My latest assignment took me to the rainforests of North Sulawesi, Indonesia to film ‘Tarsier Towers’, a 25 part series for Five that blends natural history with soap opera. We weren’t working with actors however but one of the world’s smallest primates – the spectral tarsier. Our aim with this production was to constantly observe and film three family groups over a period of six months. A hugely ambitious task that has never been attempted before. These animals have previously only ever featured briefly within other programmes and usually been lit with tungsten light. Our approach was different, we wanted to unobtrusively enter their world and film them with minimal disturbance. Infrared lighting therefore took the place of redheads.
These three inch high monkeys are almost fully nocturnal and can jump 30 times their own body length. When they leave their home at dusk to hunt they move effortlessly, silently and very quickly through the dense jungle. Unfortunately, we were somewhat less suited to navigating this challenging environment in pitch darkness! The choice of kit was therefore critical. We needed to be lightweight and mobile, fast and quiet. The main bulk of content was shot on the Canon XF105 which was infrared sensitive and perfect for our needs. Its size (only slightly larger than Sony’s A1) meant we could insert it inside the Tarsiers sleeping tree and also clamp it onto branches with a magic arm to achieve some different angles. Traversing challenging terrain and dense undergrowth was also slightly less of a struggle with a smaller camera.
Our tripod of choice was the Miller Solo Tripod system with a Compass 15 Head. This was invaluable and enabled me to position the lens exactly where I wanted it every time. The versatility of the legs combined with the lack of a spreader meant the tripod could straddle the network of roots surrounding the tarsiers nest tree. When it came to following the tarsiers, the tripod was lightweight, comfortable to carry and fast to set up.
The arrival of the dry season in July bought high winds which was a potential problem that might have upset our time lapses and long lens work. Despite the Solo legs being lightweight however they were rock solid throu
ghout 20 second exposures.
Aside from our trusty Canon 105s we also took two 5Ds (one of which was IR modified), Thermal imaging camera, Starlight camera and a Panasonic 101 with full set of prime lenses up to 500mm. We therefore elected to also purchase the Miller Sprinter Tripod system with Compass 20 Head as an alternative.
Over the course of the shoot, the solo legs become increasingly valued by us and required little maintenance. Although I was prepared to periodically remove and clean each tube section it simply never needed doing. This was despite them being buried in jungle leaf litter, dug into sand on the beach, submerged in rivers and bat cave debris! Definitely one of the hardiest bits of kit I’ve used.
‘Tarsier Towers’ was an Artist in Motion production, produced by Mark Wild, the man responsible for ‘Meerkat Manor.’
About the Author
Based in South-West London, Tom is an experienced lighting cameraman with a broad technical knowledge, passion for lighting and strong creative flair. He has worked across most formats on a wide range of productions including drama, documentary and corporate.