From Alice to the Arctic: The challenges of shooting a story in extreme cold – Regional


It was 43 degrees when I walked across the tarmac at Alice Springs airport.

When I got to Oslo, it was -15, and I was heading somewhere that was supposed to be even colder.

I was on my way to Svalbard, a remote archipelago north of Norway, just over a thousand kilometres from the North Pole.

ABC Regional had teamed up with food security NGO the Crawford Fund to send a journalist to do some stories about the Global Seed Vault, or as the media like to call it, the Doomsday Vault.

More than a million species of seeds are stored there in case of a global disaster.

The major town on the archipelago is Longyearbyen, an old coal miner’s town built on a fjord.

It’s surrounded by mountains and is breathtakingly beautiful.

It could not be more different from the Central Australian desert where I’ve been working as a video journalist, or the humid Top End of the Territory where I was for years.

Luckily, I was able to have a chat to Hobart cameraman Peter Curtis before I went.

Peter had worked in the Moscow bureau as a cameraman in the 90s, and has been to Antarctica plenty of times too.

Even better, he had used the same type of camera, the Panasonic 270, in those conditions, so I knew it wouldn’t freeze on me.

He also advised how to shoot interviews in the naturally blue light of the Arctic without making people look like corpses.

Unfortunately, there was a heatwave over the Arctic while I was there, sending temperatures sky-rocketing to +3 degrees and causing it to sleet horribly.

For the few days where it was -10 and sunny, the conditions were actually quite pleasant to work in.

The Norwegians have a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

I had a rain cover for the camera, which took me a while to work out how to put it on, as I don’t have a lot of use for it in Alice Springs.

Then the snow melted, but refroze overnight as black ice.

I managed to get away with only one stack in the six days I was on Svalbard, my hip bone taking the brunt of the fall instead of the VJ camera.

On the day the vault was turning 10 years old, the world’s media was there to film a new deposit of seeds.

The media bus I was on was late, so I had to try to push my way to the front to get a shot, getting sworn at in a multitude of languages by wet and cold camera operators.

Everyone was tired, it was almost dark and impossible to shoot in, and the sleet was relentless.

Fortunately, I had some time in the vault the next day to make up for the awful conditions.

After travelling all that way I had only 10 minutes in the actual vault to get some overlay, shoot a piece-to-camera and take some still images.

But I got all I needed.

I had earlier shot an ‘as-live’ next to the fjord and began pulling together my story for various platforms.

I flew back to Oslo and fed out vision for TV, filed scripts, cut a radio current affairs yarn, wrote up a digital story and sent pictures, and pulled together a script for a short-form video.

Visiting Svalbard was an amazing experience, and the seed vault is a fascinating idea.

But now the temperatures have dropped to the 30s in Alice Springs, I have to admit I’m glad to be back.



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