Natural History students get to grips with Telephoto Lenses & hide building at RSPB Sandwell

NFTS Directing and Producing Science and Natural History MA students recently experienced filming wild birds at an RSBP Reserve in Sandwell Valley. The RSPB, the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, partners with the School on the Natural History MA and works closely with our tutors and students to inspire a new generation of filmmaking talent to create content that champions the charity’s conservation cause.

The students were invited to spend two days at the Sandwell Valley Reserve. On the first day, they met with freelance cameraman Toby Hough, who guided them through using the cameras and telephoto lenses and the importance of field craft when filming wild animals. Following this was a recce of the reserve, led by Cathy Taylor, the manager at Sandwell Valley where students were taught how to construct hides with the best chances to film without disturbing the wildlife.

NFTS Directing and Producing Science and Natural History MA course leader, Paul Reddish said: ‘The two days at the RSPB reserve gives the students the knowledge, skills and confidence to film wildlife. In the coming months, all these skills will be put to use as they begin to create 10 minute films with the footage from this RSPB visit.’

First year NFTS student Marysia Clouter said of the experience: “The whole exercise gave us an understanding about the laws and tricks for filming wildlife in the UK, getting to grips with being 'invisible' in the landscape and undetectable by the birds we were filming. It felt like the real deal. Early hours, heavy equipment, mud and cold! It really gave a sense of the effort that goes into wildlife filmmaking, not just as a craft but also as a lifestyle.”

Students used 400mm telephoto lenses with 1.5 teleconverters to shoot close-ups of swans, geese, larks and the serene surroundings.

Marysia continues: “During the filming, we would spend approximately two hours in each hide filming as much bird activity as possible, and, because it is the breeding season, we managed to capture some amazing shots of goslings following their parents on land and on the lake.”

The second day included opportunities for students to film general views of the surrounding lakes, trees and reeds as well as getting sound recordings.

Fellow MA student Daniel Stuart adds: “Hide work is vital to Natural History filmmaking and the opportunity to film at such a great location was an incredible experience. The abundance and activity of the wildlife in the morning on the reserve made for a great day.”

Course Leader Paul Redditch; who has worked as a Producer and Director across a number of high profile natural history films and series including Attenborough in Paradise, The Future is Wild, and Hummingbirds Jewelled Messengers, said: “We would like to thank our course partner, the RSPB for providing such an invaluable opportunity for our students to learn how to film for real at the reserve. They have all really enjoyed the experience and are inspired to learn more. It’s a real privilege to experience being close to wild animals and able to film them in close up. The day races by and the most difficult part is getting the students out of the hides!”

Applications for the Directing Natural History and Science MA are open until the 2nd May 2019 and the course will commence in January 2020.