Jun. 6, 2018

RSPB Filmmaker Wild About AMIRA

The ARRI AMIRA has a well-established reputation as an outstanding documentary camera. But its toughness and picture quality also make it ideal for wildlife projects. Tom Rowland made a film for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) about flocks that spend the winter in the UK. And he found the AMIRA was perfect for the job.  

Jun. 6, 2018

Tom Rowland’s film, "Winter Flocks," is a beautiful evocation of some of Britain’s wildest and most unspoiled landscapes, set off by the hypnotic effect of seeing thousands of birds in motion at the same time. There is a timelessness and artistic simplicity to these images that belies the craft and technical know-how that went into their capture.


One of Tom’s featured subjects were knot, which the RSPB rather charmingly describes as “a dumpy, short-legged, stocky wading bird”. Large numbers of this winter visitor to Britain’s shores gather at the society’s reserve at Snettisham in Norfolk, on England’s east coast. And to film them, Tom had to get very close indeed. 

“The brief was to get at eye level, at only 1m away from them”, he explains. “We had to build and bury what can only be described as a shallow grave hide into the shingle beach, which was no small feat. The hide was basically a coffin, just deep and long enough for me to lay on my front, and operate an Amira on baby legs. Snug is the word I’d use.”

Once in position, Tom would have to wait for between one and two hours for the birds to arrive, and film for another four. “When they left I could emerge from the ‘grave’. But it was worth it. I have been all over the world to film wildlife, but out of all of my experiences, seeing tens of thousands of these little birds swirl and move as one living organism in the air and on the ground only 1m away has to be my all-time favorite encounter.” 

Tom describes the ARRI AMIRA as his “number one choice for wildlife filming.”

“The accessibility of user buttons on the operator's side of the camera and the ability to switch frame rates so easily is essential because with Nature, moments come and go in a flash”, he says. “I need to be as quick as possible. Out of all the cameras I've used over the years, for me nothing comes close to the AMIRA on this front. For these shoots I used it with Canon stills lenses. For any hide work I also like to work with a monitor, because that means I don’t have to constantly look down the EVF.” 

"Winter Flocks" also features barnacle geese, filmed at the RSPB’s reserve at Mersehead on the Solway Firth, in the extreme south-west corner of Scotland. Again, Tom’s first challenge was to get close enough to film them. “The barnacle geese are incredibly intelligent and nervous birds, which meant a lot of the footage had to be captured from hides – or what I like to call the office”, he says. 

“Normally, when filming sensitive bird species, I have someone walk me into the hide. I set up, then they walk away resulting in the birds not associating the hide with people. But the barnacle geese knew what was going on, and it required two people to walk me into the hide for the geese to not twig I was in there. They’re clever creatures.”

Photos: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds