James Aldred: Meet the Guy Whose Workplace is a Rainforest Canopy – #RuggedStories

Skills required: rope work, an eye for good composition – and a head for heights. ©James Aldred

In a new series, we meet the people whose working lives are seriously extreme and demanding. This week, James Aldred – professional tree rigger and wildlife cameraman.

Job title: Technical rope access rigger and wildlife cameraman

Age: 40

Working Locations: The jungles and rainforests of South America, Africa and Asia. And festival venues in England.

Hazards of the job: Humidity, mould, heights, snakes, insects, violent eagles, partying revellers.

Favourite app: sunfollower

Tell us about your last job.

I was six weeks in Borneo, trying to film gibbons in the canopy. I spent a lot of time up in the trees rigging vertical tracking systems for the camera. We have these stabilised gyros that the camera sits on and that in turn is slung below a remote-controlled cable dolly that whizzes up and down. It’s quite a challenge and caused us a few headaches, but in the end the shots look great. I also rig aerial cameras at music festivals.

What are the skills required?

You’ve got to have the rope access skills, and be very certain of the physics involved especially in flying an aerial camera over the heads of people. It’s paramount that you understand things like safe working loads, minimum rating strengths, dynamic loading, peak impact forces. For the camera work, you need a detailed knowledge of composition and what works aesthetically. It’s very demanding.

“I used a riot police helmet and stab vest to protect me from an attack by eagles”

How harsh is your environment?

Humidity is the big issue in the rainforest. A lot of cameras these days are computers – they’re like the cockpit of a 747. The problem is, as soon as you get moisture in, it will shut down. Also, a lot of cameras get so hot they have internal fans, and they suck in dust and insects. The only way to get around that is to strip down and clean as often as possible. My iPhone hates it with a vengeance. It has fungus growing inside.

Cable camera in operation. “As as soon as you get moisture in, they shut down.” ©James Aldred

“My iPhone hates the rainforest with a vengeance”

And harsh for you too right?

I’ve been stung by bees and hornets and charged by elephants and was once attacked by harpy eagles in Venezuela. Certain birds of prey are very aggressive in protecting their young, quite rightly. As far as they’re concerned it’s a life and death scenario and if there’s a potential predator they’ll attack. So I used a riot police helmet and stab vest to protect me from an attack, and it worked for the most part, although the adult female did work out where the soft spot was, in my neck between my helmet and my stab vest. She got me in there and knocked me off the branch and knocked me out. But that’s very rare!

What equipment is most important to you?

You can’t operate without a head torch. I’ve been lost a couple of times in the rainforest and without a machete it’s pretty terrifying too. A battery pack is also vital so at least you have a backup to recharge.

A different kind of rigging, at a music festival in England. ©James Aldred


What Apps do you use?

Sunfollower is really handy for filming the sunrise – it’s important to know where to line up on the horizon whilst it’s still dark. I also use various film-making apps such as Red Tools, Donna and Viewfinder Cine.

Working up in the canopy and in hot, humid environments our waterproof and drop proof Cat phones work in extreme temperatures and are the perfect solution for James. We can’t wait to see how he gets on with his in the next few months.

Join in the conversation online with your own #RuggedStories at @Catruggedphones