Avoiding Nature and Wildlife Filmmaking Regrets

Most of the time when I pick up my video camera and head out into the field, I never really have a set plan for what I want to film. I guess I tend to be an opportunist and film whatever nature and wildlife catches my eye.

I’ve worked in the past with award winning filmmaker, Sophie Vartan from South Africa on planning shots for a film before I even pick up a camera, but I still tend to just go out and film whatever catches my eye and figure out how it all goes together later.

But let me shift gears for a moment and you’ll have a better understanding why I’m writing this post.

This past weekend I had to put my ten year old miniature schnauzer Sadie to sleep. She was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and it had finally progressed to the point where she would be suffering if we hadn’t made the heartbreaking decision to let her go.

Sadie and her sister Sasha

Sadie and her sister Sasha

My ex-wife and I had spent over $13,000 to slow the spread of her cancer and buy her more time. We actually had an incredible month where she was happy and felt great. We spent the days running, playing and giving her as much love as we could. I told my friends she’s collecting sunshine and love for her long journey after she leaves us.

I was lucky knowing that my time with Sadie was limited and I shot a lot of video and photographs to give me something to look back on long after she had gone.

It’s funny when you know you’re going to lose something forever how you wish you had spent more time documenting the time you had. I was so happy that I had captured the
little things like the way she crossed her front paws in order to rest her head or the way her entire body wiggled when she was excited to see me.

Sadie always crossed her legs like a lady. :)

Sadie always crossed her legs like a lady. 🙂

Although she will always be with me in my heart, the footage I shot keeps the details from fading.

I realized while I was spending all my time with Sadie during her last days, I had done the same thing when it came to filming nature and wildlife. There was always next spring to film woodland wildflowers, always next month to film the full moon. The tallgrass prairie would be there next summer and the leaves of the sugar maples would turn again next fall like they do every fall.

But There Are Never Any Guarantees

Last year Iowa experienced a severe drought. It’s impact on nature and wildlife was immense. The butterflies and dragonflies I wanted to film were almost impossible to find. The tallgrass prairie flowers were not as prolific as they had been in the past. Even the tallgrass prairie grass failed to reach the top of my head when typically it towers over me. Fall color was pretty much non-existent.

Food for wildlife was scarce and I’m sure a that a lot of young animals didn’t survive.

An Iowa Sunset

An Iowa Sunset

It’s important that if you want to film something that you film it while you’re thinking about it. Even a day can make a difference.

I remember seeing some tallgrass prairie wildflowers I passed on my way to look for some dragonflies to film. By the time I passed by the wildflowers on my way back, I was tired and thought I would just, film them the next day when I was fresh and rested.

When I returned the next day to finally film the wildflowers, I found that insects had also discovered them as well and the pristine flowers I had seen the day before had been destroyed by their voracious appetites as they fed upon the wildflowers.

So I guess the moral of this story is, take nothing for granted. You never know when you’ll have another opportunity if ever to film something.

I am grateful that I had a month with Sadie to capture the things I should have been filming all along. She left a hole in my heart that will never heal, but I’m so happy that she gave me the gift of time to capture all the things I loved about her on film. I think she knew I would have regretted not filming her when I had the chance otherwise.

So when you have an opportunity to film something whether it be nature, wildlife or your dog or cat, take it. You never know when or if you’ll ever have the opportunity again. Follow this advice and you’ll never have regrets that you didn’t take the time to film it.

Here’s a little bit of footage I filmed of Sadie and her sister Sasha with my iPhone during the month that she was doing well. You’d never know she had terminal cancer. I’m so glad that I took the time to get footage and photos of her while she was feeling great!

And as always, keep shooting the ordinary but make it extraordinary!
Kevin J Railsback is a wildlife and nature filmmaker

By | 2016-11-06T09:39:02+00:00 May 29th, 2013|Categories: Filmmaking Naturally News|Tags: , |10 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. Adrienne May 31, 2013 at 4:45 pm - Reply

    I’m so very sorry for your loss Kevin. Another friend of mine had to put her dog down today as well. Old age will do that and we don’t want them to suffer.

    I know you’re so happy that you have plenty of film of Sadie. I have some of Kayla who is my current dog but Blake was my true love that I lost about 8 years ago and I only had photos of him. We were together for 19 years which is why he still tops my favorite but Kayla is gaining some really great ground. We’ve been together 5 years now and I do cherish every single moment.

    Thank you for sharing this with us and again, I’m so sorry for your loss.


    • Kevin J Railsback May 31, 2013 at 5:44 pm - Reply

      Hi Adrienne,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.
      It’s sad that dogs and cats only live such a short amount of time compared to our lifespan.

      Sadie was such a good girl that she often just staid in the background while her sister Sasha took center stage. So I’m glad she gave us this gift of a month to be able to spend all my free time with her as well as capture on video and photographs some of the things that made her so dear to me.

      They’ll never bring her back and they’re certainly no substitute but at least I can look back when I’m saying remember how Sadie would… and I’d have video to watch.

      Like I mentioned in the post, I’ve done the same thing with nature and wildlife subjects only to not be able to film them when I finally did want to capture them.
      Sadie has taught me that if I want to film it, I better do it now because I might not have the chance later.

      How great that you had Blake for 19 years!!! At ten, Sadie left much too soon!

      I know it’s going to take me quite some time to get over losing her but I think if there’s a doggy heaven, she’ll be watching over me and making sure I film some great stuff! 🙂

  2. Liz June 25, 2013 at 11:57 am - Reply

    Hi Kevin,

    I cried when I read your story. I know how hard it is to lose your dog. I’ve lost several and they all still bring a tear to my eye. I have a few pictures of them, but no film 🙁

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve regretted not filming things. I’m getting better though. It a wonderful gift that we have to be able to put our lives and loved ones on film and your post has truly inspired me 🙂

    Thanks and blessings,

    • Kevin J Railsback June 25, 2013 at 1:15 pm - Reply


      Thanks for the kind words and taking the time out of your day to leave a comment!

      You don’t know how fortunate I feel that Sadie had such a great month for me to do all the things I’d had wanted to do but always thought I had plenty of time to do.

      She was literally like a puppy again for that month. Playing, running, jumping, just totally loving life. It’s like she knew she had to get a lot of living accomplished is a short amount of time.

      I still tear up just thinking about her.

      Her ashes sit next to my desk in my office and it is certainly a little bit of a comfort knowing that some small part of her is still with me.

      When she died, my Creativty and desire to film left as well, so I’m just now trying to find my way back.
      I’ll have a coupes of posts that will kind of document my way back.
      So who knows if you are looking for ways to be a little more creative maybe I’ll stumble on something that may help.

      Just know Sadie would want me back out in nature filming and would be crushed if she knew I wasn’t filming because of her leaving.

      So stay tuned, I’m finding my way back and have a lot planned here in the near future!


  3. Susie Lampman August 30, 2013 at 11:57 am - Reply

    I’m sorry about Sadie. The stories of losing a dog always breaks my heart.

    • Kevin J Railsback August 30, 2013 at 12:29 pm - Reply

      Thanks Susie.
      Sadie was an exceptional dog. I miss her every day. Her ashes and paw print are in my office so she’s with me in spirit at least.

      I’m just glad I was able to have one amazing month with her where she was like a puppy again.
      That was her finally gift to me before she had to leave.

  4. Susan Neal November 21, 2013 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    Hi Kevin,

    Like Liz, your story of Sadie’s loss brought tears to my eyes. I’ve had to have three cats put to sleep but have never had to face that with my dogs yet and don’t know how I’ll cope – I’ve a labrador and a collie who are 8 and 10, so we’ve only got them for a few more years. As you say, it’s very cruel that dogs and cats don’t live as long as we do.

    I love the way you’ve used this story to remind us of the dangers of putting things off until tomorrow. I know I should take more pictures of our animals, but never seem to get round to it – but it applies to all sorts of other things too, doesn’t it? It’s so easy to think we’ve all the time in the world, but life’s so short. Gotta seize the day!

    Thanks for a very moving post, Kevin – loved the pictures and the video, too – I see what you mean about that wiggle 🙂
    Susan Neal invites you to read…How To Write Tutorial Blog Posts That Go ViralMy Profile

    • Kevin J Railsback November 21, 2013 at 9:35 pm - Reply

      Hi Sue,

      Thanks for stopping by!

      I think it gets harder and harder the older you get when you lose a pet. Each time I say never again but then the house feels so empty.
      Even when they’re not in the room with you, the house still feels like a home.

      Sadie gave me an incredible gift of one month where not only was she herself, but she was like a puppy again. She ran and chased her sister Sasha all over the house.
      It was bittersweet. There were tears of happiness seeing her enjoy her life to the fullest but also tears of sorry knowing that her cancer was terminal.

      Her ashes sit next to me in my office as well as one of the last photographs I took of her.

      She helped me realize that when I want to film something, I need to do it now and not wait.

      I miss her terribly but at least I have her wiggle butt captured to remind me what a sweet girl she was when missing her is a little too hard to take.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

      ~ Kevin

  5. Mary Stephenson November 21, 2013 at 9:06 pm - Reply

    Hi Kevin

    It is always sad to lose a pet. I have had cats since 1970 and of course lost many over the years. Some were harder to lose than others. The worst and still makes me tear up was Samantha. She was a lilac point Siamese we had got in 1986 and she lived until Dec. 3rd 1990. She died after surgery because her blood would not clot. I cried for days. She was super cat, she loved everybody including dogs and cats. We never owned a dog but the breeder had a dog. Sammy loved cat shows and loved to talk and carry on conversations. Siamese are known to be talkers but she was different. I took a lot of pictures of her and even painted some. It is funny how those little guys can tug at your heart. I suppose it is their unconditional love that they so freely give.

    Very touching story, thanks for sharing.


    • Kevin J Railsback November 21, 2013 at 9:48 pm - Reply

      Thanks for dropping in Mary. I truly appreciate it.

      I had a Siamese when I lived in Japan. They are great cats.

      So glad you were able to take a lot of photos of Sammy. Sasha, Sadie’s sister, was always the ham of the two so it was natural to film her all the time. Sadie would always hang back and let Sasha take the limelight. Oftentimes Sasha would get in trouble but Sadie would go into another room because she knew that they weren’t supposed to be doing whatever Sasha was doing.

      I’m so grateful that she gave me a month to capture what a sweet girl she was. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her.

      Sadie was due for her second round of chemo. She had a rough time with her first treatment so we changed to an oral chemo which was supposed to be less aggressive than the chemo she had in IV form.
      She crashed the day we were going to start. The vet felt she was bleeding into her liver and it was time to let her go.

      It was her last gift to me because if I had started the chemo and she crashed, I would have blamed myself that maybe it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t try to buy her some more time with the chemo.

      It happened to fast. I tooter her to her vet so that her vet could say goodbye. She was dancing around, eating treats and loving up the doctor. By the time she got into the lobby as we were getting ready to go I knew something was wrong. It’s like she held out just long enough to say goodbye to her doctor who had taken such good care of her.

      I got her to the emergency vet where they made her comfortable but the vet said they didn’t know how long they could keep her IV line in so if we wanted to let her go, now was the time because they didn’t know if they could get a vein once it collapsed. I held her in my arms and she was so relaxed that when the doctor gave her the injection, I didn’t even feel her body relax, she was already as relaxed as she could be laying in my arms.

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