Anticipate the Unexpected

I’ve been a lazy filmmaker this past year.
I haven’t gone out to film as much as I planned, I haven’t travelled to new places looking for new subjects to film. When I do go out, I bring only the gear I think I’ll need to be able to film what I’m anticipating on finding in my old stomping grounds. Boy, did that ever bite me in the ass!

Last year I was hired by an Illinois production company, Fourth Wall Films to film the nature portion for a project they were working on for a new visitor center being built at Good Earth at Blood Run State park near Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The only thing was that it had to be all shot in 4k video. That meant, I updated all my film gear so that I could shoot 4k One of the new pieces of gear was a Nikon 200-500mm f5,6 lens. Super lens! I even use it for some close-up stuff. Problem is, it’s heavy. So often times when I think I’m going to just shoot some wide-angle stuff at sunset, I’ll leave the big lens at home to save weight and make it easier to hike around Indian Creek Nature Center. Big Mistake!

It never fails, when I leave the big lens at home, I see so many shots that would be amazing to get if only I had the lens. Whitetail deer, moonrise over the river, cool insects that I could have filmed very close-up with the big Nikon.

But nope, I was a lazy filmmaker and talked myself out of it. I think pretty much every time I left it at home, I saw a shot where I could have used it.

So my first point in anticipating the unexpected is to bring as much gear as possible to cover all your bases. You never know when you will have an amazing shot unfold in front of you and if you don’t have the gear to capture it, you will regret it.

If Shooting Wide, Go Long In-between

I’ve been doing a lot more wide-angle work since I upgraded my gear. A lot of times I’ll head out with the 14-24mm f2.8 attached to my camera anticipating getting some wide-angle shots. Usually that’s when a bluebird will land close by or I’ll see a cool pattern in some tree bark. It never fails, I’ll usually see something that I wish I had the big lens on.

While it may seem like it’s a hassle, I often try to switch out the wide-angle when I’m done with a shot and put on the telephoto lens. It makes it easier to carry the whole lot on my tripod slung over my shoulder and if a badger pokes its head out of a burrow, I’m ready to film it instead of fumbling around trying to switch lenses after the fact.

It never fails that I usually end up dropping a lens cap and making a mess out of the whole thing. So much easier to switch lenses when nothing is happening and be prepared than to wait until it’s too late.

Be More Aware of Your Surroundings

I visit the Indian Creek Nature Center so many times, I have a pretty good idea about what I will find and where. Still, there are times when something unexpected happens and I miss a shot because I wasn’t expecting it.
When you visit a place it’s a good idea to try to do some research before hand. What kind of animals and plants might be found there.

I visited a place called Otter Creek Marsh last year to film the night sky. My main goal was to film the sky so again, I left the big telephoto Nikon lens at home.

I wanted to arrive in enough time to be able to look over the landscape for power lines etc so I arrived just as the sun was going down.

As I broke out my gear to get set up for the night film session, I heard a splash in the water. Looking towards the sound of the splash I saw a muskrat swimming through the water headed for a tiny mound that was sticking up above the water. Didn’t have my big lens with me so all I could do was sit there and watch as the muskrat would swim out to gather some twigs then swim back to its little mound. I got some great clips of the night sky, but it would have been nice to have been able to add some muskrat footage to my library!

This post deals mainly with being prepared to film anything. You could go on and on with things to do anytime you go out on a filming trip. Blue skies but still pack a rain poncho in your bag. Short trip but still pack some power bars in your bag. The point is, you may not expect it to rain or you may not expect to get lost but if you plan for the unexpected, you’ll never be surprised out in the field except by the subjects you encounter.

And as always, shoot the ordinary and make it extraordinary!

Kevin J Railsback is a wildlife and nature filmmaker

By | 2017-03-31T21:39:43+00:00 April 1st, 2017|Categories: A to Z Challenge 2017|2 Comments

About the Author:

Award-winning filmmaker Kevin J Railsback has traveled as far as Africa to test HD cameras for Panasonic. His stunning nature and wildlife footage has appeared in productions on National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel as well as in commercials for such corporate giants as AT&T.


  1. Shari Elder April 2, 2017 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    Hey. I’m a writer doing the A to Z Challenge. My teen-ager is a budding film-maker. I’m glad I found this blog. Its gorgeous to look at and I’m hoping to pick up a few tips as my kid’s interest evolve.s

    • Kevin J Railsback April 4, 2017 at 6:56 pm - Reply

      Thanks Shari! Glad you found my blog!
      Let me know if theres something your teenager would like me to cover. I’d be happy to address it if I can

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