Making News: On becoming Andy Taylor ACS

Andy Taylor covering the Boxing Day tsunami for 'Four Corners'. (Photo: Gep Blake)

Cinematographer Andy Taylor’s 30-year career has seen him traverse the globe filming everything from war zones and major news stories to adventure travel documentaries and celebrity profiles.

He’s dodged bullets in Moscow, interviewed the likes of Sir David Attenborough and the Foo Fighters, and climbed the peaks of Mount Everest filming compelling stories.

Although he now works on a freelance basis – shooting documentaries for Australian broadcasters, Netflix, National Geographic, and commercial work for various high-profile clients – Taylor’s start as a cameraman was decidedly more sedate.

“I started at ABC-TV as a cameraman in 1986, working on shows like Play School, Mr Squiggle and Countdown. By 1989 I was working in the ABC Cinecamera Department, working on everything from news and current affairs to dramas and documentaries.”

As Andy’s reputation soared, so too did the levels of pressure and danger. In 1991 he was sent to cover the first Gulf War for the ABC.

“I lost count of how many times we were shelled, shot at and attacked! We were the first crew to stumble across the so-called Highway to Hell, the infamous road between Kuwait and Baghdad.”

Despite the high-stake shooting conditions, Andy persevered.

“In 1992-93, I was posted to the ABC Moscow bureau where we covered the Moscow uprising. Seven journos were killed that night, including the legendary British combat cameraman Rory Peck. I was standing right next to him when the shooting started.”

Following that, he returned home to Sydney for a new project.

“I filmed Four Corners in Sydney for 12 years, including 98 complete episodes of the revered 45 minute current affairs show. We covered everything from US elections to the Boxing Day Tsunami in Aceh and the war in Afghanistan.”

In 2009, after working at the ABC for almost 25 years, Channel 9’s 60 Minutes offered Taylor the opportunity to work with reporters and producers who were considered to be the best of the best, including the legendary Ray Martin.

“In those days it was probably the best job in TV, anywhere in the world,” he says.

Andy filming the Deepr Water Horizon oil spill from a US Coast Guard Helicopter. (Photo: Michael Usher)

Going freelance and the Netflix effect

Taylor left Channel 9 in 2017 and established himself as a Sydney-based freelancer.

“During the past four years I’ve been shooting mainly documentary, factual, lifestyle, travel, fashion, and network promos. If I’m not filming documentaries, I’m often shooting commercial or promo work for clients. I’m finding that the social media platforms are also demanding really high production values. Everything has to be shot in 4K and log for colour grading now, especially for streaming services like Stan and Netflix.”

Andy filming a British Airways 747 at Kuwait Airport, blown up at the start of the first Gulf War in 1991 by Saddam Hussein. (Photo: Trevor Bormann)

Tools of the Trade

Andy has relied on his impressive collection of Canon cameras and lenses to get the job done for the majority of his 30-year career.

“Whether shooting for Netflix, TV news or Instagram, I shoot everything on Canon cameras with prime lenses. I have three cameras: Canon’s first RF-mount cinema video camera, the EOS C70, and two full frame Canon EOS Cinema cameras, the EOS C700, and EOS C500 Mark II. All of them are Netflix approved cameras. With my Canon cameras I know I can deliver quality images every time, with beautiful skin tones using that awesome Canon colour science.”

Shooting with Pink in LA on ’60 Minutes’.

Getting “the look”

Understandably, Taylor is often asked about the gear he uses to achieve his signature aesthetic.

“It’s quite straightforward really, I always use my full frame Canon cameras with cine prime lenses. I have over a dozen Canon RF and EF lenses in my kit. My go-to lens is the Canon CN-E50mm T1.5, but the other essential lenses I usually carry are: Canon CN-E85mm T1.3; Canon CN-E24mm T1.5; plus the EF 70-200mm IS f2.8 stills lens, and a macro lens adaptor for the Canon cine lenses. I also have the very versatile Canon CN-E 7×17 (17-120mm) T2.8, which is a fantastic lens.”

Taylor also relies heavily on Canon’s powerful autofocus technology when shooting interviews.

“While many pro shooters opt to use a camera body from one camera brand, and glass from another, Canon’s cameras and lenses are designed to provide multiple benefits when paired together. For example, I regularly use two cameras on an interview (my full frame EOS C500 Mark II with a 35mm f1.4 stills lens plus my EOS C70 with a Canon CN-E 7×17 (17-120mm) T2.8 cinema servo-zoom lens. On both cameras I get an enhanced face detect and auto focus because the lens and camera work together.”

Pyongang in North Korea with ’60 Minutes’ reporter Tom Steinfort and sound recordist Chick Davey. (Photo: Stephen Taylor)

Andy’s recommended camera settings:

“My camera setup is almost always a Canon with a full frame sensor, shooting 4K Clog3, at 25fps or 50fps. I use fast cine prime lenses and always shoot wide open to achieve a shallow depth of field. I expose the shot by dialing in the internal ND filters. I avoid zooming and never white balance the camera, just set it to either 3200 tungsten or 5600 daylight.”

Andy’s film career advice:

Start Simple: “Invest in one quality camera and lens. Master it and build from there. A Canon C500 Mark II or EOS C70 with a CN-E50mm T1.5 or RF 50mm f1.2 prime lens is all you need to shoot any type of broadcast footage.”

Choose Your Gear Wisely: “You need to choose a camera brand that will have your back if things go wrong. The CPS (Canon Professional Services) team are fantastic. If I need equipment that I don’t own, I can grab it from them. They let me try out the newest gear and help keep me up and running when needed.”

Improve Your Attitude as Well as Your Abilities: “Show initiative when you’re on a shoot. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do, but don’t be a ‘know it all’ either. Success comes from curiosity and passion. You’ll get more out of the stories you shoot if you take an interest and build rapport with your subjects.”

Shoot More: “Shoot plenty of coverage from a variety of interesting perspectives to help tell the story. Shoot cutaways and B-roll sequences whenever possible and try to go beyond simple wide shots. Look for details and close-ups that tell the whole story.”

Think Like an Editor: “Always try to edit the story in your head as you shoot. Construct sequences and anticipate what’s about to happen next.”

Find out more about Andy and his work on his website and Vimeo channel. Explore the cinema cameras and lenses that Andy uses on the Canon Australia website.