“I decided go big or go home, so I opened my talk by doing an impression of [Steve Winter’s] American accent, which I knew would either go down like a lead balloon or he’d find it vaguely amusing. Luckily he found it funny and after my talk offered me a job.”
Bertie Gregory is a 23-year-old wildlife filmmaker, photographer and presenter. In July 2014, he graduated in Zoology with First Class Honours from the University of Bristol and the next day boarded a plane to begin assisting Steve Winter in South Africa on assignment for National Geographic Magazine. Following this baptism of fire, the project evolved into a television program documenting Steve as he attempted to photograph the urban leopards of Mumbai and the jungle leopards of Sri Lanka. The one-hour special premiered in the US on Nat Geo WILD in January 2016.
Bertie was named the Scientific Exploration Society Zenith Explorer 2015. His quest to track down and film the illusive coastal wolf on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada, evolved into his first solo assignment for National Geographic- a 16-part series that launched August 3rd… Click here to watch new episodes weekly.
Prior to landing the job with Steve Winter, Bertie was named ‘Youth Outdoor Photographer Of The Year 2012’ and his first film, ‘West Coast Adventure’, was nominated for the Youth Award at the Wildscreen Panda Awards 2014.
Bertie has a fascination with urban wildlife. This came about whilst photographing peregrine falcons in London and Bristol as one of the2020VISION Young Champions, the multimedia initiative that aims to communicate the link between human wellbeing and habitat restoration.
The whole confidence thing is just an act, behind which is a worrier. I get that from my dad – he’s the kind of person that makes us leave 5 hours early to get to the airport and packs a snow shovel in the middle of summer… But it makes you care.
On photography as a way to explain where he’s been
Because everyone thought I was such a freak, it was quite a nice way to explain where I’d been the last four hours by myself.
On wooing Steve Winter to hire him as an assistant at WILDPHOTO
I’ve got 15 minutes during my talk when no-one can interrupt me, and he’s got to be listening. So I kind of treated it as a job interview. I decided go big or go home, so I opened my talk by doing an impression of his American accent, which I knew would either go down like a lead balloon or he’d find it vaguely amusing. Luckily he found it funny and after my talk offered me a job. I thought about it for about 0.5 seconds.
Advice for aspiring wildlife photographers
When people say, “I want to be a wildlife photographer.” That’s awesome, go take pictures of wildlife. Everyone’s got a camera in their pocket now, so just go out and do it. I’d say with wildlife photography particularly, your knowledge of wildlife, your ability to get close to it, is so much more important than any technical ability, so if you don’t have access to an amazing camera, that’s not a problem. Focus on getting really good at sneaking up on animals because that’s what’s going to help you.
On the importance of personal brand
Now that the personal brand of the photographer or filmmaker is so important you can’t just hide behind your pictures and that’s what people know you for. Because that’s becoming more and more important you are much more prone to coming in and out of favor.
What I’m learning more and more is yeah, you can be the best photographer, the best wildlife cameraman/camerawoman in the world, but if you can’t communicate with people – not necessarily on a large scale, I just mean individually, I’m finding with networking, just trying to be personable and like-able really quickly.
On studying a degree in Zoology as preparation for being a wildlife photographer and filmmaker
Whilst I wouldn’t say I learned that much about sneaking up on animals that I use on a day-to-day basis now as profession, what I did learn is how science works, how scientists’ brains work. And so that means that now I rely on scientists the whole time, being able to have some common ground with them and understand how they work has been invaluable.
On photographing urban wildlife
I thought I’d drawn the short straw because I was assigned with urban wildlife, wildlife in our cities whereas my mentor on the project, Alex Mustard, underwater photographer, he was diving with seals off the coast of Devon and Andy Rouse was getting to sneak up on wild boar in the Forest of Dean and Pete Cairns was getting to photograph diving ospreys in the Highland of Scotland, and I thought I was stuck with pigeons and rats.
I remember on this gloomy morning, going to this concrete tower block in the middle of the city and thinking, “What am I doing?” And then looking up and seeing two peregrines over my head do a prey pass in mid air, and I suddenly went, “Ah. I might be on to something here. This is really, really cool.” I can be ten minutes away from anywhere and right in the middle of London, and there’s an epic wildlife encounter to be had. It was pretty special.
When wildlife’s in cities it has to be, to an extent, more habituated to people. Often you can have these crazy close encounters. I’ve had close encounters with raccoons in Canada when they’ve been in the city or foxes in London. When those animals are habituated that’s really cool, because you don’t really need to sneak up on them. They know that you’re there and they just do their thing.
On shooting stills and motion
You know a lot of people now think, “Oh, I can go on an assignment and shoot video and stills.” You can, to an extent, but one of them has got to be your main focus. I think if you’re making a film, trying to do stills on top of that is so difficult. The one that you’re not focusing on is always going to suffer. With wildlife, particularly, you spend 2 months on a project, let’s say, and you have that one moment, “Oh, do I shoot video, do I shoot stills?” You just end up cocking up both.
On growing up in the digital era
Younger generations at the moment are way more tuned into being environmentally aware than perhaps generations have been in the past and I think that’s down to the connectivity of the world and social media.