The lions of Africa’s Namib Desert are survivors.
Highly adapted to living in a harsh and extreme desert landscape, these animals have some key characteristics that set them apart from lions of the African savanna. They manage with far less moisture, and they have thicker fur and smaller manes. These prides roam far further than their savanna brethren, sometimes up to 30 kilometers at night, in search of prey.
“The African Survivors,” a new documentary from award-winning cameraman Chris Schmid, puts the spotlight on these resourceful lions and their struggle to survive with a double whammy of challenges: climate change and increasing human encroachment on their habitat. Funded with a grant from National Geographic, “The African Survivors” follows one pride of lions around Africa’s Skeleton Coast Park over a 15-day period.
Working with noted scientist Dr. Philip Stander of the Desert Lion Conservation Project, Chris and his crew had to “think like a lion.” This meant tracking the prides over a huge area (with the help of GPS tracking devices on some of the animals) and through rugged and difficult terrains – canyons, mountains, and sand dunes.
Going the distance with flowtech100
For most of the production, Chris used a flowtech100 carbon-fibre tripod equipped with a Sachtler FSB10 fluid head and loaded up with a RED Dragon camera, SmallHD monitor, and an Edelkrone follow focus powered by an Anton/Bauer Titon 90 battery. Even with a payload sometimes totaling 11 kilos, flowtech100 allowed the crew to be as nimble and mobile as possible.
One of the big difficulties of this shoot was the sheer distance we had to cover in as short a time as possible. Every morning, we’d start to track the pride, and sometimes by the time we got the first GPS signal, they’d already be 20 kilometers away. And by the time we got closer, we’d sometimes need to walk a fair distance to reach the lions.”
He adds, “The flowtech really made a huge difference. Not only is it exceptionally lightweight, but it was designed to be really easy and comfortable to carry on your shoulder. It’s also very sturdy and rugged, which was really important since we were working in some extremely dusty environments. The dust caused no issues at all with the tripod.”
Fast and easy setup when seconds count
Locating and then safely getting to the pride was only half the battle Chris and his crew faced. They then needed to set up as quickly as possible in order to capture best moments with the lions. In one instance, the team was driving in the general direction of the pack when they spied two lionesses strolling in the distance and backlit by the setting sun, which had painted the landscape with brilliant colors.
With the lionesses, we had literally seconds to get out of the car, set up, and get the shot before the lions moved and the moment was lost forever. With flowtech, we were ready to go in about 15 seconds. It’s really amazing how fast and easy flowtech is to set up and adjust.”
Chris’ first experience with flowtech was on a frigid shoot in Norway, documenting musk oxen in their natural habitat in a snowstorm. “I was able to adjust the flowtech easily while wearing gloves. Try doing that with any other tripod – it’s impossible,” he notes.
“In the past, tripods have not been my favourite pieces of gear. It’s always been a fight to get each of the legs to the right length and get the right height and angle, and meanwhile the clock is ticking for the shot. But with flowtech, you can adjust the legs in an instant using the quick-release brakes at the top, and the tripod legs each adjust automatically on uneven ground.”
Powering the story in heat or cold
Anton/Bauer’s rugged and reliable Titon batteries have become a mainstay in Chris’s on-location shooting kit. The batteries were especially important for “The African Survivors,” which took the film crew into very inhospitable desert locations where the temperature sometimes soared to 50 degrees Celsius! For the musk oxen project in Norway, the Titons performed equally well in temperatures plunging to -60 degrees.
When you’re in a very remote and rugged location and far away from even generator power, it’s really important to be able to trust your batteries. I know I can count on Titon batteries, even in extreme conditions.”
He adds, “The Titons have extra features that you don’t find on batteries from other brands. For instance, with the LED readout, I never have any doubt about how much charge is left in the battery. And it’s a huge convenience to be able to power other equipment and charge my phone with the built-in P-Tap and USB ports.”
Chris comments, “With wildlife photography and filmmaking, you need to know your gear and its limits very well. Based on my experience with flowtech and the Titon batteries, I know they will see me through any situation.
The African Survivors’ is a story of hope in a world of amazingly wild beauty – even with relentless predatism and an ever-shrinking habitat, these desert-adapted lions are hanging on. With tools like flowtech and Titon, we can help spread the word about these prides, alongside other endangered animals, and encourage more activities for long-term conservation.”