Bertie Gregory wanted to get more up close and personal with his new National Geographic’s series “Animals Up Close” than he had been with the animal kingdom in his previous series, “Epic Adventures with Bertie Gregory.” He describes his new offering that will be available on the streaming series Disney+ starting Sept. 13 as an evolution of the previous production.
“What we found on ‘Epic Adventures’ was that the most engaging stories were when we followed individual animals and individual animal families rather than just a species as a whole,” Gregory says. “That is what we do with ‘Animals Up Close,’ hence the title.”
The new six-part series follows award-winning cinematographer Gregory as he travels to the most remote corners of the planet to track down extraordinary animals to capture their daily lives like never before. The team travels to Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, Botswana, Patagonia, Indonesia and the Central African Republic.
Among the creatures featured include humpback whales disrupting the hunt of an endangered pod of B1 killer whales and a male sea lion defending pups from a huge Galapagos shark. In Patagonia, Bertie and his team film a guardian shepherd dog defending his flock of sheep from a hunting puma.
One of the episodes features a female puma and her two cubs that Gregory first met four years ago when she was a cub. The new footage shows the struggles the puma faces to feed her family and to survive in the harsh world.
“She took us on a physical and emotional rollercoaster over the 51 days we spent filming that episode,” Gregory says.
That long shooting schedule was necessary to get the kind of footage to allow Gregory to describe the series as being an up-close look at the subjects. In the case of the puma, there are scenes where the cameras appear to be within inches of the animal.
This is mostly accomplished by cameras with massive lenses but after following an animal for a period of time, the team gets a sense of their movements. That means remote cameras can be set up to get very intimate images.
A big advancement in how Gregory works is the use of drones. The high-flying cameras capture events and movements that previously could not be seen. He calls drones “the biggest game changer” in the past few years.
“I am sure there will be another piece of technology soon but being able to show an animal behavior we have seen many times before from the ground suddenly from the aerial perspective just reveals so many more lessons,” Gregory says. “It continues to be a very important tool in my camera kit.”
One of the moments Gregory and his team was able to capture for the new series was the puma killing a guanaco to be able to feed her family. Gregory knows these kinds of moments are just the circle of life, but they are still very difficult for him.
“Hunting is a part of nature,” Gregory says. “As a wildlife filmmaker we kind of have to distance ourselves from that to a certain extent. I think if you were too emotionally attached it would be hard to focus on the camera work.
“People often ask if I want to intervene. But, this is the circle of life.”
Gregory does admit feeling very emotional watching the puma and the large guanaco fight to the death. He looked at the puma as an old friend but his job was to capture the moment no matter the end result.
He came to understand the life-and-death world of nature because of the years he has spent photographing wildlife. He has been chasing this profession since he was a youngster and would borrow his father’s camera to film the local wildlife near his home near Reading, England.
“It definitely wasn’t a wild place, but I was near farmland, and I made friends with the farmer. He let me explore his land,” Gregory says. “It was things like deer and kingfishers and foxes and badgers.”
Those early days with the camera provided Gregory two things. Gregory saw it as a great way of channeling his obsession and provided an explanation to his mother and father of what he was doing when he would disappear into the local woods for hours. Those days taught him that if you are into something that most people think is a bit strange, if you can take pictures of it that’s a really great way of getting other people excited about it.
Photos from this obsession earned him recognition including being named a National Geographic Young Explorer, Youth Outdoor Photographer of the Year and Zenith Scientific Exploration Society Explorer. He has since shot documentaries for Nat Geo WILD and BBC Planet Earth.