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The Penguin diaries - Part 1

Wade Fairley, intrepid Antarctophile and ruthlessly professional Miller Camera Support user is off again to the Great White Continent to shoot the breeding habits of Emperor Penguins. This time it’s footage for a new 11-part series, Planet Earth, to be produced by the award-winning team who brought you David Attenborough’s Blue Planet.

Wade plans to share his innermost technical thoughts via diarised emails with Miller Camera Support’s own Heidi Tobin. The first three instalments, all written before shooting starts, give a rare insight into what it’s like to prepare for months, then wait forever until your equipment arrives.


Date:              Wednesday 22nd September 5.31PM
:        Planet Earth – It doesn’t get much bigger

Dear Heidi,

Following up on our phone conversation this afternoon: I’m about to head to Antarctica for a year on an extensive project for the BBC Natural History Until. My principal mission is to record in unprecedented detail, on 35 mm film, the incredible breeding cycle of emperor penguins.


These remarkable birds raise a chick through the depth of the Antarctic winter, fasting throughout, gathered in sophisticated social structures or ‘huddles’ to conserve heat. The attached picture shows the Auster Rookery on Macey Island– on a nice summer’s day .This will be my home.for a year.

The best footage of the bird’s incredible survival is going to be in the worst winter weather, during temperatures down to – 40 Celsius and howling blizzards. It’s a shoot with vast technical challenges, including the need for a rock steady tripod in the fiercest winds.

The work is part of a major 11 part international series named Planet Earth, produced by the people behind such landmark projects as ‘The Blue Planet’, ‘David Attenborough’s The Life of Mammals’ and ‘Life in the Freezer’.

This project will expose my Miller gear to an unprecedented field test as all of the filming is field based, in some of the most dramatic locations on earth.

The shoot is a year in duration, giving ample opportunity to gather plenty of data and experiences on long term usage of production equipment in this hostile environment. We’ll be working out of the Australian Antarctic station, Mawson and have periodic access to email.


The second picture is ‘Home sweet home’, the field hut that I and an assistant will be based out of onMacey Island, which is 50 kilometres from Mawson Station.

The Miller equipment I am taking will be a DS60 150mm fluid head with HD and HD Mini Alloy tripod, as well as your legendary Projib, which probably only gets this much exposure to sub-zero with your Siberian rental customers.

I’ll also have with me a Miller DS5 and a DS30 fluid head, which are trusty and well proven tools for this environment. You’ll remember the -70° wind chill shots on the icebreaker near Macquarie Island a few years back.

Must go, and I look forward to bringing you up to date as the journey begins

Best wishes, Wade

Date:              Sunday 12 December 2004 2.45PM
:        Wade on ice – arrival at Mawson

Hi ya Heidi,

Sorry not to have replied earlier.


I'm now on the ice at Mawson - getting here was a three week voyage and I didn't have access picking up email. All equipment arrived in Hobart safe and sound, just in time to get onto Cargo before I sailed – many thanks!

All of my equipment arrives on the annual re-supply voyage at the end of January. Because of normal heavy set ice at this time of year, we helicopter off ship at about 100 kms off shore, so had to travel light.

So I don't have any kit with me yet and won't until the end of Jan when I get down to work properly. Until then I'm on reccie, which is a very pleasant way to begin a shoot.

This is the email address that I'll now be on during the year.

I'll keep you posted as I get started and acquire images etc and of course, anything, please just drop me an email (and I'll respond a bit faster this time!)

Best wishes, Wade


Date:               Tuesday 3rd February 2005  10.34AM
:        Gear Boat turns back due to heavy pack ice

Dear Brett and Heidi


Our cargo ship was due last week.... so I drafted an email to you saying the camera kit has arrived and I'm about to get started etc........then the ship got stuck in heavy pack ice, drifting around for a few days, gave up and went back to Hobart...with all board to resupply the station for the next 12 months and all of my camera equipment!

Heavy news as I'm sure you can imagine. We've been waiting for the counter plan and that was announced on Monday. A heavier ice breaker is now being rescheduled and will come in at the end of the month.

I expected to be at work by now, so just wanted to keep you posted on this and apologise that my hands are tied on delivering material! It's a year shoot, so I'm reasonably philosophical. However, raring to go as well.

I'll keep you posted when the tools are here (and I take solace in the knowledge that it's not only my camera kit we wait upon, but food and fuel too, so the voyage will get some serious priority!)

If there is anything you wish to discuss before, story ideas etc. Please do let me know.

Sorry for the delay and best wishes, Wade