From 23 kg emperor penguins in Antarctica to 23,000 kg southern right whales in the Auckland Islands, Alex’s career as a cinematographer takes him all over the world and involves animals big and small.
“I’m very lucky and I get to travel to all corners of the planet. I’ve somehow become a bit of a specialist in doing extremely cold shoots. I really enjoy polar environments and snowy places; I love the challenge of it, which is a bit weird for a kid from a tropical island,” he says.
“I did one shoot in the Arctic where it was around minus 25-30 degrees. So, you can’t really take your gloves off for long because your hands freeze and you’d pretty quickly get frostbite, and even just getting to the spot where you sit behind the camera is a massive achievement. It’s just such a privilege to see those places and the animals that live in them because they’re so remote and hard to get to.”
On a recent shoot for Frozen Planet II, Alex was in Antarctica filming a sequence on emperor penguin chicks jumping into the ocean for the very first time — a rare sight to be caught on camera.
It was the third year in a row the crew had tried to get on location to capture the footage, with COVID-19 amongst other obstacles stopping them previously. With sicknesses and quarantine, what was supposed to be a six-week stretch ended up being an unforgettable two weeks out on the sea ice.
“We were there at the perfect time; all the emperor penguin chicks were just starting to leave the colony and make this big, long journey across the ice to the edge. We’re seeing them go over mountainous lumps of ice and across cracks before finally jumping into the ocean,” Alex says.
“Those situations can be a bit tense because you’re on sea ice at the time of year when it’s breaking up, and there are no helicopters or boats so if you’re on a piece that breaks off, you’re basically on a boat of ice floating out into the Southern Ocean. So, you have to be careful, but being out there was magical and it was such a special sequence to be able to capture.”
Alex says this story is only one of many memorable moments he has been lucky enough to experience during his time as a cinematographer. He recalls another in New Zealand with a whale named Patrick. At the time, Alex was shooting a sequence about how southern right whale populations bounced back after whaling.
“They’re the most amazing animals to be close to because they are just so inquisitive. While I was under water filming there was this one whale that just wouldn’t leave us, and we ended up naming him Patrick. He was like a giant puppy dog,” he says.
“An adult southern right whale is about the size of a bus, but Patrick was a sub-adult, so he was about the size of a minibus. He would just follow me everywhere. Even when we were done with him and went on to find a large group of whales, Patrick would follow along about a meter behind me. They’re so big but they’re so conscious of where their bodies are.”