Wildlife cam­era­man and film­maker Doug Allen on his globe trot­ting ad­ven­tures

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

I was born and raised in Dun­fermline.

I had a very out­door, rough and tum­ble child­hood. I wouldn’t say that I was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in wildlife as a child but I loved play­ing in the woods or walk­ing up the Ochil Hills. I’m also very fond of the area around Ul­lapool. It’s where I learned to dive and I’ve of­ten gone hill­walk­ing there. The moun­tains are phe­nom­e­nal. I’ve been lucky to have trav­elled widely and seen moun­tain ranges like the Hi­malayas and the An­des, but the scenery in Scot­land is cer­tainly equal.

I met David At­ten­bor­ough purely by chance.

I was work­ing as a re­search diver for Bri­tish Antarc­tic Sur­vey in the Antarc­tic when they came to our base dur­ing film­ing of Liv­ing Planet. I had started to take an in­ter­est in stills pho­tog­ra­phy but af­ter work­ing with David and the crew for a few days I really fan­cied the cam­era­man’s job. David told me that he didn’t know many peo­ple with my knowl­edge of the Antarc­tic and that it could be ‘really use­ful’. So that’s when I started to spe­cialise in work­ing in cold places.

Work­ing on big se­ries like Planet Earth and Blue Planet and their be­hind the scenes seg­ments gave me a pub­lic pro­file as a film­maker.

It was great work­ing on the big se­ries. For Blue Planet we would have a month to film a three-minute se­quence, but I’ve al­ways filled the gaps in my ca­reer shoot­ing com­mer­cials and lower bud­get pro­grammes. It’s given me a great sense of va­ri­ety in film­mak­ing. I’ve bounced around and I think that helps to keep a fresh feel for ev­ery one of them.

My big­gest achieve­ment could well be still to come.

I was lucky to get into film­mak­ing at a time when the poles were pretty un­ex­plored, but tech­nol­ogy and ac­ces­si­bil­ity was im­prov­ing. That gave me the chance to film some iconic se­quences. Po­lar bears swim­ming un­der­wa­ter or com­ing out of their den for the first time for Planet Earth, or killer whales mak­ing waves with their tails to wash seals off the ice.

One of my scari­est mo­ments was when I was try­ing to film po­lar bears com­ing out of their dens.

I spot­ted a hole in the snow and parked my snow ma­chine a safe dis­tance away be­fore walk­ing to­wards it with my binoculars. When I had gone a cou­ple of hun­dred me­tres I re­alised that I wasn’t alone. A po­lar bear was walk­ing along­side me, around 20 me­tres to my left. We carry flare guns to chase bears away but I had left them on the snow ma­chine. I started to walk in a loop and head back to the ma­chine but the bear was cu­ri­ous and fol­lowed. Just then I re­mem­bered that I’d once been told that if I dropped some­thing of mine onto the ground for the bear to smell it might be enough to sat­isfy its cu­rios­ity. I con­sid­ered leav­ing the cam­era as it was heavy and I could run faster with­out it but I was afraid the bear would break it or, worse, take it. So I threw my hat on the ground and right enough the bear had a sniff and then went away.

It’s ex­cit­ing to be­lieve in ghosts and imag­ine that there might be some­thing out there.

I’m a trained sci­en­tist but there are still things in na­ture that can’t be ex­plained by science. I’d like to think that a hu­man be­ing con­tains so much en­ergy that there’s a way of that man­i­fest­ing it­self again when we die. www.dougal­

‘Work­ing on big se­ries like Planet Earth and Blue Planet gave me a pub­lic pro­file as a film­maker’


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