Polar Race 2005

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Tony Woodford - Cameraman for Polar Race 2003

Wow this place bites!!! I've travelled the world and not much raises an eyebrow these days but all those experiences didn't prepare me for the Arctic. Jock calls it "Arctic shock", I'm not sure what it is but the first time you come here it knocks you sideways. Prior to actually visiting somewhere this cold, you just can't even begin to imagine how cold, cold can be. Suddenly nothing works. Your hands freeze up your legs get stiff and your brain starts slowing down until some of the simplest tasks like doing up a zip can be a real challenge. That's all part of your body's natural reaction to the cold.

Tony Woodford - Polar Race 2003 camerman

On top of that the environment is so alien that just finding your way around can leave you feeling quite confused. Alien enough that there is a Mars science project here. There is a nearby crater whose environment is so similar to Mars that they are using it to find out about the possibility of surviving on the red planet. Surviving hear is what its all about and if you want to do anything more than that, you're looking at a major challenge.

Consequently, camera work is not easy. The first problem you have is simply the light conditions. It is constantly a manually adjusted compromise between over exposed ice and under exposed people. The exceptionally bright light reflected from the ice but not people makes it tricky to find a happy medium. Once you've got that sussed you quickly realise that you need to be able to operate and adjust the camera blind as it is too bright for the LCD monitor and the viewfinder quickly freezes up. Trying to wipe frost from the lenses can scratch them irrecoverably so the only option is to warm the lens up with your already freezing hand.

All this is going on in a place that freezes your fingertips even with gloves in a matter of minutes. When I first arrived I was managing just one minute of filming and then spent twenty minutes trying to warm my hands again. Steady shot is a must as keeping camera shake to a minimum is a problem itself when cold and shivering. I've acclimatised more now and lost some of the feeling in the tips of my fingers from frost nip so my film and recovery times have improved considerably. I've been filming on two cameras, a professional Sony and a Sony compact Mini DV camera (PC9). On the whole the compact camera has proved much more useful as it can be kept warm on the inside of a jacket and the battery life is considerably longer.

Batteries are a problem too. A fully charged battery will normally last two hours but expose it to the cold for 20mins and suddenly it won't work at all. On the whole I am very impressed with Sony video cameras. Even when bits of plastic are shattering left right and centre off other equipment the Sony have stood the cold. We have five in operation on the Polar Race and only had one minor problem of a tape being chewed and, of course, screens freezing over. Other than that they are fine. It is mostly the camera operator that has problems working out here. If there was a next time I could certainly do a better job as I've learned a lot about filming in the Arctic but for now I hope my efforts have been up to scratch as we are all hoping to have a documentary made. If you have any comments, email me at [email protected] -- very fitting as there is no alcohol in Resolute Bay!!!

Tony Woodford, Polar Race 2003
23 April 2022

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