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HomeCraftsCameraPeter Nelson Relies on Sachtler for Nature Documentary

Peter Nelson Relies on Sachtler for Nature Documentary

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Cinematographer Peter Nelson has relied on the intuitive handling of his Sachtler camera support for years. (© Michael Nadeau).
Cinematographer Peter Nelson’s roots are firmly fixed in two different worlds – mainstream production and documentaries. Whenever possible, he seeks out projects that will educate wider audiences on the world around us, and what could be lost if we aren’t careful. The short film profiling the activities of White Oak Conservation Center is such a project. For the shooting, Nelson worked with the Video 18 Plus fluid head from Sachtler.

“White Oak Conservation Center is a 7000 acre facility in northern Florida that is dedicated to endangered species conservation, captive breeding and wildlife research,” explains Nelson. “There are rhinos, Florida panthers, cheetahs, okapi, giraffes, bongo, elands, gerenuk and more. White Oak is also a sanctuary for many rare and endangered bird species, including Mississippi sand hill cranes, kori bustards, southern bald eagles and white winged wood ducks. Our assignment was to film some of the wildlife and the Center in a documentary style, combining observational wildlife footage and verite footage of the veterinary activities and interviews with staff members.”

In addition to Nelson, the crew consisted of director Bryan Cole, producer Anthony Moody and a local sound mixer. Nelson shot the project on the new Panasonic AG-HPX300 P2. The P2 workflow and small crew made for a lean production. “But, when filming wildlife in particular, having lots of crew around is not necessarily an advantage,” says Nelson. “We had a limited time to be there working around the schedules of veterinary activities and the animals themselves, so we had to be tight, able to move fast and respond to changes in schedules and events beyond our control.”

“Camera support was either my Sachtler Video 18 Plus or my shoulder, often between the two in seconds,” says Nelson. “When you see a shot in a documentary situation, you have to respond quickly or miss it. I have used Sachtler camera support from the beginning of my shooting career in the early 1990s. It’s kind of funny, but I bought a Sachtler before I bought my first camera. A good tripod is the little secret of good shooting and one too often overlooked. I am so familiar with the Sachtler. I know where everything is. It is intuitive. I feel like it is an extension of my hands and I appreciate the finesse I can achieve. Whether it’s a long-lens shot or a sit-down interview, the camera support is important.”

One of the things that the team filmed was a herd of white rhinos. “That was pretty exciting,” Nelson said. “We worked out of the back of a pickup truck, one that had the side dented in from a previous Rhino encounter, by the way. Those animals are amazing! Related to horses, they are agile and extremely quick on their feet for 3100 to 7900 pound (1400 to 3500 Kg) animals. We were filming them within just a few feet of the truck and had a very limited time with them while they were feeding. I went back and forth between handheld and tripod from the back of the truck and it worked really well. I was able to get perfectly steady shots, close ups and distance shots alike.”

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