‘Race to the Center of the Earth’ DP on the ‘Heart-Pumping’ Nature of Nat Geo Adventure Race

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As the overall director of photography on National Geographic’s “Race to the Center of the Earth,” Joshua Gitersonke was responsible for not only for the visual storytelling of the adventure race competition series, but also maintaining consistency across four crews as each team started in a different corner of the world. Previous experience on “The Amazing Race,” as well as a personal affinity for physical activities such as rock-climbing aided in the experience, but it still provided “heart-pumping” moments for the industry veteran.

How important was it for each individual crew to shoot the same kinds of shots, from the same angles and using the same gear?

It was explaining to everybody in pre-production and giving a bunch of style notes and things that we were all going to do. I’ve worked with all of these guys for years, and worked with them in a capacity where we all have honed in on what we’re doing to be very similar. And going into this, this was meant to be a more cinematic, beautiful show where it wasn’t running behind people all the time. It was being ahead of them and seeing them move through the places that they’re in. All of us, together, are really good at adapting to those styles, and they’re all amazing cinematographers in their own right.

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How hard was it to staff up this show, for which you have to be fearless and physically fit because you’re ultimately doing the challenges alongside the contestants?

I’ve worked with all these guys for so long that it was a pretty easy process to actually pick the guys that were going to be there. We’re all somewhat athletes in our own right, and have to be to pull off a show like this. There’s a certain level of being a monster in your field, for lack of a better word: They all enjoy the physical challenge of doing the exact same thing these contestants are doing, but with a 25-pound camera on their shoulder. We’ve all curated our careers to where we get to do these things we love. The adrenaline you get from trying to do something faster than what they’re doing — because if you need to get up past somebody on a mountain, you’re running with weight faster than they are, or climbing with weight faster than they are, to get to these perspectives — probably for all of us camera or crew guys, we thrive that.

How much does size and weight come into play when choosing what gear to use on a show like this?

We did have a plethora of cameras from big to small, and if you were on the side of a cliff, you probably had one of the smaller cameras. Multiple times throughout the show I either climbing up a rock face or going down a rock face on a rope and I didn’t have 25-pound Blackmagic camera. But if you were hiking up a mountain with contestants, a lot of times you just had your larger camera because it’s more about lenses than it is about cameras. The lenses that you use with a bigger camera are more conducive to smooth operating. The whole idea of the show is to make it really beautiful, and shooting with small cameras and small lenses and photo lenses sometimes lends itself to a more erratic style.

Did you use body cameras or were those just for the contestants?

Not so much on us. We did put those on the contestants or around the contestants.

Were you concerned that the contestants’ body cam footage might not be usable or up to the same standards as your other footage since they’re not trained to know how to move with it and they’re not thinking about such things when they’re racing?

They got a class on how to use the cameras, but they were just expected to use them to their best capacity. The main shots were coming from the cameramen. A big part of the show was trying to show the viewer the world that they’re racing through, and a lot of that meant being far away from the contestants for a period of time. During those times, if we wanted to get a five mile wide shot to see the mountains, we’d use a drone and put action cameras on them.

How did you strike the balance of shooting some of those beauty shots with close-ups of the emotional drama playing out during the race?

When we’re shooting we’re just trying to tell the best story that we possibly can and see the places they’re in at the same time. If something crazy happens and we’re far away, it takes a minute to get somebody to capture that real moment. At times throughout the show there were intense moments captured in a very wide shot. But as camera people, we’re all working as producers as well, constantly asking questions, getting them to talk about the things that they’re experiencing and how they’re feeling throughout the race.

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