Well that was fun in an odd sort of way. Three weeks in an extremely wet forest filming very small things on the undersides of leaves. We were telling the story of the male brood care of the Reticulated Glass frog – all very wonderful – and to be revealed when the BBC One Planet series is broadcast next year.
I spent much of my early career filming in the neotropics and had forgotten quite what challenging places they are to work. The diversity and complexity of the rainforest is mesmerising and overwhelming in equal measure, it was slightly annoying to realise that, although I recognised many of the species from 20 years ago, I’d forgotten most of their names.
We had to cope with a huge amount of rain; 1m fell in July alone, making it 5m for the year so far, exceptional by Costa Rican standards and the result of a very strong El Nino weather pattern this year.
This was essentially a macro sequence; the frogs were less than 20mm long, their wasp predators about 8mm long, and much of the behaviour we wanted to film was over in the blink of an eye, requiring the use of a high speed camera.
Nearly all our filming took place at the edge of a little pond. The huge exposure demands of the high speed camera meant we had to light the area which meant cable runs, stands and a pretty beefy generator – all of which had to cope with the torrential downpours that could happen at any minute. We got very efficient at shutting everything down and getting all the really sensitive bits of kit under cover at the first sign of a rainstorm.
The behaviour we were hoping to film takes place on the undersides of leaves – where the frogs lay their eggs – which presented a major lighting challenge. Trying to squeeze a few photons into a place where they wouldn’t normally be, yet still making the images look good, and gaining enough depth of field to offer any chance of covering the action, was a big challenge. Add this to the fact that the behaviour was unpredictable and required a particular species of wasp deciding to investigate the individual leaf you had set up on, made things all very tricky. Rain, mosquitoes, a resident Fer de Lance, knee deep water and sleep deprivation all added to the fun.
We worked our socks off until the morning of our departure, I think we got everything needed to tell a very cool story of a very beautiful frog. You always leave situations like this knowing a whole lot more about how to solve the unique set of problems that and shoot presents than you did when you started, which inevitably means you want to re-shoot everything you did in the first few days. But that’s the nature of the beast, and after three weeks in soggy wellies it was probably the right thing to call it quits.
As always, this stuff is only possible due to the brilliance, help, experience and coffee brewing skills of others: huge thanks to Brian, Myra, Eric, Jim, Charlotte, Emma & Mark