but also witness the greatest amount of change than anybody who has ever lived.

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10# He’s simply the best #WishYouWereMyGrandad

All that said, we simply love him because he is our natural treasure and we all want him to be our grandad…he started the beginning of natural history filmmaking, and still is an amazing filmmaker and producer in his own right…love you Dave’s XOXOX

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Here I write about my own encounter with the lesser spotted David, over 2 years ago…..

It was 6am, Spanish time. And yes, it was the summer, BUT Sir David Attenborough tickets were on sale for his lecture on Alfred Russell Wallace in Cardiff New Theatre! I was poised with my mouse cursor ready to buy a ticket after refreshing the page… then to utter dismay all the tickets had sold out after 2 minutes of pending. I was overwrought. It happened by coincidence that I had a week long field trip to Dale Fort, in Pembrokeshire on the 18th September, and the very same day that David was giving his lecture, and so I had to book a ticket! So I put my self on wait list and hoped for the best. After a week, forgetting that I had even applied, I received an email saying I had 2 places to book tickets-result! Booked them instantly….then I thought about actually getting there.

 

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So bunked off the uni bus journey to go and see my hero- and the reason why all zoologists study their degree… so a pretty good excuse! It took 7 hours in total to get to Cardiff Central, with various stop-offs. Wasn’t cheap getting there but I had worked as a student ambassador to get the money. Went with a friend, and we went for a coffee opposite the theatre at 6pm to await the arrival of the greatest wildlife broadcaster to have ever lived…That hot chocolate tasted so good! I was positively jubilant! I could not contain my excitement as soon as I had received the lecture brochure and meticulously read through the talk. Then we walked out of the coffee shop, and at the same time a dark Mercedes tinted windowed car pulled up alongside the entrance, where he stepped out…I almost fainted on the spot then and there… He had entered the building!
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When we got our seats, which were at the very back, (so we could go out and catch the train we had booked to go to Milford Haven, then to our field trip location) and then as Sir David entered there was a sudden gasp from the audience, followed by a rapturous applause! It was a fascinating lecture all about the great Alfred Wallace, and his humble beginnings and shear enthusiasm for adventure really. Some really hilarious clips and gestures by David, absolutely brilliant, wish all lectures were like this! Before I knew it, it was question time, I was the first to put up my hand, but sadly, at the back I wasn’t noticed until the end when they ran out of question time. They even handed me a microphone, at which point my legs had turned to jelly. After that, we had to rush out to get our bags and then run for the train, only just made it! Onwards to Dale Fort for our own adventures (and a lot of hard stats and collecting data from the field!). However, I did send him a long letter including the question I so wanted to ask, which was,
“Out of Darwin, Gregor Mendel and Wallace, who do you believe has contributed the most to society.”
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He answered back too! His letter takes pride of place on my windowsill, (next to my fossil Archaeopteryx). I think its wonderful that a man who is so busy would even take up his time to read his fans letter, he truly is a remarkable, special man, and I am honoured to have seen him at his lecture and be alive during his lifetime- Thank you David- and may you long keep making Natural History programmes!

A Lion’s Tale

As many of you know, I have been off filming in Kenya as part of my final Master’s film for the UWE Bristol-BBC course. Here is a little more background to the story before I start blogging the exciting events that happened during the trip!

Please check out more about the FILM here:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-lion-s-tale/x/11469504#/

 

Synopsis

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2016 is The Year of the Lion that will honour the 50th anniversary of the film Born Free. A story of true determination, passion, love and drama – it is one of the most successful conservation stories ever told all. This film will be presented by Virginia McKenna, the actress turned wildlife activist as she tells us about her journey to protect the lions of East Africa and introduces us to the team of rangers currently working in Elsa’s heartland, Meru National Park. Led by Virginia’s son, Will Travers and the charismatic Victor Mutumah (Game warden of the Kenya Wildlife Service), we see first-hand how the threat to lions has never been so pressing.

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Wildlife activist Virginia McKenna; actress turn conservationist
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Meet Victor Mutumah: chef extraordinaire and wildlife conservationist or Born Free.
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OBE Will Travers: son of Virginia and Wildlife activist, president of the Born Free Foundation. Shown here at the major Ivory Burn event we attended.

Why now?

Their numbers have declined by 90% since the making of the film, and the recent lion census has revealed that in Meru poisoning, snaring and hunting is threatening the last remaining populations of the original lions raised by George Adamson. As the team search for answers across the dramatic landscape, it ultimately leads them to the local Borana people whose livelihoods are equally at risk from these majestic predators.

Without urgent action, lions could become extinct into the wild within our life time- as currently there are less lions than rhino in the wild

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Can the team help convince the new generation of children of the value of lion? Will they change from hunters to conservationists? Will Virginia’s lion legacy be felt in the true heartland where it matters most?

Where?

Our documentary will take place in the heartland of the Born Free story, in the little visited and utterly unspoilt Meru National Park where the Adamson’s released Elsa the lioness into the wild. Steeped in history, few places are comparable to the remote and rugged atmosphere found here with a vast range of habitats, criss-crossed with 13 natural rivers. From the majestic lion and the minute naked mole rat – it truly is a landscape of contrasts.

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Virginia McKenna

Despite being at the peak of her career, the film and all it still stands for changed her life…It’s powerful message stayed with her after the film and so she gave up Hollywood and began a lifetime of campaigning across the world to save animals from commercial exploitation, imprisonment, cruelty and the loss of their natural habitat-focusing relentlessly on her personal mission with the Born Free Foundation.

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The Story

In the beginning we meet Virginia McKenna, actress turn conservationist as she introduces us to the Born Free film she was involved with, and shares the impact it had on her. Through a series of interviews and cut aways to archive of the Born Free Film, we gain an insight into why lions are important to her, her relationship with them and what the Foundation is doing as part of their campaign to halter their startling decline….

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We then journey to the homeland of Elsa the lioness and the heartland of Joy Adamson- Meru National Park. Virginia’s voice guides us though a remarkable raw landscape in the foothills of Mt Kenya with its herds of zebra and elephants, home to the descendants of the original lions from the film. Here we meet Victor Mutumah of the Born Free Foundation and the rangers who fight tirelessly against poachers and bandits.

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The reality of what’s causing the lions decline is revealed in the field as the rangers track down snares and traps.However the main cause is shown as human populations encroach further into lion territory this often leads to human-wildlife conflicts and a fragile relationship between lions and locals. Is conservation on the agenda amongst the local people? An interview with a local farmer from the Meru tribe gives us an insight into where this stems from, and what is really thought about conservation.

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What does Born Free and the KWS need to do to change their views in on one of the last strongholds of lions in Kenya before its too late?

Born Free and the KWS attempt resolve this conflict by reaching out towards the community and giving them the tools to become conservationists. With the Global friend’s programme, they educate the next generation of lion guardians about the value of lions to their culture and livelihoods. By focusing on environmental education and benefits to human communities; Global Friends encourages communities to find their own solutions to human-wildlife conflict… As well as this, de-snaring operations and research are helping to reduce conflict and enable a better understanding of the last remaining individuals in the park. However the threats are very real to the rangers, who need to protect themselves as well as the lions they so dearly care about.

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On the final leg of the journey, we meet Virginia’s son, Will Travers as he journeys to the Ivory Burn in Nairobi National Park; the largest in history, and a symbol of hope to tackle the ever increasing rise in the illegal ivory trade and of all of Kenya’s species.

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But will this be enough to change people’s relationship between lions to a positive one? Is there hope for the future of Kenya’s lions?

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The Impact

On completion of this film, it will be screened at the BBC Natural History Unit this September 2016, a day of great celebration for everyone involved in the project and YOU at home for making it a reality. Then it’s off to the Film Festivals around the world! Virginia’s Lions could have an impact on raising awareness about the plight of lions and encourage protection from commercial trade at the 17th COP convening with CITES in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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The Born Free Foundation since its creation in 1984 originally with Zoo Check, it has raised over millions and grown into a global force for protecting and rescuing wildlife. It is working harder than ever with local communities to give them right conservation tool, with its personal passion for wild animals and desire for positive change remaining at the heart of the foundation.

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Resolution?

Virginia’s message of hope is an inspiration to us all, and something which all humans share. I hope to raise awareness about the plight of lions through my film, but also celebrate the story of Virginia McKenna and the Born Free Film which changed her life. This story is unique in that Virginia is not a scientist, nor a local Kenyan…but someone who has a deep passion and connection to the place and the wildlife around her. We will ultimately decide the fate of lions, and so let us chose hope and rally with Born Free to ensure the next generations will see this remarkable iconic species in the wild for themselves.

Photo credit: The amazingly talented Robyn Gianni took these photographs and is allow me to use them for the film! Check out her incredible work here:

 

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/163647394

 

Ivory Burn: A day before Kenyan history

First day shooting in Nairobi was remarkable…incredible…fascinating and overwhelming. We had been given special access by the passionate Tim Oloo, country manager of the Born Free Foundation along with Will Travers, president of this most unique of wildlife charities. I have never felt so stimulated and thrilled; as we drove down the dirt track through the Nairobi National Park, a remarkable sight met us.

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Ivory Burn preparations in Nairobi National Park. 105 tonnes of ivory is going to be burned on the 30th April, with the worlds eyes on Kenya.
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Me filming at this most overwhelming site.
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Adrian filming the wides at the Ivory Burn site in Nairobi.

There were 10 enormous stacks of 105 tonnes of tusk that pointed towards the foreboding darkening skies. A storm was brewing, and the worlds media were preparing for this most monumental of events. The Kenyan authorities have been preparing to burn not only the ivory but also the pelts of wild animals, seized sandal wood all to highlight their determination and dedication to eradicating this most abhorrent of acts. Armed Kenyan Wildlife Service personnel prowled among the gleaning white teeth of over 6000 elephants. Pressure has predominantly being coming from conservation groups and the government to end this trade, and an incredible array of passionate individuals will be taking their stand against this atrocious act of killing an animal for ornamental decoration and status on the 30th tomorrow.  Journalists, reporters, filmmakers and conservationists from around the world will also be coming to witness the burn- including us! I’m producing a film A Lion’s Tale as part of my UWE Masters and this will be my 3rd day of the 10 day shoot.

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Being here in Nairobi as this is all unfolding is truly an incredible experience… I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be given the privilege to cover such an important issue with one of my conservation heroes. This event is more than justified in my opinion, I know the are many out there who disagree with the act of burning a potentially financial gold mine…but elephants are some of the most enigmatic and vitally intrinsic species in the world, and I think to lose them for the simple sake of man’s greed and egocentric attitude would be an enormous tragedy. Elephants and ALL living animals are worth more alive than dead. I would not be able to accept that our species would be willing to profit from an evolutionary adaption of another animal, or using that to put into conservation funds for other animals. Cut the supply and destroy the chain.

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Tonight we are prepping for tomorrow’s BIG shoot, 5am wake up to get into register and pick up our press passes with Will- its going to be HUGE! I’m incredibly excited to be a part of this and I hope we can capture the sense of hope that will come from the burning. Speaking to Will Travers, Timothy Oloo and David Manoa today, I can really see the dedication they have to protecting all wildlife here in Africa- and it’s going to be hugely inspiring and moving to witness. Right I better get some sleep then…BIG day ahead!

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OBE Will Travers of the Born Free foundation at the burn site. 

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Here is an EXCLUSIVE 360 panoramic video of the scene!

FOLLOW us as we take you  LIVE at the Ivory Burn tomorrow and keep you up to date on twitter: @Eagletigger @A_LionsTale where we will be following Will Travers and interviewing celebrity guests at this most momentous event. Check out A Lions Tale for more info about the film: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-lion-s-tale/x/11469504#/

 

 

Diving into BBC’s Big Blue Live

Going Digital: Social Media and 360 Filming

We dived into the BBC Big Blue Live Masterclass in Bristol to learn about the secrets of their latest live wildlife-drama hit.

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Laura Thorne, Paul Deane and Sam Hume took to the stage to reveal the digital highs and lows of this new immersive and multiplatform series celebrating the wildlife of our oceans co-produced by the BBC and PBS. “Bringing the world to Monterey Bay” created many logistical, technical and editorial challenges for the team. The boats out in Monterey had been rigged with live cameras but nobody knew which individual animals would be filmed! Back in the UK we’re used to seeing the similarly formatted Springwatch with a more regimented character appearance, but as experienced producer James Honeyborne said, “Nature is literally writing our script!”

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However the adorable Southern Sea Otters at the Bay offered the crew a life line, allowing them to follow the story of a female mother, Bixby and her young pup. There’s nothing cuter than a literal ball of fluff- a single looping vine clip had over 4 million views on social media. Now that’s transoceanic!

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The social campaign was hugely successful with experienced Digital Development Lead Paul Dean on board, where the stories, wealth of archive material (70% digital exclusives) and hot-off the platter video-bites were served up on the BBC Earth Unplugged social platforms to some of the largest audiences the broadcasters have seen online. In a world of increasing content, there is little time to grab an audience’s attention.

And so the wealth of GIFs, videos, Vines, stills and infographics kept both UK and American audiences entertained and enthralled by this little known oceanic part of the world.

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Even 360 got a test dive… a virtual interactive reality video where you can dive among the verdant and colossal kelp forests, or have a swim with seals and Steve Backshall in an equally engaging virtual world. The BBC were however careful to choose the right video clips to fit a particular platform, and were able to partner with PBS and Monterey Bay Aquarium to promote their content.

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Influencer campaigns of people with ‘big accounts’ such as conservationists and presenters were also targeted to “re-tweet” material, with the Blue Whale’s last minute appearance stealing the headlines.

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This indeed proved to be a crucial element in making Big Blue a splashing success worldwide. Co-branding the BBC and PBS worked surprisingly well for the team as well, despite traditional ways of publicising programmes. The team shared their top tips for getting your content out there:

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  • Know your audience
  • Be patient
  • Try out material
  • Know your team
  • Be multi-skilled
  • Pre-release your best content
  • Listen to you audience

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But most of all, be HUMAN. Audiences want to be entertained on Digital Platforms as well on TV, with stories that are risky, humorous and inspiring. Big Blue Live was a truly ground-breaking and thrilling interactive experience. The Live Team are now looking for the next big series where the logistical issues of filming at different times of the day can be overcome, but not at the expense of finding amazing wildlife. We racked our brains for a few places we thought might fit the bill- let’s hope they have potential!

Wildscreen Re-launch 2016!

What a first semester it’s been! New Year has kick started with a bang, time is flying by and we’re now planning our final film projects and pitching to the BBC soon… it’s all becoming a reality now and I  can’t tell you how exciting it all feels. I’m trying to catch up on some much needed blogging after all the Christmas shenanigans and deadlines- here’s what happened at the Wildscreen Re-launch 2015!

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Wildscreen…the Natural History equivalent to the Oscars, announced that the 18th Festival will take place in Bristol, UK from Monday 10th October until Friday 14th October 2016 – we can barely wait! I for one am very excited at the prospect of volunteering as well as entering this year. The talent last year was truly astounding, and more than ever conservation is beginning to make a come back in the form of human and animal  characters, with strong emotive storytelling. (*Hint*Hint…along the lines of my final film too).

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At the festival, anyone and everyone in the industry turns up to celebrating the world’s best natural world film event. They all congregate in the dining hall before the main awards event, looking rather resplendent in all that finery. Even the rarest of them all congregates at this most awe-inspiring of talent pools…Sir David has been known to make an appearance despite being a highly migratory species.  At the Festival there’s a whole host of fantastic workshops you can get up to including masterclasses and keynotes which provide unique access to some of the sectors most influential, powerful and innovative individuals.

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SO…a the re-launch we were given the task of filming and vision mixing the event, as well as welcoming guests into the viewing. We met up with two experienced cameramen who positioned us in left and right winds as well as the back. Whilst one of us was in charge of tracking the speakers in a mid wide shot, the other to cameras were either a steady wide or “interest cam” where we could get more creative and get close ups of the face and hands as the passionate speakers gesticulated with verve.

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We also got involved with welcoming VIP guests with a snazzy Wildscreeen T-shirt, and it was quite thrilling to welcome in some of the biggest faces in the industry. Sadly no David but we shall meet again! It felt so humbling to be in their presence, and a real reminder that we have so much to learn- they’ve been there, done it all and literally gotten the T-shirt. They are so knowledgeable, and I feel incredibly lucky to have been taught by a few of them. Once everyone was in, it was time for a quick piece of tortilla and then leg it to the stage, the show wouldn’t start itself!

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Anna modelling and rocking that T-shirt

I was also playing around on the vision mixing desk with Dave, head technician and our lecturer, as well as all round cool, techy, goatee guy. This was an interesting experience for me and really appreciated how important timing is!

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Cue Titles……

During rehearsals I got to see some very interesting speakers including talented and rising star Patrick Ayree. A former UWE student himself, he’s blazing our screens with superb new productions such as his most recent Big Cat series by Offspring Films, Sky 1. His dulcet tones emanated from the stage as he hosted the event whilst we were treated to stunning array of photography. He’s certainly one to watch for in the imminent future…

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Patrick Ayree hosting the Wilsdscreen Re-launch event, at the rather resplendent Bristol Old Vic.

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Then things got fishy…in a good way though, with Wildscreen’s New Horizons Nicholas Röhl, a man with a vision to change the way we recklessly catch fish in an unsustainable manner, through his admittedly bold and humorous photography. Fish Love is at the heart of a global movement
 to protect our seas from destructive fishing practices. The portraits, featuring celebrated individuals with fish have successfully raised awareness for campaigns such as Deep Sea Coalition, OCEAN2012, The End of the Line, and Blue Marine Foundation. Visions of celebrities adorned with fish is something I didn’t envisage, but nonetheless it was a very interesting concept! Check out and support his work here.

Here’s the video too! (Shot on our Sony FS700‘s)

Alex Morris, Creative Director at Barcroft Media talked Digital– where they source amazing photographers using the internet, social media and forums to find the most talented individuals…as there’s a huge demand for eye-catching content. They also a YouTube channel with large global audiences that would even make Taylor Swift go weak at the knees … with over 100 million  views a month! Fun fact of the night:  A staggering 300 hours of media is uploaded every min onto YouTube– that’s a LOT of cute kittens and sneezing pandas…

Violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen gave a stunning heartfelt performance of The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams. Such a beautiful creative display of our relationship with the natural world shown in conjunction with a series of some of the very best wildlife and environmental photography from many talented individuals. This was perhaps one of my favorite highlights of the event as its clean, inspirational simplicity allows your imagination to run wild and feel moved emotionally…a deep routed connection to the natural world that resonates strongly with us all.

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After the event it was time to relax and meet some of the guests! And of course show off our new Wildscreen T-shirts kindly given to us by the organizers, thanks Hannah! You all pulled it off!

So here was out team photo #GirlPower! We’ll see you for 2016!

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Interview with Dr George Mc Gavin

Tania Rose Esteban

Dr George McGavin interview about new BBC series, Monkey Planet!

​February 15th, 2014

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I had a very special guest interview with entomologist, lecturer writer, presenter and intrepid explorer Dr George McGavin! Was so excited to be able to speak to him as a huge fan of all his”Lost Land Series,” The Dark and Prehistoric autopsy. I had a bit of a hiccup when calling him via skype, as our sound system wasnt working and we couldn´t hear him! Thankfully our station manager saved the day and fixed the problem! We chatted about his two new series coming out soon, one next week about dissection on BBC 4 where we can “get up close and personal” with the human body and a very exciting 3 part series on Primates called Monkey planet that he was particularly excited about. He tells me about dissected and the incredibly talented Tom Yendell who paints with his feet and the incredible…

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July 16th Benahavis , Marbella

WOW! Today saw the most incredible river gorge system and had an amazing time at Benahavis, situated just 3 miles, beyond the glitz and glamour of the popular tourist and celebrity resort city of Marbella. Benahavis is a Spanish mountain village situated between Marbella, Estepona, and Ronda, approximately seven kilometres from the coast. It is dotted by an impressive 9 out of the 60 golf courses in the Costa Del Sol and is renowned for its restaurants, it is often called the dining room of the Costa del Sol. On the southern face of La Serrania de Ronda mountain range, Benahavis is one of the most mountainous villages on the western Costa del Sol. Situated near the resort beaches as well as the spectacular mountains of the Serrania de Ronda, its terrain is traversed by the rivers Guadalmina, Guadaiza, and Guadalmansa. It is place of great natural and historic beauty, such as El Cerro del Duque, Daidin, and the Montemayor Castle.

The town itself is surrounded by natural parkland, and retains a typical sleepy Spanish “pueblo” feel. La Zagaleta, an exclusive gated residential estate and country club overlooking the village, lies within its municipal boundaries, and contributes to Benahavis’ status as the richest municipality per capita in Andalucía, which is also clear from the rather luxuriant cars that cruised past us. In recent years there has been extended development of the village and the surrounding area with many hundreds of dwellings being built, not only reducing the percentage of local inhabitants, but also despoiling some of the beautiful landscapes in the mountains and approaches to the village.

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We arrived at 1pm at the car park to a stunning view of the mountain crags and cliffs, not a cloud in the sky and temperatures reaching 36 degrees; a climbers dream world. As we made our way down to the start of the trail, quite a few locals had beaten us to the large river pools that populated the valley gorge, many of which can be jumped into from great heights from the cliff edges. So we thought we would get stuck in too! A smallish jump of 5 metres to start off with into the turquoise waters of the river Guadalmina was a very refreshing and exciting way to start. I took my trainers off, rather disconcerted by the chance of them dragging me down a bit when I jumped in. Gosh, what a refreshing feeling that was to jump into such cool, clear waters after the short walk up to it. We then wanted to further pursue the trail down the river but were stopped in our tracks due a bridge being built overhead, and we were told that it would open up again later in the week or next day, so a rather vague answer. Nevertheless, we went back up and decided to pluck up the courage to jump off the 10metre cliff into the river pool! I was genuinely excited about it, although daunting at first, it was so much fun feeling the freedom of doing it, I can’t describe it! Truly euphoric.

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We all video recorded it with an underwater Olympus camera, will post up a link to it here soon. I jumped twice in the end! As we walked back up the car, we noticed that the red tape had been removed, and presumed that the bridge had been put up. So we refreshed ourselves and headed back up, after the girls flirted with some rather fit looking passer-byes, of course I was much too embarrassed to participate! I then jumped off the larger cliff edge for another thrill before we headed downstream. Many fish populated the large pools of water as well as the main river itself, and were busy avoid our clumsily placed feet. Emma remarked how amazingly good our ancestors would have been good at navigating the river with ease and being able to stalk their prey with subtle movements. We quite fancied the idea of ancestral Homo erectus picking their way through the same pathways, many thousands of years ago. The sight was amazing as we carefully picked are way downstream, hundreds of mating dragonflies danced in unison with their partners and they mated in mid-aid, such a delicate ritual and myriad of colour. Blue, black, fuchsia and emerald green filled the air like sheening confetti. This rather large one pictured below was dead unfortunately after its mating orgy, male dragonflies with compete with other males to mate with as many females as possible before dying.

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One part of the river revealed a mangrove-like back setting that was truly stunning. Couldn’t resist having a photo!

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We eventually got to a more enclosed cave-like part of the river gorge that was far more quiet and serene. We were all so excited to be seeing such beauty and found it thrilling in plunging into the deep darker waters. As we swam the rock formations above us were deeply grooved and shaped by water percolating through it, dripping on our heads which was a welcoming refreshing drink.

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Like the scene from 172 days! Don’t fall on us rock!

The water itself was again a deep turquoise/green colour and was welcomingly warm. Every time we rounded the corner new, stunning sights met us, and the views of the high La Serrania de Ronda mountain range, dotted with pine trees and scree slopes, contrasting against the deep blue sky-perfect weather. I sure did get a good tan that day! One of the pools looked like the scene from a Georgio Armani perfume photo shoot, was too tempting to ask someone to do a pose and throw their hair back! Lots of swimming, many “oh my gosh isn’t it beautiful’s” and many photos. We eventually reached the dam and soaked up the warmth from the sun at the top/ The bridge had literally just been put up and was not yet open to the public, but nevertheless, was up there and had enabled us to have the most incredibly fun afternoon.

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During the late 1990s, the Junta de Andalucía constructed a dam on the site of an old marble quarry, and now for much of the year the once ever-flowing Río Guadalmina is merely a dried-up river bed, but not here! Who would have thought that this tiny secluded little gorge, hidden from the “costa del sol” tourists would have been literally an hours drive from where I live? I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Southern Spain to go and visit it, its free and fun! It’s a bit tricky to get to, but there is plenty of parking and the walk to it is only 5 minutes. I will post up a map for you to follow, but its probably best to punch in the poscode to the town, then follow the bridge over towards the La Serrania de Ronda mountain range.

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Here is a 1:25000 map as promised, enjoy your adventures!

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Ants, Wasps, Lizards and teeth

July 15th

Well, today has been rather interesting. Though I would get some macro sequences today, getting up close and personal with the insect world. Ants were up first, so I filmed some of the larger ones running up and the algorobo tree, or fairy tree as I like to call it, busy preparing for a days foraging of literally anything that is edible. I’ve seen these remarkable insects take lizards, birds, crickets, beetles, other ant species, to a more vegetarian diet of flowers, leaves and most popular of all, seeds. Perhaps it’s the rich lipid and protein content that they favour. If they’re lucky enough to get access to my fruit they will do, my suitcase was full of them eating my plumb. Really fascinating creatures, the way they manoeuvre themselves across the branches and trees in such a coordinated manner, without disrupting the flow of traffic- wish drivers in Spain would get the hint! The drivers’ brains during the summer here are seriously frazzled, and are a real danger to people. Equally interesting was the wasps nest I found, which resides on a lavender plant rather surprisingly. I’m yet to see if they still reside within it, but judging by the two wasps I spotted nearby, I’m guessing so. The lizards were also active, and their iridescent blue tails, flicking as they dart away from any incoming sound. It’s quite tricky to get any footage of them at all! Would be good if I could get some asking footage of them though, when they are still a little weary from their daily torpor- animals that lower their metabolism and heart, ventilation and breathing rate during the day for short periods of time. This evolutionary adaption is common in animals living in hot, arid climates which try to avoid overheating and reduce energy expenditure whilst keeping cool. They are then able to maintain their body temperature within the thermal neutral zone- a range of environmental temperatures at which an animal can perform metabolic processes efficiently. Hence why the Spanish have a “siesta” every day! Also got my tooth filling today, first time I’ve been to the dentist for any filling at all, so wasn’t actually nervous! Now I can chomp away at my watermelon, mmmmmm….