Caught on Camera

Joe Stevens is a freelance wildlife photographer travelling from his home in Aljezur to produce and direct wildlife documentaries. Helen Daniel interviews this inspiring character whose career highlight was working with David Attenborough.

Joe Stevens has always had a fascination and an affiliation with the natural world. He has swum with sharks, been chased by a grizzly bear and walked with pumas.

His career as a wildlife filmmaker was set in motion by his idyllic upbringing in the New Forest in England. “We kept chickens, horses, dogs and a donkey at home, and throughout my formative years I spent many, many hours in the National Park discovering the marvels of nature; thus my passion for animals and wild places began,” explains Joe.

It is no coincidence that he is now living in Aljezur, in the Costa Vicentina National Park, with his Brazilian wife, Leticia, and their three children. “As Leti is Brazilian with Portuguese ancestry, we wanted to find a place to bring up the kids in a Portuguese speaking culture and also live with nature as a part of our everyday lives.”

At 16, Joe received a scholarship to the United World College in New Mexico. The school aims to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future. “These two years were very inspiring and evolving for me,” Joe explains. “It gave me a taste for living overseas, in an international community, as well as a chance to hone my wilderness skills.”

Still pursuing his love of outside activities, Joe then worked his gap year in an Outward Bound school in Malaysia, before studying Environmental Sciences at King’s College, London. During the holidays, he developed a passion for diving, and once he had gained his degree, he began working in a dive centre in Cornwall.

“One day at the end of a summer season, I was sitting at work, bored, waiting for clients, and I began watching David Attenborough`s three-part series called State of the Planet. It was a flash-of-intuition moment,” he recalls. “I realised very clearly that wildlife filming was a world I wanted to be a part of.”

Joe applied to the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol and was granted two weeks’ work experience. “This kick-started my career in film making,” he says. The work absorbed him for the next few years, during which he simultaneously specialised in diving. In 2001, he was awarded an educational underwater scholarship by The Our World Underwater Society. “The year was fantastic,” he recalls. “I travelled to different locations across the world to produce video diaries of my diving experiences. This service was in support of underwater world exploration, hyperbaric medicine research, and investigations into the environmental impact of international companies, such as BP. In the Seychelles, I was involved in a whale shark tagging project. It’s a breathtaking experience swimming with the biggest fish in the oceans.”

Joe then worked for a year as a support diver for underwater documentary presenters, before joining the BBC, where he stayed for seven years. In 2004, he was based in the Galapagos Islands when David Attenborough joined his team. They worked together to produce the three-part series about cold-blooded amphibians and reptiles, called Life in Cold Blood. “David is as great a man as he portrays,” remarks Joe. “His driven devotedness to wildlife is sincerely genuine. He is wonderful company and I was lucky enough to celebrate his 80th birthday with him.” 

Joe is now a freelancer, producing and directing wildlife documentaries for channels around the world, from the BBC’s The One Show to Blue Planet 2. For the last two years, he has been busy with his latest series for Apple TV+ – Earth at Night in Colour – due to be released on 4th December.

“This has been fascinating to make, but we needed patience, stamina and endurance for the night-time filming. We used next-generation cameras to reveal the secret nocturnal lives of animals, in colour, for the first time ever.”

Tom Hiddleston narrates the series and it is filmed across six continents, revealing the incredible, never-before-seen behaviour of jaguars in Brazil, pumas in Patagonia and coral reefs around the world. “Jaguars are my favourite animal,” Joe reveals. “They are simply fascinating creatures.”

With internet connections improving all the time, and new ways of working online constantly evolving, Joe feels very fortunate to be able to base his life in Aljezur.

“Companies pay me to discover and portray the most beautiful parts of the world, but I also feel so privileged to call one of them my home,” he happily notes.

Have a sneak peek at Joe’s latest project now available on Apple.


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