When wildlife documentary-makers need tough-to-get, never-before-seen film footage, one cameraman’s name always comes top of the list.
For over 30 years, Doug Allan has travelled the world capturing some of the most jaw-dropping wildlife imagery ever seen.
In contributing to telelvision series like The Blue Planet, Planet Earth, Life, Human Planet and Frozen Planet, he has made over 60 filming trips, including such famous footage as orcas attacking gray whales off California; polar bears trying to capture belugas in a frozen hole in Arctic Canada, and the incredible shots of killer whales washing seals off ice floes in Antarctica – all on-screen firsts.
He has enjoyed a glittering career which has brought him five Baftas and four Emmy awards, despite Dunfermline-born Allan never having had a lesson in photography and being completely self-taught.
Next month, an audience at the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival in Melrose will get a rare chance to hear Allan, described by legendary wildlife broadcaster, Sir David Attenborough as “the toughest in the business”, talk about the images in his recent book, Freeze Frame.
Braving the elements and depths of the Antarctic and Arctic Oceans, Allan has produced a superb 240-page book filled with stunning photographs and secrets of life behind the lens, giving you a peek into the often hostile yet inspiring world of a freelance wildlife cameraman. Speaking this week to The Southern, Allan, whose lifelong love affair with the Earth’s polar regions started as a research diver at Signy Island in 1976, said he was looking forward to his talk at the festival.
“I’ve done quite a few of these ‘talky’ tours now and so far they’ve drawn good attendances, so hopefully the same will be true when I come to Melrose next month,” said Allan. “The book is going fine. I self published it in 2012 as I couldn’t find a publisher who understood what I wanted. So far it’s sold 6,000 copies.”
Allan says audiences seem to enjoy hearing someone with first-hand experience talk about subjects from an informed viewpoint.
And there are few who have more experience of what it takes to live and work in some of the world’s most inhospitable environments than Allan.
A qualified marine biologist, he joined the British Antarctic Survey in 1976 as a research diver and was stationed at Signy Island in the South Orkneys in what was the start of an affair with ice that lasts to this day.
Over the next decade, Allan spent four winters and nine summers ‘down south’ and was awarded the Fuchs Medal, then the Polar Medal, for his work.
A winter spent at the Halley Station as base commander gave Allan a first opportunity to try out his fledgling film-making skills on resident Emperor Penguins.
The BBC bought the footage for their forthcoming series, Birds for All Seasons, and Allan’s career took a new direction.
Since then, he has returned frequently to both the poles, with a string of high profile award-winning films and series for the major TV networks worldwide.
But he likes the challenge of filming people as well as animals, and has done documentary shoots for many programmes, including assignments in the Andes, the deserts of Africa and Mount Everest.
“I had no idea about being a wildlife film-maker when I was younger.
“When David Attenborough came to the base where I was stationed, I got to spend two days chatting to him – something really clicked and we got on very well and I felt this was something I really wanted to do – and could do.”
“But it is becoming tougher and tougher to satisfy the demand for unique footage.
“I work in high-end film-making. The BBC is really the only people who do this now and what they want from me is beautifully filmed, preferably new, high-impact footage.”
z Doug Allan, Friday, June 13 in Homecoming Scotland Marquee, 6pm. (£14, £12c)