Calling all wildlife lovers, photography enthusiasts and those seeking a little adventure—today, Nat Geo Wild launches its first digital series, wild_life With Bertie Gregory.
The series follows wildlife filmmaker and photographer Bertie Gregory’s three-month adventure on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, searching for the coastal wolves that call the island home. Along the way he documents other incredible wildlife encounters, including bears, bald eagles, orca and otters. The series premieres with two episodes today, wild_life: Searching for the Sea Wolf and wild_life: Bear Flings Boulders to Find Crabs and you’re sure to get hooked, not only because of the incredible subjects covered each week, but because the 23-year-old host brings plenty of knowledge, charm and humor to the exciting new series as he explores the coastal predators that call the west coast of Vancouver Island home.
Gregory has had an obsession with wildlife since he was “knee high to a grasshopper,” and he eventually started photographing his wildlife encounters around his home in South West England with a camera he borrowed from his dad. So how does a 23-year-old land his own digital series for Nat Geo Wild? Being at the right place at the right time certainly helps, but you’ll see that Gregory’s charisma is through the roof, which helped him impress wildlife and conservation photojournalist Steve Winter when they met through the 2020VISION project. Gregory says the project, “brought together the UK’s top 20 wildlife photographers and 20 young photographers. For 20 months, the 40 photographers were tasked with going around Britain taking pictures of wildlife. I was one of the young photographers on that project, and I thought I had drawn the short straw because, while some of my colleagues got to do cool stuff like photograph seals underwater or big birds of prey, I was tasked with photographing urban wildlife—what I thought was just pigeons and rats in the city.
“It turned out that I was wrong. I discovered you could have a wildlife experience in the city that’s just as wild and crazy as anywhere else. So I tried to show that with my pictures. And I was so lucky because while all of my colleagues were taking pictures of British wildlife in a setting that people had seen before like in the countryside or on the coast, I was taking pictures of things like foxes and badgers in an urban setting, so my pictures stood out.”
When the project went on the road, one of the professional photographers was unable to make it to a show near Gregory’s home, so he was asked to fill in. “They discovered that I could public speak—I’m a bit of a ‘gobshite’—so they dropped the fourth professional photographer and took me on because they said it was nice to have a young person’s input, considering the project was trying to inspire the next generation.
“So I toured the UK with the three other professional photographers, presenting the project, meeting loads of people, speaking in front of loads of people. One of the people I spoke in front of at the London event was the person that ran WildPhotos, Roz Kidman Cox. It’s an event that used to happen every year in London. That year Steve Winter was giving a talk, and Roz had seen me speak and decided she wanted a young person’s perspective on wildlife photography at the festival. So there I was, this kind of bright-eyed whippersnapper, speaking alongside the best wildlife photographers in the world.
“It was crazy,” Gregory explains, “because in the evening we’d have speakers’ drinks, so it was basically me and all of my photographic idols. Word got out at the festival that Steve was looking for a new assistant, so he was getting mobbed by everyone and I thought, well there’s no point trying to compete with that. I have 15 minutes during my talk when Steve will be listening, so I saw it as a job interview. The night before he had actually bought me shots and I thought that it was such a ridiculous story that I decided to impersonate his American accent during the first minute of my talk and basically re-tell the story. I knew he’d either find that really funny or tragically, terribly, not funny. But it paid off because he actually started laughing before I hit the punch line, while there was a pin-drop silence from everyone else. He came up to me afterwards with the natural history editor of National Geographic magazine, Kathy Moran, and they basically said, do you want a job? And I said yes. That was in October 2013, I graduated from University the following July, and the day after I graduated I got on a plane to start assisting him on his leopard story in South Africa.”
Being on the road with a wildlife photojournalist and conservation photographer of Winter’s caliber is an incredible opportunity and learning experience for a young photographer. One of the main things he’s taken away from his time working Winter is that, “People are crucial to every conservation story,” he explains. “They’re crucial to photographing and filming it in the first place. It’s kind of ironic, the more wild you get, the more remote of a place you try to photograph and film something in, the more you rely on people. You need these local experts to help.”
With accolades including being named a National Geographic Young Explorer, the Zenith Scientific Exploration Society Explorer 2015 and the Youth Outdoor Photographer of the Year, it’s clear that Gregory is going places. Gregory says the new Nat Geo Wild digital series will allow viewers to “get up close and personal with the biggest, sexiest, most charismatic animals, particularly the predators of the west coast of Canada, and maybe see some of the predators that they’re more familiar with in unusual settings.”
To keep at a safe and respectful distance when capturing the footage used in the series, Gregory shot in 4K with a Sony FS7 and a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM with Internal 1.4x Extender. “Having that zoom range is really important because often the really magical wildlife moments only happen once, and if you just get one shot of it at one focal length, it’s very difficult to make a sequence from that,” he explains. “Having that flexibility was awesome so you can get multiple shots without having to change lenses.” For behind-the-scenes shots, he used Canon EOS-1D C and XC10. He also used GoPros to get shots that may have been too dangerous for him to get close ups of himself. “There’s an episode near the end of the series where I put GoPros right out on the logs where bears are fishing for salmon, so it’s a super in-your-face wide-angle shot of a bear smashing into a salmon. And GoPros are super discrete because they’re so small.”
Another episode Gregory gave us a few details on was his adventure filming Steller sea lions underwater. “They weigh 2,000 pounds, and the biggest bulls can be 11-12 feet long; they’re absolute monsters,” he explains. “It turns out they’re really curious when you’re underwater because you’re this new, funky object that they don’t often encounter. So when they’re trying to investigate you, they use their teeth. So I’m underwater being bitten by 2,000 pound, 11-foot long Steller sea lions, which sounds horribly dangerous and really scary, but it was totally the opposite. It was like playing with a giant four meter Labrador—except there’s 20 of them.”
You’ll have to check out the episode for yourself to find out what these playful and super smart creatures did that at first terrified, and then entertained, Gregory. “The most special wildlife encounters are the ones when the animal knows you’re there,” he says, “since a lot of the time I’m in a blind hide. It’s most special when the animal knows you’re there, it’s accepting of you and then you have some kind of interaction with it, totally on its terms, in its environment.”
New episodes of wild_life With Bertie Gregory will launch every Wednesday through October on NatGeo Wild’s Youtube Page and at www.nationalgeographic.com. Follow along with Bertie Gregory’s adventures on Instagram.