Wildlife cameraman and filmmaker Doug Allen on his globe trotting adventures
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.dougallan.com
‘Working on big series like Planet Earth and Blue Planet gave me a public profile as a filmmaker’