"Our goal with filming now is to have a conservation mission behind it. We want our work to inspire change and impact people's lives." -Brian Moghari
Brian Moghari is a gifted wildlife photographer and filmmaker with a deep passion for marine ecosystems. Through his work, Brian's goal is to educate others on the importance of protecting our planet's natural environments and the wildlife we share them with. Since earning a degree in Film Production and TV from the University of Florida, his works have been featured on Netflix, National Geographic, HBO, AMC, Disney+, and the History Channel among many other popular platforms.
Raised by the ocean and wandering the woods of Florida, Brian grew up immersed in nature, which ultimately inspired his love of the natural world. Developing a passion for skating as a teen motivated his entrance into the film world, where he would go on to become one of the most zealous conservationists in the natural cinematography space. Through his continued involvement with NGOs, his vision and inspiration to others in nature photography, conservation, and education is undeniable.
Brian and his best friend, Filipe DeAndrade, created Comfort Theory, a production company which focuses on telling wildlife and conservation stories. We had the opportunity to speak with Brian, the man who feels it his responsibility to accurately illustrate wild animals and the ecological issues they face in this #BeyondTheLens interview. In partnership with Untamed Photographer: Brian Moghari, everybody.
On His Background and Discovering His Passion for Cinematography:
I grew up in Florida, very close to a river and natural springs. I'd always go out and see manatees, or just get lost in the Florida woods. That was my upbringing. We were raised on these dirt roads very far removed from populous cities or towns, so that was my environment.
When I was about 13 years old or so, we moved from there to a more developed area. There, everything was concrete. That's when I picked up skateboarding, and that's pretty much where all my friends came from — the skateboarding community. All we did was skate.
I happened to have a camera, so all of my friends and I wanted to start filming. I'd bring my camera to film everyone, and they filmed me, too — we ended up shooting skate videos. That was my entrance into the film world, just figuring it out when we were younger, as most people do.
From there, filming the skate community slowly transitioned into going to school to study film. Actually, that's where I met my best friend and fellow Untamed Photographer, Filipe DeAndrade. All of our projects were involving wildlife and natural history, based in natural landscape. I gradually transitioned the film background that I developed when I was younger and reset my focus on wildlife photography and cinematography, embracing this thing I loved experiencing in my earlier years.
Tangentially, the other day I sent my friend's mom (whose son I used to skate with) a demo reel of this new Phantom camera we have. It shoots 1,000 frames per second, turning one second of real time into like 42 seconds. We made a reel for that and posted it online. She said, "So proud of you, honey." In that moment I thought to myself how crazy it is that skateboarding evolved into this. Like, how did that happen?
On His Affiliation with Untamed Photographer:
I met Mark Wilkins, the founder of Untamed, through a friend from Florida. He wanted to do a feature on some of the groups he was supporting by highlighting their shark research. Filipe and I were introduced to him through another friend and ended up going out to the shoot with them. We created a really nice piece supporting what these girls in Miami were doing with their research around great hammerheads. That's right around the time COVID happened.
We were working on the edit while still speaking frequently and maintaining that relationship. That's when Untamed Photographer started and Mark asked us if we wanted to be a part of it. Getting into the stills — or the print world, is something I'd always wanted to do but I guess I just wasn't quite sure how to go about it. With Untamed Photographer, knowing their mission is to give back and support conservation efforts is just super. It was a no-brainer. To Mark's invitation I thought, "Yes, let's go with that. Let's do that."
On His Experience Throughout COVID as a Filmmaker and Photographer:
COVID is/was definitely a weird experience for me. When it first happened, I was working on a project and we had just gotten into the editing phase. Actually, one of the projects was for Mark and Untamed Photographer. Again, we had just gotten into the editing part of the process, so I was really lucky when everything went down with COVID because I had computer work to keep me busy for the next three months.
At the time I felt like, "Oh, I was going to stare at my computer anyway, so might as well." Then when that ended, I just started to harness a new skillset within film: time lapsing, flowers blooming, etc., which involved merely growing little plants and taking a picture every 10 minutes for three days to see how it changed.
Being in the wildlife photography and film world when COVID came about was more of a simple transition for me than for most people because it didn't impact our field much. We already work in isolation a lot of time, or if we are working with other people, it's usually very small groups. I was really fortunate in that aspect.
On How Often He Shoots and The Processes Involved:
It feels as though I'm always shooting. Well, it's interesting because I would say about half the time I'm out filming somewhere. The other half of time is learning about an area, figuring out who to go with and talking to people. Figuring out logistics behind going to certain areas or doing certain projects. I think that a lot of times, people don't see that side of it. It's more like they just see, "Oh, you're with whales." Almost like you just take a flight, pop on a boat and you're there, done.
There's a lot more pre-production and things that go on, but I would say about half the time I'm out in the field. The other part of the process is just picking up new crafts, but also figuring out where to go next and how to get the most time out of the shoot with proper pre-production. It's not just reaching a destination, going underwater and pressing the record button. I would say that the filming part is probably the easiest part of the job.
On His Most Memorable Trip in Pursuit of Wildlife Photography:
My first shark diving trip was definitely one of my most memorable journeys in pursuit of wildlife photography. Before I go into that exactly, the beach that was closest to me growing up was New Smyrna Beach, Florida. New Smyrna is known as the shark bite capital of the world. There's a bunch of juvenile sharks that come out of this estuary and it's also a really good surf spot. It's fairly close to Orlando, so there's a lot of tourists that end up visiting. There's a lot of people and a lot of young sharks that are figuring out the world for the first time. It's a perfect combination for little nibbles to happen.
Growing up, I've known several different people from my school that got little bites from sharks, usually from just causes — they'd need some stitches, or they'd get a little chunk taken out of their leg or arm. It's never a great situation. It's not a deadly situation, but it's still a fearful one. That was my upbringing on sharks — knowing that they were right there, beneath the surface. I also liked to surf when I was younger, so there was always a little bit of a fear factor going on with sharks.
For some reason, once an opportunity came to film sharks and I had never done it before, I was like, "All right. Yes, let's do it!" I knew I needed to become more comfortable with them and overcome my childhood fear. I didn't know too much about them. I just knew there were people that were diving with them and they seemed to be fine. I was like, "All right, it's now or never. The opportunity is here. Let's just go."
It was in Fiji, in French Polynesia. When we got there, we had a certain amount of days to get specific shots of bull sharks. The first time was with bull sharks, which are notoriously some of the more "dangerous sharks." We arrived at the location and there was a cyclone.
For the first couple of days, we did absolutely nothing because the water was choppy, so no one was going out on dives. The client was wondering, "Hey, how's the shark stuff going?" — and we didn't have anything. The stress was high because the weather wasn't cooperating and no one was going out on dives. So I was just trying to figure out different ways to go about getting shots of bull sharks so we could deliver.
We had three days left to film, and still, we had nothing. We ended up finding some group all the way on other side of the island, which is a fairly large island. We ended up having to drive like six hours only to get on another little hopper boat, from there we went to these smaller islands and got dropped off there. Finally we made it to this place that was going out on dives. It was like the only place on the island that was going out on shark dives.
At last, we had two days left out of almost a week and a half — two weeks to get as many shots of bull sharks as we could. By the time we got there, I wasn't even thinking about the sharks. The fear factor was gone because we spent so much time on the logistic aspect to even make it possible. It just goes to show Mother Nature is in control. We are not in control. Anytime you go into a situation, all you can do is move around it and figure it out the best that you can in that time.
Finally getting down underwater was honestly one of the most peaceful experiences that I'd had because the previous week was so stressful in trying to figure out how to deliver something that was impossible with what we were given. By the time we got into the water, it was this very calming experience to be in, meanwhile surrounded by 12-foot bull sharks swimming in every which direction.
This moment was almost like a homecoming for me, it set this foundation for filming sharks and it gave me a completely different perspective. Especially from what you would think if you were with bull sharks, it would just be this fearful encounter. Yet, it was really very calming. Underwater you have to constantly look around and pay attention to what's going on in your surroundings — if there's one coming from behind you, etc. I gained a new perspective on sharks, especially from what I'd grown up seeing, and transitioned a lot of my work into the underwater world.
I've been fortunate, knock on wood— that although there's been some close calls with animals and the world just not cooperating, so far, it's always come around. Somehow we've always had the luck we needed on our side, along with preparation. As of now, we haven't been completely skunked.
On His Most Negative Experiences While Shooting:
To be honest, I haven't had a bad situation at all with animals. Usually, it's a people thing. Like getting robbed or something along those lines. I've never had a bad experience while filming an animal. Generally, the people that you're working with, whenever you're filming. Before I fully went into the wildlife conservation world full time, I spent about six years or so working in Los Angeles in film. I always talk about this with my friend, Filipe. In that time, working in I guess the "real film world" you meet a lot of great people, but you also meet a lot of sketchy people.
In the wildlife world, whenever we're on a shoot or working with biologists, you never meet a mean or bad person, really. Everyone's in it for the right reasons and it's usually a great collaborative, productive experience when you're working with wildlife and conservationists. Again, the only bad experiences I've had were if we happened to be, in a city center, traveling from one location to another. For instance, when we'd have to go into a larger metropolitan area is the only time that I've had negative experiences on shoots. That is having someone try to rob you, or in some fashion, because you have camera gear on you — yet I have never had a negative experience on a shoot while filming.
On His Most Positive Run-In with a Subject:
I would say that's when I was photographing and filming humpback whales. Specifically, humpback whales and their calves. I'd filmed it a number of times, from the surface, from a drone — but a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to go to French Polynesia to film and photograph them. The water visibility there was just incredible. For instance, you get in the water and it's easily 100 meters that you can see. It seemed like endless distance. We were specifically looking for humpback mothers and their calves.
On day one we didn't have any encounters. I guess morales weren't too high and we were bummed about not being able to see them. We had just flown across the world and we didn't have any luck on the first day. The boat captain said at the very end of the day, "We're either going to go back to the hotel, or if we see something on the way back, we're going to see it." I didn't have too many high hopes, but he saw a spout in the distance, so we went over. Then we just got in the water, waited, and hoped that we were in the right spot.
This mother and calf very slowly came right past us. At the time, it probably seemed like it was less than three meters away or so. They were right up to us to the point where I could see the mom's and baby's eyeballs. Just looking over at me, moving up and down, looking all around my body. I literally saw an eyeball on this 30 or 40-plus ton animal, just scanning my body, looking to see what I was.
The baby was maybe four weeks old and this mom had just traveled, I want to say almost 7,000 something kilometers — some crazy journey from Antarctica to migrate this calf into an area where there's food. She's there for several months at a time. Once you know all of that about their natural history coming up to this area and you're finally face-to-face with such a gigantic animal that's now not just aimlessly swimming past you, but is coming to you, scanning you up and down, looking at your entire body or camera and trying to figure out what you are, it's just amazing. The mother and her young were so observant — a mammal with her child that's like three weeks old!
In a way it was really eye opening to understand everything that these species goes through. Really, it helped to understand everything that many animals go through to have their young, in the pursuit to live. I know you're not supposed to anthropomorphize animals, but man, how can you not? Especially in mammals, you see a lot of similarities that mothers go through and just witness a certain level of consciousness that we experience. I think also, recognizing it as a shared experience is moving in and of itself.
This experience presented a whole new perspective on a connection with animals. We're not the only conscious beings on this planet. We share it with many others.
On His Work With National Geographic's Earth Moods on Disney+:
Earth Moods is a project Nat Geo created that features the most beautiful parts of the world. It showcases long takes that you can absorb and look around the frame to see little things that you wouldn't normally see if you're watching a normal, full-speed edit. The work lets things breathe, and presents a landscape for what it is, allowing viewers to really soak it all in. This was a really cool project to work on. My role in it was all of the drone filming throughout Costa Rica.
Earth Moods was another one where it was a lot of pre-production on the front end before we were going out and filming. We had been talking with the producers for a couple months, since the New Year of 2020. Then up until March, we were getting ready to go. At that time COVID shut everything down, so everything was on standby.
Finally, things started churning again and I was in Costa Rica, locked there (if I'm being honest). However, while I was there I was able to explore all these different locations — knowing in my head that, "Okay, we're still going to do this project. Let me at least try to take advantage of this time." I scouted as many new locations as I could and tried to find the prettiest vistas and landscapes so that whenever the time for the job came, we would have all these locations and we could just hit as many of them up as we could in this short span of time, in order to get the most shots possible.
It was really a very pleasant shoot to be a part of because I was able to focus on getting the best shot I could possibly get and just run it back and forth a couple of times to make sure everything was perfect. I could truly pick a landscape, think of the best way to film it and then go for that shot several times until I perfected it. It was such a great project to be a part of.
On His Biggest Goal as The Director and Co-founder of Comfort Theory:
Comfort Theory has evolved from what we first wanted to get out of it. I think in the beginning it was... I don't want to say selfish, but it was more so like, "We just want to be in front of animals and film wildlife, showcase the natural world." Simply wanting to do that. In a sense, it was a selfish want.
After meeting different biologists over the years, speaking with so many different people and then the conservation world the goal and the direction have completely shifted from just wanting to be in front of animals to now, how can we protect them. Furthermore, how can we also inspire the next generation of people to want to care about them, protect their homes, and protect their ecosystems? That's what we've been focusing on a lot presently, which was a big reason we ended up moving to Costa Rica.
We had done a couple projects where we spent so much time on them that we both lost our girlfriends. We put our blood, sweat, and tears into it. Once it was complete and came out, we were excited, but there was also this feeling of like, "Okay, now what? What did that do?" There's nothing tangible that we could access and say, "Oh, this work led to this positive change for these species." There's nothing we could measure, and that rocked the boat and left us unsatisfied.
We wanted to figure out a way to repurpose our work and make even more of a positive impact to influence change — not only in local communities that live around where these species are, but also for the species themselves. A major reason we moved to Costa Rica was because we had already filmed so much there and we wanted to figure out a way to give back. We're in the process now of figuring out how to have an environmental education curriculum, with all of the content directly from what we've been filming over the years throughout Costa Rica.
Our goal with filming now is to have a conservation mission behind it. We want our work to inspire change and impact people's lives. If we're not impacting the lives of people and animals, then the reasons we're out there are solely selfish. I guess this is not what we want out of life in general.
On “Wildlife Killing Contests”:
This same thought process and passion for conservation was also related to how we got into a recent project around predator killing contests. The goal was to make them illegal. Predator killing contests are unmanaged contests where you can essentially kill as many predators as you see fit without having any repercussions. It's just kind of spray and pray, if you will. Shoot as many as you can. Whoever kills the most wins is the overall gist. The project we had done around it was more like an exposé piece.
I first heard about these vicious contests from Filipe, and he had heard about it just a few months prior. It was surreal to think how few people knew about this activity, or whatever you want to call it. It's happening throughout the United States, essentially right in our backyards. How has no one heard about this? It was really an exposing piece to try and show what was happening to as many people as we could in the hopes that there will be changes implemented on a state-by-state and national level with these contests.
Sure enough, since this project started, three new states have made it illegal, largely in thanks to the work of Project Coyote and the film to really bring this issue into the open so they can better understand it. I guess that goes back to Comfort Theory's mission, to actually have some type of measurable change through our work. Not just going out and filming it, like, "Oh, these things exist. Moving on."
Recognizing that, "Hey, these things exist and are happening to animals. How can that not happen? How can we make a positive impact for wildlife and ultimately create a healthier world for you and me?"
On His Current Projects and Long-term Goals:
There's a lot I'm working on right now. Comfort Theory is in the process of starting our own nonprofit so that we can continue covering the stories that we feel extremely passionate about. Sometimes in this industry it's difficult to get the green light for more risky ideas, so we really want to take matters into our own hands and be able to fundraise for projects that we think are extremely important.
The name of that NGO is “Worth More Alive,” which I'm starting with my good friend and business partner, Filipe DeAndrade. A consistent theme with lot of the projects that we're doing is exposing the issues of the world that we live in. If there's not a monetary value on keeping an ecosystem, or an animal, or something of that sort alive — people do not value it.
I think starting a nonprofit and being able to do that is step one for us to get us where we want to be in the long term. Aside from that, we've just been going on a bunch of smaller shoots throughout Costa Rica.
It's unfortunate. I wish we didn't live in a world like that, but that's just the truth. Within the past decade or two ecotourism has been booming, booming, booming. With a lot of our projects moving forward, we want to shed light on those people and places that are figuring out solutions in the 21st century—solutions that protect large areas and build a sustainable economy around it so that it works for both people and animals.
We can build a stronger, healthier future for everyone and everything. That's something that we want to start featuring more. It's definitely something that we want to continue to explore.
On Which Untamed Photo He's Most Proud Of:
The mama and calf.
What's one thing you couldn't live without?
One adjective to describe your work?
Favorite animal to photograph?
Dolphins. Definitely dolphins.
Favorite location to shoot?
So far, Bora Bora in French Polynesia.
What would you do if you weren't a photographer?
I have no idea. I've thought about it before, I don't have an answer for it. This is the only option.
Favorite snack while shooting?
Chikys. Chickys are these little chocolaty goodness treats in Costa Rica.
Go-to cafe order?
Cafe negro. It's black coffee, no sugar, no cream. Making it work.
Summer, in Costa Rica.
If you could speak with one type of animal, which animal would it be?
Favorite piece by another wildlife photographer?
Pretty much anything from Jamie McPherson.
Favorite piece by another Untamed Photographer?
"Chiquibul Macaws at Dawn" by Tony Rath. The light's super nice on it and very mellow. Really subtle and clean.
Brian, from your early beginnings of filming the Floridian skate community to your inspiring environmental education and conservation efforts, you're an extraordinary advocate for wildlife. Your work sparks an emotional connection and inspires others to help protect the Earth like it needs to be protected. You challenge all of us to make a positive impact for wildlife and ultimately, create a healthier world for everyone.
Your dedication to wildlife photography and cinematography inspires all who view your work. Thank you for showing the world how we can inspire the next generation of people to care about wildlife and protect their/our natural environments. It's been a great pleasure.
Make a positive environmental change by supporting the work of Untamed Photographers, like Brian.
To make a difference, act fast and shop Brian Moghari's limited-edition prints today on the Untamed Photographer website.
Untamed Photographer is an online art gallery that brings together wildlife photography and stories from a range of international environmental artists, both emerging and established.
Supporting Untamed Photographer means supporting projects like Nature Trust of The Americas, Nakawe Project, Project Coyote, and countless other NGOs who are inspiring real change in nature, conservation, and the greater protection of living things.
Also, be sure to check out our Beyond The Lens interviews with some of the other Untamed Photographers!
Filipe DeAndrade is a thrill-seeking, deep-diving, and Emmy-winning wildlife photographer and filmmaker. Born in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, an impoverished yet culturally-rich community located at the city's edge, the outspoken conservationist has maintained an intimate relationship with nature throughout every year of his young life.
Tony Rath is a distinguished photojournalist and wildlife photographer who has spent the last 30+ years exploring and documenting the peaks and depths of Belize, a Caribbean country in Central America. Through his skills as a photographer and writer, Tony contributes to the efforts of many Belizean Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in pursuit of charity, wildlife conservation, and environmental protection.
Chris Fallows is a strikingly passionate and accomplished wildlife photographer and naturalist. Best known for his discovery and ensuing depiction of breaching great white sharks in Seal Island, South Africa, the world-renowned photographer has seen his life's work featured on some of the biggest stages the industry has to offer.
Melissa Groo is a wildlife photographer, writer, and conservationist with a passion for educating people about the marvels of the natural world. She believes that photography can be both fine art and a powerful vehicle for storytelling, and considers herself a “wildlife biographer” as much as a wildlife photographer.