OW Spotlight Richard Wollocombe

Combermere '86

Wildlife Cinematographer

Tell us about yourself

I spent most of my early childhood living in various countries in South America and was an overseas border at Wellington while my parents lived in Colombia. While I was in University I went on a family holiday to Galápagos and it had such an impact on me that after finishing my degree I decided to become a scuba diving instructor and headed to Galápagos where I spent five years as a National Park guide. My arrival there coincided with the first commercial live-aboard dive boat and so I spent the first years pioneer dive guiding which is a euphemism for the blind leading the blind! It was an exciting time and as Galápagos gained a reputation as a world class diving destination, I had the fortune to guide numerous photographers and film makers who helped me on my path to a career in wildlife filmmaking.


What inspired you to become a wildlife cinematographer?

Undoubtedly my years guiding in Galápagos were extremely inspirational. I saw first-hand the positive impact Galápagos had on the people. I felt that sharing my experiences in Galápagos and other places in the world with a wider audience was a good way to draw attention to the wonder of nature but also the fragility of it. But on another level and while I was still at Wellington, my parent’s house in Colombia was burgled and they lost many of their cherished possessions. But the one loss they could never reconcile was the theft of most of my father’s cine 8 film archive of the family life. It made me realise that of all the things we most cherish it is the memories in whatever form they physically manifest, that are priceless. So what inspired me in part to become a wildlife cinematographer was the desire not only to share the inspiring beauty and wonder of the natural world with a wide audience but to preserve the memory of it knowing that so much of what is alive today may be gone tomorrow.


What has been your career highlight so far?

It was gratifying to see how much attention the snake vs marine iguana sequence received that my colleagues and I filmed for Planet Earth II. It was wonderful to see the sequence go viral and to know that the series gained huge popularity among young people. But there have been many highlights that were more important to me. For instance, it was otherworldly to film industrial scale purse seine fishing from inside the net. It was extremely intense to witness the vast school of wild tuna fish encircled and gradually trapped into a seething mass of panic stricken fish. Filming the fishes perspective, the fishing boat felt more like an extraordinarily sophisticated animal with a gigantic mouth, controlled by a brain that was connected to a system of ocean sensors and satellite communications technology that could know where and when the fish were at certain times and locations. How could nature compete with this new ‘species’? Just witnessing this event was a shock to me and I felt a huge sense of satisfaction to know that I could share the very rare perspective with so many other people and hopefully move audiences to realise the impact our species is having on the planet.


What are you working on at the minute?

I am working on an independent production to make a feature film on Galápagos. We are in the fundraising stages of production and it will largely be a non-profit film to raise awareness of the ocean and emotionally connect people with it.


What advice would you give young OWs interested in wildlife cinematography?

I found it very useful to learn stills photography before I touched a film camera or video camera. There is also no replacement for filming as much as you can. I made my first films by deconstructing other films and picking them apart and this taught me a lot about filming also. Photography or cinematography is a skill that you never stop developing. As a wildlife cinematographer it is helpful to spend as much time in nature as possible sharpening your observation skills and connecting to the natural world. We have atrophied our sensibilities to nature and being able to do justice to the natural world is as much about understanding and feeling your subject as it is about knowing how to film it.


What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

My parents said; Always get back in the saddle when you fall off your horse. I’ve done plenty of falling and so this advice has been quite useful!


Do you have a fond memory from your time at Wellington that you would like to share or perhaps a particular teacher that really stood out?

I really enjoyed my time at Wellington. The boarding school life and culture provided a great foundation for later in life. I learnt to become independent very early and it gave me the confidence to choose a path in life that I may have had second thoughts about had I not had the confidence to pursue my dream.