David Warth Wildlife Filming Workshop

Byron Bay

18 Nov 2014




David Warth Wildlife Filming Workshop

18 Nov 2014

A toothbrush, strong energy and a giant rubber band are the stuff all good nature documentaries are made of, Byron Bay-based award-winning wildlife cinematographer, David Warth told SAE students last week.

SAE Byron Bay students and lecturers listened as Warth recounted the story of how he got started in the industry and how, through self-tutoring, perseverance and making plenty of mistakes, he’s become one of the most sought after wildlife cinematographers in Australia. Students gained exclusive insights to what it takes to be a wildlife documentary film maker, including prep, gear, post and scoring with a particular attention to cinematography.

Warth showed sections of his documentaries, explaining in depth to budding SAE filmmakers how he managed to get particular shots. He set up his extensive equipment on campus grounds for students to ogle over as he demonstrated the use of each piece. Students had hands on experience with large telephoto lenses including the Sigma 300-800, Nikon 50-300 and Nikon macro 70-180 on Sony cameras including the Sony fs700 and Sony PMW EX3. Students were also exposed to Gates underwater housing and Nano flash recorders.

This practical, hands-on component of the workshop went down a treat as students were exposed to specialty macro and extreme telephoto lenses that they would not normally have access to.

Warth began filming in nature full time in 1997. He says nature is his family and it is when he is immersed in it, he feels most at home in the world.

His first feature documentary, Tarkine – the Forgotten Wilderness, involved living alone for a year in the remote Tarkine Wilderness in northwest Tasmania. This documentary, along with his second production, Rainforest – The Secret Life, filmed in the beautiful World Heritage-Listed rainforests surrounding Mt Warning in the Northern Rivers of NSW. Both won gold awards from the Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS).    

Warth is currently working on his new documentary One Little Bay, a one-hour marine coastal wildlife documentary featuring Byron Bay’s beautiful coastal fringe and the wealth of species that call it home.

Sixty per cent of the world’s population lives by the coast, impacting enormously on fragile coastal ecosystems. Warth wants to showcase what’s happening here in our little bay in the hope that it encourages people to go and explore other little bays around the world and take measures to protect them.

After two years of shooting underwater and along the Byron Bay coastline, the production schedule is around the halfway point. Like his own life, though, David’s filming schedule is governed by nature. His documentaries are the culmination of myriad variable conditions such as weather, tides, seasonal migrations, nesting sites etc.

Here’s some tips and advice from Warth that he shared with our students:

  • - Go with the strong energy. To do something well you need all the energy you can muster so learn to trust your intuition and go with projects that feel right. It may not necessarily be the easiest path, but it will almost certainly be the most rewarding.
  • - If you’re filming underwater, make sure you have a toothbrush to clean the O-ring. This will help remove sand, hair and other grit so you don’t flood the housing.
  • - If you’re using a camera with a big lens, get yourself a giant rubber band, wrap it around the handle of your camera and pull on it instead of the handle for super smooth camera moves. 
  • - Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, they’re not an excuse for defeat.  Warth believes that life is a mystery and that filmmaking is a game of mistakes.  When you’re filming, don’t be distracted by the action. You need to be creative AND technical. The better organised and skilled you become, the less mistakes you make. Shoot it, look at it, assess it, then go back out there and shoot it again if you need to. Remember how much undiscovered talent there is within you and try not to block it with fear.
  • - Find kindred spirits and network laterally. Don’t be afraid to try something outside your area of expertise.

 David’s stock footage is managed by ABC Library Sales.