Bertie Gregory (click here to visit his website), the award winning wildlife photographer and film-maker, took some time out his busy schedule to give us his essential tricks and tips to survive, thrive and, most of all, enjoy a shoot in a remote location. Here's what we learnt...
Know Thy Kit
Picture the scene... You’re out on location and, out of nowhere, an opportunity for a great shot presents itself, but you need to set up the tripod’s counter balance or adjust your camera's white balance. You’re stood there flapping about like a duck with a problem, and by the time you manage to get yourself set the moment has gone, and you’re sad forever. Whenever Bertie gets a new bit of kit, his first mission is to become an expert in every detail of it, no matter how small. That way he’s able to instinctively adjust to his unpredictable surroundings on the fly – allowing him to focus on getting the best shots he can.
By his own admission, Bertie is a little fragile at four in the morning. Like most of us he has come to expect that upon first waking up his IQ will be at a level somewhere between a broken kettle and sock full of ketchup. So he does everything he possibly can in terms of preparation the night before, reducing wherever possible the chance of him forgetting a key piece of kit. If you’re impaired both before bed and when you wake, make a list. Do whatever you can to safeguard your shoot from yourself!
Beware of The Law of Sod
So you’ve learnt your kit inside out, you’ve taken everything you need to the shoot, but when you’re out in the middle of nowhere – sod’s law rains down on you with all its might – and a piece of vital kit breaks. Best case scenario: you manage to bodge together a quick fix with duct tape, fabric and tears. Worst Case: Lots of crying. Investing well in good quality rain capes, hard cases and backpacks will pay you back many times over in the catastrophes they avoid. Knowing your kit is safe means that you can approach any environment with absolute confidence, and, as said before, allows you to focus purely on getting some great shots.
Embrace the Struggle
Everybody likes the sun. We get it. But as all of us from the UK know, the sun is not a regular visitor in these parts, so we have to adapt. And if you do, you’ll soon see the rewards. Look at Bertie’s video (below) as an example that capturing your subject in the gloom can give you a more truthful and emotive image. We all love a struggle, we all love an underdog, or as Bertie puts it, “We’ve all seen enough ducks in the sun… It’s not easy being a duck… It’s our duty to show the daily duck struggles to the world.”
Dress for Distress
And how do we embrace the struggle. Putting it simply – clothes, waterproof, cosy, lovely clothes. Just like protective gear, the extra money you spend will be paid back many times over. Not only your endurance, but your health and general happiness will benefit from the investment. If any of those three things start to waver and the shoot is cut short, the time, effort and money getting you to the location will have been, at least in part, wasted. And even if you do stick out the whole shoot, it will be spent with your freezing fingers and chattering teeth at the forefront of your mind. Not many people can pull off the blue lips look.
‘Remote location’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s remote for everyone. In all likelihood, there are people who call your ‘remote location’ home, and know it as well as you know your back garden. Instead of spending six months on location learning things that the locals could tell you in five minutes, make as many connections as you can prior to going out to location, and if you can, see if one of them will be willing to assist on the shoot. No harm in asking.
The Unemotional Emergency
This might sound a bit brutal, but having our Mum as an emergency contact when we’re half around the world on a shoot wouldn’t be the best idea, because there would be very little she could do to help. As tough as it might be, you need to be this pragmatic when planning for emergencies. Decide on a person who will be able to actively help, but don’t just stop there, try to imagine every reasonable eventuality and how it should be dealt with. Making an emergency plan means you will be able to be objective and calculating in your decisions about what should be done, which is a lot harder to do when in the thick of an actual emergency.
The Main Thing
In this article we’ve talked about inclement weather, kit breaking, bad luck, early mornings, which all make for a quite bleak read. Sorry about that. So it’s important to mention what actually makes all of those things worthwhile: You are doing what you love. When you’re soaked with rain, a tripod breaks or you’re defecated on by a duck, reminding yourself of how lucky you are will help put all the struggle into context, and bring you to the most important question: Would you really want to be doing anything else at that moment? So in spite of all the toil and trauma, enjoy your adventure, you've earned it.