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‘Life in Color with David Attenborough’: How the Filmmakers Got That Shot

‘Life in Color with David Attenborough’: How the Filmmakers Got That Shot

At Netflix, we’ve seen how storytelling like Our Planet and My Octopus Teacher can help our members better understand the world around us. To celebrate the recent premiere of Netflix’s new natural history series Life in Color with David Attenborough, we wanted to give a behind-the-scenes look at how the show’s filmmaking team captured the rare color display of the Costa’s hummingbird.

The Costa’s hummingbird has one of the most extraordinary color displays in nature. But this display is so fast and secretive, that few people have ever seen it. Capturing it seemed like the perfect challenge for a series on color. 

When we arrived at Boyd Deep Canyon in California, my heart sank. We were greeted by a vast, dry landscape as far as the eye could see. It was hard to imagine a tiny hummingbird surviving here, let alone trying to film one. Suddenly there was a high-pitched whistle followed by whirr of wings. We heard it, we felt the rush of air, but we couldn’t see it.  

Filming one of the smallest and fastest birds in the world is a challenge. Cameraman Barrie Britton had to use a super high-speed camera, the Phantom Flex4K, which can film at 1000 frames per second, and one of the most powerful telephoto lenses.  

But with his eye glued to the camera, Barrie’s field of view was restricted. So Guthrie O’Brien, the team’s researcher, acted as spotter. Every bush and tree was assigned a code. As the birds moved, Guthrie called out the number, and Barrie swivelled the camera round at speed to try and locate the bird.

The male Costa’s hummingbird mostly keeps his flashy colors hidden so as not to attract predators. But when he spots a female, he (briefly) reveals them. 

Although our eyes gradually got better at picking out the tiny green bird, its courtship display continued to elude us. Then — as is so often the case in this business—on the last day of the shoot, we were rewarded with one of nature’s most breath-taking sights.

A male Costa’s unfurled the most spectacular gorget of feathers. He positioned himself directly facing the sun so that his iridescent feathers would catch the light. And at just the right angle, he dazzled and shimmered. It was the most extraordinary and mesmerizing display. 

It’s stories like this, that reveal a world hidden from plain view, which inspired us to make Life in Color with David Attenborough.

Life in Color with David Attenborough is now available on Netflix.