Sony Europe Imaging Ambassador Christophe Brachet takes us behind the scenes to explain how he uses his Alpha kit to capture candid stills on film sets.
“The silent shooting capabilities of my Alpha kit are vital to my work,” Christophe tells us, “as it’s so important I don’t distract anyone on the set, or make sound that could be picked up by a microphone. For me, it also allows me to capture the most natural moments, which is ultimately the whole reason I am there!”
As you can imagine, working on a film set can be tricky. There is a lot going on around the main scene that is being filmed, which can often lead to Christophe having to work in confined spaces. One of the advantages of his Alpha mirrorless cameras over a DSLR is the smaller size of the camera, as well as the tilting screen, which makes it possible for Christophe to easily find an angle when space is tight.
The majority of the time Christophe shoots in raw and JPEG mode, but finds that he generally uses the JPEG images straight out of the camera. “I usually shoot all my black and white images live in the camera,” he explains, “using the High Contrast Black and White effect. I love the idea of creating a beautiful image and then being able to use it straight from the camera without having to edit it.” Of course, the rear screen and viewfinder come in to play again here, offering the chance to make sure the exposure is exactly as Christophe wants before the shutter is even pressed.
Christophe has a range of Sony Alpha bodies he uses on set, including the α9 series. When most people think of this series, they think of it as a fast shooting camera for action and sports. For Christophe, this speed is used to make sure he can concentrate on the composition and what is happening in front of him. “Focusing speed is important to me. I usually shoot with very large apertures, so I need to know that I will get the subject’s eye perfectly in focus. Using the Eye-AF makes it possible to shoot with a shallow depth of field, knowing that the eye will be perfectly sharp in every shot.”
The kayaking section of The Great Australian Triathlon was the one that concerned me the most. I think this was because the Bass Strait has the reputation for being one of the most treacherous bodies of water in the world.
Missed the first parts in the series? Catch up now:
A reputation which is well deserved. The sea between Tasmania and mainland Australia has seen over 1000 shipwrecks, including the destruction of 5 yachts during the 1998 Sydney to Hobart yacht race, claiming 6 lives. The reason the strait is so dangerous, is because it is very shallow with an average depth of 60m, a stark comparison to the ocean on either side which plunges down to several thousand metres. Wind can travel uninterrupted for thousands of kilometres across the planet to reach the shallow shelf of the Bass Strait, and in doing so can create waves as tall as 20 metres high!
While the obvious choice for the crossing was to wait for the very calmest days to paddle on, the team only had 21 days to complete it as Aidan Cameron and Alie Repetto, the kayakers joining Ben, had to return to Sydney in time to start the next semester of university.
How the hell was I going to film Ben kayaking across the Bass Strait? I don’t kayak and with such a limited budget, hiring a boat was never really an option. I decided that the best course of action was to base myself on Flinders Island, the largest island the team would stop at during the crossing. The island can be accessed by a 9 hour ferry crossing which is often described as an adventure in itself. However, unfortunate timings meant I would miss its departure by a day and so in order to avoid risking missing the team altogether, I opted to fly to Flinders Island on a 6 seater plane instead. My equipment list was somewhat more limited than in leg one as I could only take what I could carry and I somehow had to squeeze in my camping gear too. With just 20 minutes to pack before my flight left, I threw everything into a couple of bags and miraculously the only items I forgot were the sun cream and a change of clothes!
I was lucky to ride shotgun on the flight over to the island, and my luck continued throughout the day. I managed to blag a lift from the aviation company to find somewhere to hire a car, where I then, managed to obtain the very last hire car available on the Island! At length I found myself set up and camping at Trousers Point, a perfect campsite situated just inside Strzelecki National Park right on the edge of a white-sand beach. My watch had begun.
At this point the pace of the expedition slowed down dramatically. I was two paddling days ahead of Ben, Aidan and Alie and while they were out battling the big seas and strong winds of their first day, I struck out to explore the Island. My first objective was to climb the 756m Mt. Strzelecki, the highest point on the Island and interestingly, also part of the Great Dividing Range, which we would later be following on mainland Australia. While the views, as you would imagine we literally breath taking, the highlight for me was on the run back down to the car. I was making excellent time when I suddenly rounded a corner and my brain subconsciously stopped me dead in my tracks. There in front of me was the biggest snake I had ever seen. Wait, make that two. A pair of Tiger Snakes, the 4th most venomous land-snakes in the world were sat right in the middle of the path no more than two metres in front of me. They just watched as I got my camera and tripod out and proceeded to film them, best day ever!
The next morning, I got a call from Ben telling me that he was eating a pie… this was bad news. The team were sat just 20km south of my position on Cape Barren Island, but due to the inclement weather, it would be another couple of days before they would be able to make the crossing to my position. It was such a shame that I had to spend two more days stuck on a paradise island with nothing to do but explore! I spent the time interviewing and filming with a local mountain biking company and discussing what it is like to live on the island and how they managed to make a living there. Even though many of the residents needed to work multiple jobs, they all told me they couldn’t think of anywhere else they would rather live.
Four days after arriving on Flinders Island, I was out location scouting when I got a satellite message from Ben’s Garmin GPS device to say they had set off. I rushed back to Trousers Point and set up shop; the Sony A7iii, equipped with a Canon FD 100-300mm lens, was sat atop my 3-Legged Thing tripod, and my DJI Mavic Pro drone prepped and ready to launch at a moment’s notice. I was joined by Les and Jenni, two sea kayakers from Western Australia who were waiting for a good weather window to kayak back to Tasmania. We’d spent the last few days chatting over a cup of tea or two and they were keen to welcome Ben and the team to the island. A tense hour crept by gazing though my Hawke Endurance binoculars waiting for the first glace of bobbing heads and splashing paddles. I blinked and suddenly there were there. Four days of waiting had built up to this, I set the A7iii rolling and scrambled the drone.
Patience Part 2
The very next day Ben and the team made it further along the coast to the main town, Whitemark. But just as we felt we were making progress with the crossing, the weather turned on us again. Strong North-westerly headwinds were forecast, meaning paddling would be off the cards until they changed direction. The mood in camp was understandably tense. Ten minutes wouldn’t go by without at least one of the team checking the weather to see if the wind would be changing any time soon. It wasn’t, and with six days already gone, they were getting ever closer to having to make the call to abandon the crossing. We spent the time eating pies and pizza, exploring the town a little and playing hackie sack (terribly) on the beach. Three days slowly went by, but little change in the weather the mood remained the same. During a series of interviews, I asked the trio whether they though the crossing was still possible, to which the best answer got was a firm maybe. So at least there was still a shred of optimism left.
As it happened, a very small weather window opened the very next day and the decision was made to push a little further north to Roydon Island, a tiny landmass just off the north-west coast of Flinders.
I found myself huddled behind a rock on a headland, sheltering from the battering wind and sporadic rain and watching Ben’s GPS dot move painfully slowly towards my position. After 5 hours of waiting, my patience paid off as I spotted three sea kayaks in the distance, it was go time. I launched the drone and set my camera rolling and with no room for error, I spent an intense 15 minutes trying to capture as much footage as possible before they disappeared into the distance. That was the last time I saw the paddling trio for quite some time.
The team spent another five painfully slow days on Roydon Island, experiencing torrential rain and 80 mph winds. Of course, they always knew there would be an element of waiting involved to complete the crossing, it was inevitable, but I’m not quite sure they were fully prepared for the monotony it provided! In the end Ben, Aidan and Alie managed to complete the crossing in a total of 19 days, 9 days of kayaking and 10 days of waiting!
Ben had always said that if the first two legs went well, then it was basically a done deal that he would become the first person to complete a completely human powered vertical crossing of Australia. Little did he know what difficulties lay ahead of him in the coming weeks…
See how they get on in the final leg of The Great Australian Triathlon:
Sadly, as we suspected, ex Wilki team member Jonathan Doyle and his friends attempting the Great Australian Triathlon have been halted by the global Coronavirus pandemic. After successfully completing the first two gruelling sections of the trip – the run and the kayak – the team sadly had to call it a day 60km south of the Queensland border, on their final cycle leg.
Now safely home and under lockdown in the UK, we caught up with Jonathan to talk about the decision to abandon and also to recap on the impressive achievements of the team.
We say ‘so far’ – and wonder if the adventure will be revisited at a later date?
“As you may have guessed from the current international Covid-19 situation, The Great Australian Triathlon had to come to an early end. For a few days we had seen news articles about some new virus that had spread out from China, causing some difficulties in Europe. We didn’t pay much attention, as the situation in Australia was mild in comparison, we kept our heads buried in the sand telling ourselves that it wouldn’t really affect us as we’ll be out in the wilderness again in a few days.
‘But then the local council closed the entire of Cape York, meaning we suddenly did not have access to the final 1000 km of our route. “It’s okay, we’ll keep moving, we’re 2 months away from there yet, it’ll be open again before we arrive”. Then the state borders were closed, and the UK were advising travellers to get back home as quickly as possible. It got real.
‘With heavy hearts we accepted that it was the end of the road. We booked flights and rode the final day into the fifth and final state of the journey and the finish line of The Great Australian Triathlon, some 3000 km premature. It was over.”
Two weeks of quarantine have passed since the team’s swift exit from Australia, who say the reality of the situation is finally beginning to sink in. But no adventure is time wasted, so we thought you’d still like to read the blog from the ‘First Leg’ of this epic trip, written by Jonathan Doyle.
My first challenge to was to figure out exactly I was going to single-handedly film Ben, Emma and Claire Cianchi running 640 km across Tasmania. Since running is inherently a fairly slow method of travel, I wrongly assumed the pace of filming would match this and that this leg of the trip would be the easiest to film. My first and most logical thought was to use a car to shoot from. I could easily carry all the gear, move around quickly and get ahead of the team with little effort. However, the planned route followed much of the Tasmanian Trail, a long-distance trail established in the 1988 which is mostly inaccessible to motorised vehicles. That option was out. My next thought was to run with them. I would be able to keep up and it would solve the access issues too, but it would mean carrying little more than my Sony A7iii camera and charging would be increasingly difficult. Perhaps not. I quickly settled on option three, I would cycle across Tasmania while the others ran. This would solve the issues with the other modes of travel and I would be faster than the runners too, in theory. Going for the bike was a bold choice as I had exactly zero cycle touring experience and in fact the furthest ride I had ever completed was about 30km between Kendal and Milnthorpe. As you can imagine, I wasn’t quite ready for what lay ahead of me.
The First Challenge
We landed in Hobart, Tasmania on the 29th of December and gave ourselves just one day for jet lag recovery and bag packing. The expedition would begin with a short hike in to South East Cape where we would camp overnight and officially start the expedition the following day. However, upon arrival at Cockle Creek, the closest point by road, we were faced with one of the most difficult decisions of the journey. With unprecedented temperatures and dry lightning strikes predicted, there was a very high possibility of bush fires starting. The peninsula is a remote spit of land with only one access point, and so if we went in, there was a possibility we could get trapped if there was a fire. After a great deal of discussion, we came to the unanimous decision that we would compromise the original plan. Instead we would smash out the 14km round trip as quickly as possible, returning the same night to camp back at Cockle Creek. The expedition had begun.
It quickly became apparent that I was carrying too much, like way too much. I could only just lift the back end of the bike, an issue when I ended up having to lift it up and over numerous fallen trees! The plan was to create a high-quality cinematic style film rather than the usual ‘let me just put the GoPro on the ground and you ride past it’ kind of production. In order to achieve this ambitious challenge, I did not skimp on the camera gear. I carried the Sony A7iii and A6400 and five lenses, a Zhiyun Weebill Lab gimbal, DJI Mavic Pro drone, tripod, charging cables, laptop, the list goes on. Needless to say, I was nowhere near the 20 kg dream weight most bike-packers strive towards.
It’s All Uphill From Here
On the fifth day on the crossing, I met my nemesis, the 1000m White Timber Mountain which we had to pass directly over. We spent the day on gravel tracks that only got steeper and looser as we gained height. It was not long before I found myself being overtaken by Ben, Emma and Claire and shortly after I was demoted to pushing my bike. It was a lonely and brutal slog, the ground underfoot was so loose, I often lost my footing and at times I was not even exceeding 1km/h! Gone were the thoughts of filming, the burn in my muscles consumed my mind and it took every ounce of strength to will myself on to take just one more step. Shirt off and sweat-drenched, I was making painfully slow progress.
I heard footsteps approaching from behind belonging to an Israeli chap named Asa. We walked and talked for a while and before I knew it he was helping me push my bike! I told him that I was conflicted about The Great Australian Triathlon as I felt it was ultimately a pretty selfish endeavour, we were spending all this time, energy and money travelling across an entire continent when we could be using our resources to help others. Asa stopped and looked at me, “You have to do things for yourself sometimes too. You need to help yourself to be happier and healthier so that in turn you can help others too”. Those words really stuck with me. Asa helped me push the bike right to the summit of the mountain where the others had been waiting for quite some time. The descent from White Timber Mountain was much more difficult and physically demanding that I had expected. Gone were the easy-going fire-trails, replaced with technical tracks needing 100% concentration to maintain any forward momentum. While the riding was not fast, it was some of the best of the trip.
I Don’t Have The Power!
A huge hurdle to overcome was meeting the colossal power demands required to shoot a film like The Great Australian Triathlon. In addition to all of the equipment mentioned above, I also had to charge the team’s phones and GPS devices. It seemed to me to be the impossible task, and it was a constant source of stress. My only power source was a 100Wh power bank which was charged via a 20W solar panel, and ultimately this system did not cut it. To ensure we had enough power to shoot, I took advantage of every kind person we met who had access to power. On one such occasion, I spent eight hours in a bakery with my 6-way extension lead plugged in with every single electrical item I had connected and charging! Ben commented that it was the most ridiculous thing he had seen. I did cut it fine one day however; following a series of interviews with the expedition team, I was left the last remaining Sony A7iii battery holding just 3% charge!
‘It was a full-time job to survive, and another to shoot the film.’
Filming an expedition such as The Great Australian Triathlon, it turns out is no mean feat. There were days when I had to push myself well beyond my comfort zone both physically and mentally just to get the ride done while simultaneously working my butt off to get the shots we needed. It was a full-time job to survive, and another to shoot the film. Often the runners were much faster than I anticipated, meaning that I had to set up every shot as fast as possible or risk missing a shot or even worse, making the runners stop. Both outcomes would result in frustrations within the team. I spent a lot of time trying to avoid this situation by refining my setup for maximum accessibility and efficiency. I would say one of the most important items in my arsenal was Peak Design’s Capture Clip. I used it to mount my camera right under my handlebars meaning it could be powered up and shooting within a matter of seconds. This took maybe a week to figure out, but I was so stoked to have finally solved a problem the internet was unable to prior to the trip!
‘Power is more valuable than gold.’
The Great Australian was the definition of trial by fire and I certainly learnt a great deal. It turns out power is more valuable than gold: running out means no filming, no GPS, no audiobooks. I have no idea how the early explorers survived without 48 hours of Game of Thrones audiobook for company. Do not go back to find something you have lost on the route, let it go, it belongs to the trail now. Finally, people are awesome. We met so many wonderful people during our crossing of Tasmania, they did everything from making us cups of tea to letting four strangers sleep in their house and steal all their electricity and hot water.
The run across Tasmania was a journey of a lifetime, and we still had two more legs of the expedition to go…
2020 is a huge year for former Wilki team member Jonathan Doyle, who worked at the Kendal store but has now left us to embark on the documentary film making trip of a lifetime.
Jonathan touched down in Australia on 29th December and had just a few days to acclimatize before starting filming for a ‘never before attempted’ feat of human endurance: the Great Australian Triathlon. A 600km run, followed by a treacherous 350k kayak across open ocean, and around 7000km of cycling (yes, seven thousand kilometres) to finish this epic endurance challenge.
Over the next 6 months – as Wilkinson Cameras first ‘Sponsored Project’ – we will be following the Jonathan’s adventures – plotting the team’s progress via social media and blog updates as the journey unfolds. Shooting both stills and moving images, Jonathan hopes to launch his full time documentary film making career following this ambitious next chapter.
Jonathan, 28, has been working part time in the Wilki store in Kendal alongside completing his PHD – while proving very successful at documentary film making in his spare time!
Jonathan first picked up a camera in 2016, a Nikon D3200, which he bought to go on a climbing trip in Tasmania. While on that holiday, he made a short video of his adventures, which, once edited, culminated in a 6-minute award winning film.
Having really enjoyed the film making process Jonathan summited his work ‘The Pommish Invasion’ to the Kendal Mountain Film Festival where it was shortlisted! Following this success it was subsequently recognised at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, ‘Goat Fest’ in Arapiles, Australia, before finally winning at the Cradle Mountain Film Festival in Tasmania 2017.
The film documents Jonathan and two friends, Ben Cianchi and Matt Amos, climbing The Candlestick – a 110m sea-stack next to the world famous Totem-Pole, at Cape Hauy, Tasmania.
The Great Australian Triathlon
For this new extreme challenge, the Great Australian Triathlon, the team – Jonathan, endurance athlete Ben Cianchi and Ben’s two sisters Claire and Emma – will touch down in Tasmania on 29th December, with just a day and a half to acclimatise before the challenge begins. Ben will then embark on the world’s first human-powered vertical crossing of Australia.
The Great Australian Triathlon will take around six months to complete and will span over 8000 km of the continent, covering a huge variety of terrain, from dirt tracks to the open ocean.
The expedition will be split up into three distinct sections; running across Tasmania, kayaking across the Bass Strait, and cycling across mainland Australia from the bottom of Victoria to the top of Queensland.
Following a successful kickstarter campaign, together with sponsorship from Wilkinson Cameras, Jonathan has packed his bags (and cycle shorts!) to film the entire adventure.
‘I’ve known Ben for around 6 years now, and he’s in my original Pommish Invasion film,’ said Jonathan. ‘If anyone can complete this challenge, Ben can. The filming is going to be very tricky though – I will be filming solo, so have to meticulously plan each stage and the logistics are challenging! No-one’s ever done this before and our timeline will be very dependent on weather conditions – especially the kayak section.’
‘I will be cycling on the Tasmania leg – so kit has to be kept to a minimum both in size and weight as I’ll be carrying everything myself. Data storage and power are big considerations – and this is where I’m particularly grateful for the Wilkinson Cameras support, which will enable me to fine tune my kit to exactly what’s required for the job.’
The sea kayak section of the triathlon will be filmed from one of the kayaks, with Jonathan filming via a drone for the bird’s eye view. Using a local ferry to the largest of the islands en route – Flinders Island – Jonathan will also be aiming to capture shore landings and departures, again travelling under his own bicycle power.
The final cycle section will also be filmed from a bike, with Jonathan leapfrogging the team in order to achieve action footage along the gruelling route.
‘Our aim is to produce one vlog per week en route, in order for people to follow our progress. Though often we will be relying on solar power – so we may have to rethink that in certain areas. Whatever happens, we’re hoping to post one image, across social our media platforms, every single day.
The triathlon starts with a challenging 600km run across the Island state of Tasmania. While carrying all of their kit, the team will have just 21 days to cross from Southwest Cape to Little Musselroe Bay using a combination of trails and minor roads. Severe fatigue is the obvious challenge Ben and his sisters will need to overcome, however the journey itself will not be a walkover. Tasmania is a notoriously wild state, so the team will have to face many difficult challenges along the way, including countless kilometres of steep gruelling ascents, treacherous river crossings and tough navigation through densely packed forest trails.
The paddle starts off where the run ends, at Little Musselroe Bay, and consists of 350km of sea kayaking across the infamous Bass Strait. With only three weeks to complete this leg the team will have to maximise good conditions to cross between isolated islands and wait out any storms that pass through. The biggest stretch of open water will be about 70 km, which is estimated to take at least 12 hours dependant on wind and current conditions. Long days, heavy swell and marginal conditions will make the journey to Wilson’s Promontory on Victoria’s southern tip an epic challenge for the team.
Crossing mainland Australia by bike is a monumental challenge, not least when you shun the easy coastal roads and head inland up the great dividing range. Seven thousand ‘or so’ kilometres from Wilson’s Promontory in the South, to Cape York in Tropical North-Queensland will be the longest and perhaps most mentally draining section of the expedition.
The “Why”? We had to ask!
As an outdoor enthusiast and documentary film maker – as well as capturing the physical side of the challenge – Jonathan wants to explore the reasons people like Ben give up well paid jobs and comfortable lives, battle through injuries and sacrifice their careers for the sake of what some people would see as pointless goals. Ben will face countless challenges from extreme fatigue to hungry crocodiles – dangerous tides and wild bush fires, all for no material benefit.
Ben is not being paid (in fact he’s spent his entire savings on the trip), he won’t get a world record (Guinness won’t recognise the expedition), and it’s likely that large parts of the trip will be a ‘sufferfest’. The documentary will follow Ben’s progress from planning and training at home, to the challenges and triumphs on the ground in Australia.
Jonathan will also be exploring the psychology behind why people decide to embark on such radical and life-changing journeys, what fuels them and what they hope they will get from it.
The final documentary will also delve into the ideas and misconceptions of one of the world’s largest and most sparsely populated countries. For example, Jonathan wants to look into why bush fires are so prevalent in Australia, what causes them and why are they so important for the ecosystem. The film will also aim to banish the Aussie stereotype that all of their wildlife is out to kill you and it is actually a much safer place than you may think.
Overall viewers can expect sweeping shots of the beautiful Australian landscapes, close-encounters with the local wildlife and of course engaging and interesting stories weaving in and out of the overarching tale of The Great Australian Triathlon.
‘There will also be an environmental undertone to the film; we are hoping the expedition will encourage others to use their cars a little less, and their own human power a little more,’ added Jonathan.
‘I think we will convey throughout that while human powered modes of transport are slower, they can provide so much more stimuli and engagement by allowing us to slow down a little, recharge and have some fun along the way!’
‘However, it is not lost on us that travelling around the world to create a film about using human-powered transport is somewhat contradictory and we don’t want to undermine our under-lying environmental message in any way. So, with this in mind, we plan on carbon offsetting the trip by calculating the overall carbon cost of the expedition (generated from non-human powered transport) and donating the carbon offsetting cost to an Australian and/or UK based initiative.’
To keep up with the team, you can follow them directly on the social media links below – and also look out for more information, video blogs and interviews on the Wilkinson blog.
For this extreme filming expedition we wanted to take a closer look at exactly what was in Jonathan’s kit bag. Over the coming months, Jonathan will also be showing the kit in use and sharing tips for filming and photography on such a challenging shoot.