Creator Chronicles: Commercial Cinematographer Toby Heslop

Creator Chronicles: Commercial Cinematographer Toby Heslop

Toby Heslop, an extreme sports athlete turned commercial cinematographer, has carved an extraordinary niche for himself through his fearless creativity, adept problem-solving skills, and the ability to weave emotive visual narratives. His journey from making promotional videos as a professional inline skater to framing captivating shots for commercial endeavors is a testament to his versatile talent and visionary approach.

Toby’s expertise spans drone cinematography, underwater shooting, and capturing action sequences. While Toby often operates as a one-man crew, he readily seizes opportunities to collaborate on larger projects, seamlessly navigating multiple departments. His portfolio boasts an impressive list of clients, including global giants such as Air Canada, Vodafone, Redbull, Monster Energy, and Tourism Australia. 

Transitioning from the forefront of the action to behind the camera in the early 2000s, Toby found himself working as an editor and cameraman for Fox Sports, covering a diverse range of sports such as surfing, skating, and Formula 1 racing. This stint in editing provided him with a comprehensive understanding of the shots needed to tell a compelling story, weaving in post-production elements and graphic design. His journey took a new turn when he observed motion graphics professionals creating dynamic opening intros for major events. Determined to learn these skills, he delved into Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, sound design, 3D, visual effects, and compositing.

Consistently offering a unique perspective to advertising projects, Toby elevates straightforward works to new heights of distinction. In a labor recruitment project called Transgrid, Toby embarked on a 10-day odyssey across the country to craft a stunning montage piece illustrating the diverse ways in which power impacts people’s lives. Keeping the crew small, they remained agile, focused on crafting an emotionally impactful narrative. The opening shot features a lighthouse situated at the edge of the land; though it is so far from the plant, it still utilizes its power to send out a signal even further beyond. The cinematic choice set the tone for the rest of the work, engaging the audience with striking aesthetics and a deeper emotional narrative, “The visuals in it themselves tell an amazing story of power use and consumption in our daily lives.”


Toby underscores the significance of pre-planning and a clear understanding of the craft in order to capture imaginative shots. He aligns the scope of the job with the client's vision, always keeping in mind feasibility and costs within the project's context. Harnessing a distinct ability to think creatively, Toby excels in constructing expansive narratives even when working within the constraints of tight budgets. 

In a tourism project for New Caledonia’s Travel and Tourism, Toby and his team envisioned a unique concept set within a studio, inviting viewers to embark on a journey of discovery as they explored the contents of a suitcase. At the core of this project was a desire to unearth something unique, a distinctiveness that would set their story apart, “I try to find something different in every job that I do to make it stand out–putting a creative touch on it.” Harnessing his prowess with 3D software, Toby pre-visualized the studio setup, and what his team was able to capture the day of the shoot mirrored the exact preview conceived in the digital realm. With meticulous attention to detail, Toby gelled fluorescent lights to cast an overhead glow of green and blue hues, infusing the studio with a warm ambiance. 

The magic, however, extended beyond the technical aspects. The creative vision embraced spontaneity, as the project unfolded organically with an unscripted narrative. It adopted a fly-on-the-wall approach, allowing the genuine reactions of people discovering the suitcase's contents to shape the story. The result was a seamless flow that resonated with authenticity and garnered critical acclaim, winning Best Tourism Video at Cannes. This success underscored a poignant message – that even a project with a modest budget could transform into a compelling narrative, leaving an indelible mark in the visual storytelling landscape.

Toby’s wealth of experience proves invaluable in high-pressure scenarios, where he excels at adapting to unforeseen challenges. A testament to his proficiency unfolded during a shoot for a TV series that was disrupted by inclement weather. With only a 30-minute of clear skies remaining, Toby and his team, drawing on years of troubleshooting experience, efficiently captured the required shots ensuring timely completion without a hitch. In another instance, Toby’s meticulous preparation and ingenuity came into play when he was tasked with mounting a cinema camera onto a helicopter for a shot of George Clooney that they had one opportunity to capture, as adjustments once airborne were impossible. Having dedicated the preceding day to rigorous equipment testing, Toby utilized a virtual link on the shoot day, facilitating real-time communication with the director to guarantee precision. In these high-stakes moments, Toby’s artistry lies in leveraging available resources to overcome obstacles and transform adversity into a cohesive narrative – a skill honed through years of navigating the unpredictable currents of filmmaking. 

With an eye for the original, Toby doesn't shy away from experimenting with vintage lenses and unconventional techniques, adding an extra layer of artistic flair to his work. Toby’s favorite piece of equipment is his Helios Lens, a Russian lens hailing from the 1960s. Despite being considered a modest and affordable lens, its enchanting qualities manifest in a dreamy, almost fairy-like rendering that artfully blurs the periphery. Ideal for capturing B-roll shots, it adds an ethereal quality to the visual narrative.

On every project, Toby strives to inject a touch of uniqueness, offering creative suggestions to make each endeavor stand out. In interview scenarios, he eschews conventional setups, opting for unconventional locations and minimalistic lighting to let the narrative unfold organically. Whether it's capturing dynamic B-roll with a voiceover or exploring unorthodox visual dimensions, Toby's approach is always to infuse creativity and innovation. Toby’s commitment to creating extraordinary work, coupled with a diverse skill set honed over the years, defines his approach to storytelling and filmmaking, creating visually stunning and unforgettable narratives.