Filming a dramatically changing landscape with the EOS R5

First-time filmmaker Evgenia Arbugaeva's Oscar-nominated documentary Haulout is a powerful story about the impact of global warming. Here, she talks about making the film and the challenges she faced, the kit she used, and why she loves working with both still images and video.
Filmmaker Evgenia Arbugaeva and her brother Maxim Arbugaev sit by a window and look at a large number of walruses on the beach, in a photo taken using the Canon EOS R5.

Evgenia Arbugaeva and her brother Maxim Arbugaev (pictured) spent three months filming in a remote hut with marine biologist Maxim Chakilev. "With so much footage, there were so many options, but at every stage of the edit we felt we needed to crystallise the story more," she explains. "The more we cut, the stronger and more focused it became." © Evgenia Arbugaeva

Canon Ambassador Evgenia Arbugaeva has had great success with still images. Her documentary work, which often focuses on isolated individuals in remote locations, has earned her accolades including a National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship and an Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography in New York.

However, for one particular project Evgenia decided photographs weren't enough to tell the full story. Instead, in collaboration with her brother, cinematographer Maxim Arbugaev, she made her first-ever film: a 25-minute documentary titled Haulout. Naturalistic and meditative, it focuses on the growing impact of climate change on the Arctic Ocean's walrus population.

Haulout was nominated for an Academy Award in the 2023 Best Documentary Short Film category and won accolades from both the American Film Institute and the International Documentary Association (IDA) – an extraordinary start to Evgenia's filmmaking career.

A still from Evgenia Arbugaeva's documentary Haulout, filmed on a Canon EOS R5, showing a man sitting on a bench outside his hut as smoke billows from the hut's chimney.

Evgenia's first documentary film focuses on the impact of global warming on the Arctic's walrus population. "I just felt we wanted to take the viewer with us to the hut we filmed at and kind of drop them there, so they can see it for themselves without putting messages in their heads," she says. © Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev

Developing the idea

The initial idea for the film came while Evgenia was working on another project, documenting the indigenous Chukchi community on the shores of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Circle. While travelling with them on a hunting trip, she landed on a desolate beach where a small wooden hut stood.

"The sand was dark, almost like it had been burned, and there were lots of bones around," she explains. "The hunters said that every year, thousands of walruses haul out onto this beach and a scientist comes to study them. It sounded really interesting."

The next year, in 2019, she returned with her brother, met marine biologist Maxim Chakilev, and photographed the walruses.

Evgenia is fascinated by individuals who work in solitary environments, such as lighthouse keepers and meteorologists, but in this case, there was also a bigger story to tell. The walruses travel to that area as part of their annual migration cycle and in the past have rested on the sea ice. Now, due to global warming, there is no longer sea ice at this time of year and they are forced onto the beach.

As a result, the number of walruses on land has dramatically increased and up to 100,000 animals are estimated to come ashore in the area, filling all available space. They are easily alarmed, which leads to stampedes, resulting in many walruses being trampled and killed.

"The story was so compelling but so scary at the same time," says Evgenia. "Here, in this particular spot, you can immediately see the effect of global warming on this population."

In 2020, Evgenia and Maxim decided to make a film and contacted Maxim Chakilev, who was keen for them to join him. He started his fieldwork in August, and the trio lived in the hut for three months.

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A still from Evgenia Arbugaeva's documentary Haulout, filmed on a Canon EOS R5, showing a man hiking above a crevasse with the aid of a walking stick.

All my footage has a very still feel, whereas my brother's footage is more dynamic as he's a filmmaker," says Evgenia. "But I think that combination worked really well and the stillness of my footage added to the film's aesthetic and its meditative pace." © Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev

A still from Evgenia Arbugaeva's documentary Haulout, filmed on a Canon EOS R5, showing a man standing in the doorway of a hut surrounded by walruses.

While filming Haulout, Evgenia balanced aesthetic considerations with the practicalities of filming the walruses. "I thought a lot about capturing the atmosphere of the place, but also about our presence there, and how to limit it, to give more space to our protagonist and the animals," she says. © Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev

Filming on location with the EOS R5

Evgenia chose to make the film with her Canon EOS R5. "As I was completely new to the filmmaking process, I didn't want to have to familiarise myself with a different camera," she says. "I really appreciated the EOS R5's lightness and compact body, which allowed me to be more confident with my movements.

"I usually use autofocus when shooting still images, so working with the focusing ring as I shot was new to me. I found the camera's focus peaking feature [which outlines the in-focus parts of the scene in a colour of your choice] was a great tool."

Haulout includes a wide range of shots and to cover them all, Evgenia and her brother Maxim used several Canon lenses including the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM and the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM. However, for Evgenia, her usual go-to lens for photography is the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens and it was the same with video.

"In a small, confined place like the hut, I needed a wide-angle lens and 24mm is as wide as I go," she says. "The 70mm end of the lens is great for portraits and for filming the walruses, because we were so close to them – we just opened the door and there they were."

A still from Evgenia Arbugaeva's documentary Haulout, filmed on a Canon EOS R5, showing a man looking out of a hut window at a large number of walruses on a beach.

Filming sometimes took place in low light. "Often, I had to handhold the camera for a long time and the optical image stabilisation of Canon's RF lenses worked really well," says Evgenia. © Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev

A still from Evgenia Arbugaeva's documentary Haulout, filmed on a Canon EOS R5, showing a man walking away from the bodies of multiple walruses on a beach, with the sea visible in the distance.

"One of the interesting things about filmmaking is that sound can play such a big part," says Evgenia. "I feel I've sometimes missed that in photography. For example, wind is a character of its own in the Arctic and here, the wind and the sound of the sea can have a place in the story." © Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev

Challenges on the shoot

Apart from the obvious challenges of living in a small, remote hut for three months, one practical difficulty was keeping their respective batteries charged. "We had to use a generator which produced quite a bit of noise and smell, so we were limited in terms of powering up our batteries," says Evgenia. "We had to be really careful in selecting what to shoot, when we rolled and when we stopped."

The walruses themselves – which can grow up to 3.6 metres long and weigh up to 1,700kg – also presented challenges during filming. "Even though they can look aggressive, they're very vulnerable because they're not in their natural environment," she explains. "They're very alert and get scared by unusual smells or sounds, such as the noise from the generator. Once they're scared, they start to panic, which can cause a massive stampede. So we had to be careful not to worry them."

This meant it was impossible for Evgenia and Max to stand at full length at times, as walruses get scared of unknown upright objects due to their poor vision. "We had to be very careful filming from the roof, and get to the filming position by crawling very slowly and not standing up," she continues. "On the beach, when in close proximity to walruses, we had to stay very low."

Editing the footage

After the shoot was completed, Evgenia and Maxim returned home with around 60 hours of footage, most of which was shot as 4K DCI RAW video files and in Canon Log. They chose to shoot in 4K and not a higher resolution partly to reduce the amount of storage space needed but also to avoid using the generator too often to power the equipment when uploading the files.

Another challenge arose when they had to edit the footage down to the final 25-minute film. Evgenia did this in collaboration with film editor Joshua Chadwick. "We decided on a simple structure of linear storytelling and a tight story from beginning to end," says Evgenia. "Doing that felt natural and uncomplicated and I felt the contrast – a simple structure but a complex and very sad subject – was a good way of telling the story."

Sound was another important element in the film. There's no music, and dialogue is restricted to Maxim Chakilev's recorded observations. Instead, we hear the roar of the waves and the wind, and the calls of the walruses and seabirds. The sound heard in the final film was mainly recorded on separate audio recorders.

"We knew sound was going to be really important and we worked quite a bit on it in post-production with our sound designer Anastasia Dushina," Evgenia reveals. "It was fascinating to see how much the visuals worked differently once they were outlined by the sound."

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Transitioning from stills to video

Although working with video was challenging, Evgenia enjoyed the learning process. "It was exciting for me to explore a different language for storytelling," she says. "I noticed that my mind was working completely differently when directing and using movement and sound. I was thinking more about the structure of the story and what we needed to film."

But what did Evgenia miss about shooting photography? "I missed the fragmented nature of photography; for a film, you need to capture an audience's attention for the full length and work carefully with the time the viewers give you," she says. "The biggest difference is that filmmaking gives you more layers in storytelling, like adding sound. But having said that, this experience made me appreciate photography even more.

"Now that I've made this film, it doesn't mean I'm going to be a filmmaker. Both mediums are just so beautiful and special on their own that I think I'll keep switching between the two."

Watch Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev's Academy Award-nominated Haulout.

David Clark

Evgenia Arbugaeva's kitbag

The key kit pros use for filmmaking

A top-down shot of Evgenia Arbugaeva's kitbag consisting of a Canon EOS R5 and an array of Canon lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS R5

The ultimate hybrid camera with formidable filmmaking capabilities. When hand-holding the EOS R5 in low light, Evgenia made full use of its 5-axis in-body IS, which delivers up to 8-stops of stabilisation when used with certain lenses.


Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM

The RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM boasts a fast aperture and image stabilisation, plus a Nano USM motor for silent focusing. Its focal length range, from wide-angle to short telephoto, makes it Evgenia's favourite lens for both stills and video.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM

Capture the world with outstanding flexibility and quality with this compact f/2.8 telephoto zoom that incorporates a 5-stop Image Stabilizer to ensure great handheld results, closer focusing down to 0.7m and fastest-ever AF. "This lens has incredible stabilisation," says Evgenia.

Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM

This lens delivers a new kind of optical performance in full-frame photography. Outstanding clarity and sharpness mean you'll notice more detail, even right at the edges of the frame. "Maxim liked shooting with the RF 50mm F1.2L lens especially as its wider aperture allowed him to work in lower light," says Evgenia.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

A compact, high-performance 100-400mm zoom lens with a 4-stop Image Stabilizer and high-quality optics that deliver superb sharpness. "We needed this lens for filming walruses that were far away, and to give a sense of the mass and scale of the scene," says Evgenia.


Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R

Designed for use with the Canon EOS R system, this adapter allows EF and EF-S lenses to be used with the EOS R camera. Evgenia used it to attach the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM to the EOS R5.

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