15 Minutes With… BBC Green Planet Cameraman, Tim Shepherd

Feb 27, 2023 | Featured Articles, Interviews



15 Minutes With… BBC Green Planet Cameraman, Tim Shepherd

Feb 27, 2023 | Featured Articles, Interviews

Q: What made you specialise in timelapse videography? It was the plants – I am a Botanist first and a cameraman second so when I got my first job at Oxford Scientific Films I was excited to be making a film about the life of the Oak. I was given the challenge of filming acorns germinating and leaves growing on the tree – I got involved in timelapse right from the start. Being about the only cameraman around particularly interested in plants and knowledgeable about them meant for a natural progression.

Q: The BBC docuseries are so popular, and often ask the question – how do you get such incredible footage? Timelapse is just a process of running the camera very slowly while filming something and then playing it back at normal speed. For example, if I shoot one frame every minute but then play it back at 25 frames per second the action that lasts 25 minutes becomes one second on playback. Filming action that takes days or weeks is virtually impossible outside in a natural setting – just think what happens to a plant over just one day while it is growing – the light is continually changing, the wind blows it about, it rains, animals crawl all over it and eat it, it goes dark at night – filming that in timelapse becomes unwatchable chaos. The key to making shots work is to control all those conditions by filming in a studio.

Q: Your most recent timelapse work is shown in the BBC’s Green Planet, currently available on iPlayer. The series reveals, and challenges, the notion of plants possessing some form of ‘intelligence’ at a time where we’re more conscious about looking after our planet than ever. Are you able to pick out a favourite? My favourite sequence has to be the Giant Water Lily from the Waterworlds episode and the sequence of it fighting for space with all the other water plants around it. We built a giant pond in the studio, filled it with huge amounts of compost and grew and filmed everything in there. It took over a year to complete the sequence. I just love the growing leaf buds covered in needle sharp spines and the way it lashes around on the water surface as it grows smashing any other plants in
its path like an ancient mace.

Q: It’s fascinating to learn that many of your timelapse shots are produced in your studio in Devon. I really only need a solid floor, a roof, a reliable electricity supply and plenty of floor space so my location could be anywhere. Being in the Devon countryside is a great advantage, for the natural world is all around me. I can usually collect all my set material on a short walk with a wheelbarrow!

Q: Have you done any timelapses out in-situ around Devon? I often film short timelapses on location – weather shots such as clouds scudding by. We are so lucky to have such an amazing variety of habitats not far away. I often film on Dartmoor and the Haldon Hills, or on the Exe Estuary. 

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges? The most difficult thing with creating a timelapse is to grow the plants in such a way that you can still film it – getting the conditions right for it to perform but still be able to film it over a prolonged period of time.

Q: What new technologies have come in or are being developed to enhance what you do? The greatest advance recently has been the use of motion control software along with digital cameras on motorised motion control rigs. It’s a whole new feeling being able to hover around/fly over the plants, adjusting the camera as you go and responding to how they move.

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