It’s not often you’ll find a cinematographer with the eye of a skilled artist and the mindset of a trained athlete, but that’s just what cinematographer Ross Radcliffe brings to the table. Well-versed in the technological aspects of filmmaking and seemingly indestructible in any harsh environment, Radcliffe possesses a unique combination of talents invaluable to the industry. He is able to keep up with the greatest extreme athletes in the world, giving viewers the opportunity to experience life’s adventures in corners of the globe we’d otherwise never see.
Radcliffe has been directly responsible for capturing cutting edge footage included in some of the nation’s top-rated shows including Travel Channel’s critically acclaimed series Jackson Wild as well as The Last Alaskans, Animal Planet’s second-most-watched series last year. A professional lacrosse player turned cinematographer, Radcliffe has dedicated thousands of hours to perfecting his craft, and has captured breathtaking images from the Alaskan Yukon to the great African plains while keeping up physically with the world’s most extreme sporting.
No stranger to the frigid Alaskan temperatures, Radcliffe displays his strengths flawlessly for multiple shows based in the Alaskan climate. One show in particular, National Geographic’s Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet, showcases this cinematographer’s visions magnificently. Without Radcliffe’s sharp eye, technological ingenuity, and physical stamina, Dr. Oakley’s life-saving emergency surgeries performed in season 2 may have never been captured. Radcliffe’s contribution to the production not only brings picturesque scenery and landscapes into homes worldwide, but it also opens up the doors to catch a glimpse of science and biology so uniquely fascinating, yet otherwise unobtainable.
Last week I got the opportunity to interview Radcliffe about his work as a cinematographer. In our interview, he opens up about what led him to pursue a career in the field, his views on the relationship between technology and storytelling, and the importance of physical fitness in his field of work. For more information on Ross Radcliffe, be sure to check out the interview below.
Where are you from? When and how did you become a cinematographer?
RR: I’m from Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, on Vancouver Island. I became a cinematographer in college; I was actually a star athlete on both the lacrosse and track & field teams- I was even drafted to play professional lacrosse- but unfortunately, after sustaining a series of bad injuries, I made the tough decision to put an end to my athletic career. I quickly turned my attention to camera work, dedicating all the time I’d previously spent training my body into training my eye behind a camera. Before long, I was producing my own videos, which lead to an internship with Susie Films, a full service, pitch to post production company. That internship turned into a full-time job, and before I knew it, I was shooting content for reality TV, commercials and short films. I now work as a freelance cinematographer for National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, and Travel Channel. As a cinematographer, I specialize in the projects that are both physically and technically demanding.
What does the work of a cinematographer entail? What are your responsibilities?
RR: To be a cinematographer is to be a visual storyteller. I get to craft images that effectively move the audience through a story, with all the twists and turns of emotions along the way. As a cinematographer, I test and select camera and lighting packages that will best tell the story at hand, and I communicate with the director to best craft the image of the story they strive to tell. I think a big responsibility of mine, due to the type of projects I shoot, is to stay on top of my physical conditioning. When I film a subject, I want to make sure their are no barriers between the story and the audience, so I have to be a pro at following along, no matter the conditions or situations might be. In my field, a good cinematographer blends into the situation to let it play out as naturally as possible.
What do you think makes good cinema?
RR: I believe that good cinema comes from the relationship between technology and storytelling. When those two things work well together, people will watch.
What has been your favorite camera to use so far and why?
RR: My favorite camera is the Sony FS7. This new camera, capable of filming footage in 4K resolution, is the perfect camera for adventure-based cinematographers like myself since it is lighter than its predecessors, and has the ability to shoot a wide variety of profiles to suit all types of projects, and can be outfitted with a variety of third-party accessories. To that end, the Sony FS7’s native E-mount lensing system can easily be adapted to use both Sony and Canon lenses, which are both phenomenal lines of lenses.
Can you tell me a little bit about the projects you’ve done?
RR: I was the director of photography on The Travel Channel’s show, Jackson Wild. The show revolved around the Jacksons, a family comprised of the world’s best professional kayakers. During this production, I followed the Jackson family to Germany, Austria, South Africa, England and Zambia, where I faced the crazy challenge of keeping up with them- physically. Being an athlete myself, I was able to capture mountain biking through Europe and waterfall jumping in Africa but, for the record, running around Africa with a 40 lb camera on your shoulder isn’t easy!
I also worked on National Geographic’s Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet, as the director of photography. I really enjoyed being just one step behind Dr. Oakley, a famous wildlife veterinarian, through Alaska and the Yukon as she gave aide to all different types of animals. While this project was extremely demanding physically and sometimes entailed stepping in stinky animal droppings or running from an angry muskox, I was honored to be part of such a small, handselected team. Each member demonstrated such an amazing ability to wear many different hats, so to speak, and the results were well worth it. Looking back on the experience, I really loved capturing the vast personalities of the beautiful Alaskan backdrop, and using it as almost another character in the show.
Perhaps one of the most fun and challenging project I have contributed to is The Animal Planet/ Discovery Channel’s The Last Alaskans, where I was worked as a specialty camera operator and equipment mechanic for the entire second season. The Last Alaskans has garnered critical praise from top international publications around the world for its genre-busting take on the people and families who reside in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge, located just above the arctic circle. During production, the crew lives out in the field with the talent; to give you an idea of what this is like, I can tell you that every morning I woke up in a tent in -30 degree weather, and immediately started a fire. Long story short, making this show wasn’t easy, so producers gathered only the best crew in the TV industry to execute the show’s production because of its extreme physical and technical nature. With the great success of this show discussed in the New York Times and the Washington Post, I am proud of my important contributions to the production.
What would you say your strongest qualities are as a cinematographer?
RR: I take great pride in my physical ability to endure extremely harsh and exhausting environments while capturing content. I also keep myself well versed on the latest and greatest camera technology as it hits the market, and I figure out how it can be best utilized in the field.
What projects do you have coming up?
RR: I am the Director of Photography for the next season of Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet. I have also been offered a job with Discovery Channel’s Alaska: The Last Frontier, but until I have a visa, it will be impossible for me to accept this opportunity.
What are your plans for the future?
RR: I plan on continuing to travel the world, gathering and telling stories of unique people in captivating places. I am also interested in working on feature films.
What do you hope to achieve in your career?
RR: I want to create a body of work that I am proud of; ultimately, I’m determined to tell stories that inspire and move people.
Why are you passionate about working as a cinematographer and why is it your chosen profession?
RR: Being a cinematographer is the only job I have ever had that doesn’t feel like work. Every day that I wake up on location, I truly cannot believe how lucky I am. I’m honored and humbled to be instrumental in telling stories about people and places that would have gone otherwise unnoticed. It gives me a beautiful opportunity to put myself in the shoes of people living a different life experience than me, and I love trying to see the world from their eyes.