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How a Shark Week Cinematographer Captures the Predators

“I’m addicted to sharks,” says cinematographer Andy B. Casagrande IV, who has been shooting for Discovery’s Shark Week for 13 years.

As obsessions go, it may be an unusual one, but it has served Casagrande well over the past two decades as he’s worked on countless TV and film documentaries on the majestic creatures. “I learn more each time I go under, and I want to inspire others to learn, ” he says. But it’s more than just about the big fish; it’s also about camera technology for Casagrande, who says he loves “being in the field at the cutting edge of cinema science.”

Viewers eagerly await the arrival of each season of Shark Week, cable’s longest-running regular block of programming, which celebrates its 30th year.

Both Casagrande and senior VP of production and development Howard Swartz are excited that breakthroughs in camera tech have allowed photographers to access locations and depths that were out of reach when Shark Week first aired in 1988. “The technology evolution has allowed our filmmakers to work alongside the research community and document many exciting new finds,” says Swartz. “That’s how we’re able to keep Shark Week relevant and exciting year after year as well as to drive an important conservation message.”

Casagrande — whose wife is also an underwater photographer and whose two young children are already learning about the importance of sharks and oceanic conservation — has a list of go-to gear for Shark Week: The RED Weapon 8K and GoPro Hero6 are his main choices in cameras; both are extremely portable, and the RED Weapon offers high resolution. He also uses virtual-reality camera systems like the GoPro Fusion, which shoots in 360 degrees. Safety gear includes tourniquets. “If my leg gets bitten by a great white, I can [save] my life by acting quickly,” he explains.

The DP also carries an LED flashlight and a multitool kit. But the newest addition to his arsenal is a DJI drone. “I never go anywhere without it,” he says. With the drone, Casagrande is able to shoot great whites hunting along South Africa’s rocky coast. “It’s so non-invasive,” he says. “They have no idea we’re there. With the drone I’ve been able to get incredible behavioral shots of great whites stalking baby seal pups as their mothers try to keep them safe. If I tried to film that in the water, poor visibility would [be a problem], plus just my presence would throw them off. Drone reconnaissance for wildlife has been revolutionary.”

Casagrande started using drones for his work on Shark Week with the DJI Phantom 1, which debuted in 2013. “They give me the ability now to cover wildlife on air, land and sea,” he says. “In a single backpack, I can carry a Hollywood studio to film wildlife … [and give] people a deeper insight into the world of sharks.”

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