Discovering Your Creativity for Nature and Wildlife Filmmaking

In my last post “It’s Important To Get Out In The Field Even If You Don’t Feel Like It“ I wrote about making the effort to get out into the field and film nature and wildlife even if you’re heart wasn’t in it. The reasoning was that if you didn’t use you camera and other filmmaking tools you would lose your proficiency and when your creativity did return instead of shooting great footage, you’d be breaking out the manual trying to remember how you change a setting on your camera that you should be able to do without even thinking about it.

Now that I feel my technical skill level has come back up its time to try to recapture my creativity. No easy task I’m sure.

Clear Your Mind of Distractions

Let’s face it, we have more going on in our lives than ever before. Visual and mental data bombard us from the moment our feet touch the ground I the morning to long after we should be in deep REM sleep. It’s nothing short of miraculous that we find the time to be creative even on our best days.

Prairie_lowers_350In my journey to rediscover my creativity I knew I had to clear my mind of all the distractions that had become part of my daily life. It’s certainly hard when you’re going through life changes as well as loss not to have doubts, fears, sadness and other distractions slowly creeping into your conscious mind until there’s little room for much else let alone creativity.

The first major step in regaining my creativity came from meditation. Yep, you heard right, meditation.

I picked up some apps for my iPhone, some of which were guided meditations and others that were simply soothing music and nature sounds. It was literally amazing the affect they had on me. The stress melted away, the grief, the pain it was all gone I as little as ten minutes.

The beauty of having meditation music or meditation apps on your phone is that you can utilize them anywhere. At work while taking a break I put in some ear buds and listen to a ten minute stress reduction guided meditation.

By meditating several times a day it was almost as if my brain was being reprogrammed. I slowly transitioned from thinking about the bad in something to seeing the good. It literally helped me go from the glass is half empty mentality to a glass is half full mindset.

Meditation is a great way to clear your head of all the thoughts you shouldn’t be focusing on and brings clarity allowing you to prioritize your life and refocus on the things you should be spending your time on.

Listen for Creativity

One of the best things I’ve found when I’m not in a creative mood is to surround myself with the work of other creative people. Top on that list is music.

There’s no doubt that music can affect the mood you’re in. One of the things I’ve discovered on this return to creativity journey is it really doesn’t matter what kind of music you listen to. All of it can encourage your creativity to come to the surface.

One of my favorite composers is Helen Jane Long. I love her music so much that I licensed one of her tracks to use in a future film project. Just waiting for the right footage to go with it. Listening to her music makes me want to run out with my camera and start filming something. In fact, it’s usually her music that I use for my secret weapon for filming nature and wildlife.

Let the Sun Shine

Meditation helped me clear my mind and let go of all the distractions that were blocking my creativity.

Now, I needed to start letting some good things back in. On the top of my list was sunshine.

Prairie_Flowers2_350Sunlight is important for Vitamin D production in our bodies. I’m not sure if Vitamin D has anything to do with boosting creativity or not because that’s not why I seek it out.

Sunrise and sunset have always been favorite subjects for photographers and filmmakers alike. The light is unlike any other time of day. It even has its own name, Magic Hour.

Even though I didn’t feel like shooting, I always take my camera with me. I just know me and I would beat myself up if I had a once in a lifetime opportunity and didn’t have a camera to shoot it.

So when I saw an incredible sunset, I just had to break out the camera. Shooting sunrises and sunsets are easy. They don’t take a lot of thought yet they have a huge rate of return as far as lifting your spirits.

Check Out Your Friends Films

Another way that you can get your creativity flowing is seeing what your filmmaking friends are doing. I’ve attended a couple of film festivals recently, one being the Landlocked Film Festival in Iowa City, Iowa that screened a couple of my friends films.

Even though one of the films was a horror film and the other a historical documentary on the Ioway Indians, seeing the efforts of their creativity frankly made me sad that I wasn’t doing anything. Yet at the same time being immersed in the festival world made me want vow to have something ready to submit to the festivals next year.

“Talking shop” is a great motivator for me at least to pick up the camera and start doing something again. All my filmmaker friends had several projects in the works yet I had nothing of my own to contribute. It made me a little sad that everyone else was moving forward as filmmakers and I was pulled over on the side of the road. A night at a film festival with my friends certainly made me miss getting out in the field and filming Nature and wildlife.

If You Shoot It, Creativity Will Come

I finally convinced myself that I need to just take my camera out to my favorite spot, Indian Creek Nature Center and just shoot something.

I wasn’t worried about getting usable footage or even what I filmed. I just knew that I had to get out there or it would become easier and easier to find reasons not to go out with my camera. And so, I reluctantly packed up my gear and headed out.

purple_coneflower_350The tallgrass prairie was in fine form that late afternoon and I found some coneflowers right away that I wanted to film.

I wasn’t expecting much as I set up my tripod and attached the camera. After all, I wasn’t feeling very creative. However, I found out that you can’t take the creativity out of a creative person no matter how hard life tries.

As soon as I looked through the viewfinder, I starting making compositional adjustments, opening up the iris to get a shallower depth of field and before you know it, the joy of filming nature and wildlife came rushing back in as if some dam had bust upstream in my mind.

Before I knew it, I had walked the entire tallgrass prairie and my P2 cards were full and my camera batteries low. Creativity had retired. More importantly however, my passion for filming that natural world had returned in full force.

Creativity Is Never Lost

Through this entire process I’ve come to realize that I never lost my creativity, I just had to find ways to let go of the stress and worries that kept me from going out into the field to exercise it.

If I had simply just returned to the field to film, I probably would have continued to shoot good footage, but my heart just wasn’t in it. Once I was able to change my mindset, my creativity was able to rise back to the top and take center stage once again.

If you feel like your creativity is lacking, try some of the tools I used and see if they help you as well. I still meditate, I still listen to music and I still try to surround myself with filmmaker friends and their work. But ultimately, getting back out into nature is what ultimately got me back on track.

I would love to hear what works for you when you feel like your hearts not into filming. Leave a comment below and let me know.

Widow_skimmer_630
And as always, keep shooting the ordinary but make it extraordinary!
Kevin J Railsback is a wildlife and nature filmmaker

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.

22 Comments

  1. Mike Huiwitz September 10, 2013 at 10:26 am - Reply

    You also take great pictures, mate!
    Mike Huiwitz invites you to read…how to get an ex backMy Profile

    • Kevin J Railsback September 11, 2013 at 10:07 am - Reply

      Thanks Mike!
      They’re just frame grabs from the video that I shoot.

  2. Adrienne September 16, 2013 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    Hey Kevin,

    I have to start off by kind of chuckling on the forgetting the settings and things. I would think if you took photos and filmed as much as you do that you wouldn’t forget. It would be someone like me who picks up a camera only for occasions and can’t for the life of me remember how to turn the darn flash on. It’s embarrassing you know!

    Wow, they have meditations you can listen to on your iPhone! Why am I not surprised. This modern technology continues to amaze me but as I was reading and you shared this I headed straight over to Google and sure enough, look at all the different apps. My oh my so thanks for that by the way. Glad you enjoy meditating too.

    As you’ve probably learned about me already I live in the heart of the city so there is not much nature around me. I’m surrounded my housing developments and I have to get in the car to drive to a park and I prefer not taking my dog to one of those because she’s not very friendly with other dogs so it ends up being more of a problem then quiet time and yes, I take her everywhere with me. lol..

    I envy where you live though and the opportunities you have close to you for filming. Maybe someday I’ll be able to do that but I know when we go to our families property a couple hours away it’s basically in the woods and it’s really just so pretty up there. We just hang out and embrace the beauty of it all.

    I’m glad you never lost that Kevin and I’m not surprised really. It’s just part of who you are my friend.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    ~Adrienne

    • Kevin J Railsback September 17, 2013 at 8:26 am - Reply

      Adrienne,

      Thanks for stopping by!
      It really is easier than you think to forget things on a camera. I also use three different cameras depending on what I’m doing so picking up one that I haven’t used for a while takes a bit to getup to speed on things again.

      I pretty much always shoot everything in manual so for me, it’s not as simple as turning the camera on and hitting the record button.

      I think if all three cameras did things the same way it would tend to not forget some of the controls so easily.

      My latest app that I use is Omvana. I can get modules for just about anything. But I tend to gravitate towards the ones that either relax me or give me a mental boost.
      They really have done wonders in lowering my stress level and I can tell when I don’t use them all the time.

      Anywhere I have ten to twenty minutes of free time I will often fire up Omvana and listen to one of the programs. Some are guided meditations, others are just tones and music.
      If you try them, let me know what you think.

      I had a dog I was working with for a rescue that was dog aggressive so when I’d take her out to the nature center she was my only focus. We were out one day when a woman had two German shepherds off leash and they came running up to my dog. Luckily I was able to keep her away before a big fight broke out. The woman said don’t worry they are nice. I said but mine hates dogs and would have attacked yours. Guess she never considered that there might be dogs that would attack hers. She was always thinking she could let hers run loose because they were friendly.

      One thing I’ve found Adrienne is that the more effort it takes to be someplace, the less people you will see.

      There is a nature trail called the Sac and Fox at Indian Creek Nature center that always has numerous people on it. It’s flat and easy to access. I see all kinds of people on that trail.

      Not even a quarter mile away is another trail that traverses a tallgrass prairie and goes up into some wooded hills. I’ve seen maybe five people on that trail over the years.

      I’m really glad my mojo is back. Like you said, it’s part of me and I missed it terribly.

      Thanks again for stopping by Adrienne and leaving a comment. I really do appreciate it!

  3. Jordan Walker September 22, 2013 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    Kevin,
    I have recently came across your website recently and have become addicted to reading it. Thank you so much for putting in the time to help those of us who are just getting into nature videography. I really appreciate all the content you put up here. Thank you so much.

    • Kevin J Railsback September 23, 2013 at 10:08 am - Reply

      Jordan,

      Thank you so much for the kind words.
      I have a lot planned for the site but until recently, life kept getting in the way. Things are slowly coming back together so hopefully I can start getting all the things I want to see for this site done and online.

      Lots of articles, tutorials and commentary coming in the near future so please stop back and see what’s going on.

      Also let me know if there are things you’d like to see as well. Would love to have your input!

      Thanks again for stopping by and I hope to hear from you again soon!

      Kevin

      • Jordan Walker September 23, 2013 at 4:30 pm - Reply

        I can’t wait to see what you have in store! Some things I know that I am having a hard time finding on the net is just exactly what equipment is good to get started when shooting nature as well as pointers to really get going doing it seriously. When I started out doing weddings, events, and other commercial projects the input on how to go about it was bountiful to say the least but when it comes to researching how to go about shooting nature all I seem to get is “… go get a camera and go to the forest.” type answers. These aren’t bad just not in depth. Like what kind of camera is a good camera to get started shooting serious nature things? A good video camera? Or a DLSR? I have read if you want anyone to want to use your footage you have to shoot on a camera that shoots at least 50 mbps and has 4:2:2 color sampling, is this true? Sorry I have begun to ramble on like this. These are some of the questions I am asking as I try to be a more serious nature videographer. Thank you so much for your time.

        • Kevin J Railsback September 24, 2013 at 8:38 am - Reply

          Jordan,

          Thanks for the lengthy reply. This is exactly the kind of feedback and dialog I’m looking for!

          Nature and wildlife filmmaking is a small niche. When I thoughT about starting this site I looked as you did to see what’s out there and there’s not much. There’s a ton of info for nature and wildlife photography but while some things are the same whether shooting stills or video, others are much different.

          I’m really not sure why there’s not much out there on filming wildlife and nature. With more DSLRs shooting video, you would think there would be more out there.

          Granted anyone can flip the switch on their still camera and shoot video but is it good video?
          I had a director of my locl nature center email me and said he just returned from the annual Outdoor Writers Association of America conference. He said he saw many excellent videos but none were as good as mine. The OWAA has some of the top still nature and wildlife people but just goes to show you that just because you’re top of the heap in photography, doesn’t make it so for video.

          Camera choice is a lot about personal choice. I can certainly do something about the pros and cons but in the end, you have to find out what works best for you.
          The quality of your footage and whether it sells depends on the subject

          I mean if you captured Bigfoot on video, do you think anyone would care if it was shot on a cell phone or a Red Epic?

          I’ve licensed a lot of footage that wasn’t 4:2:2 and 50mps. Just depends on what it is. If its footage of a sunflower then it’s probably not going to sell anyway since there is a ton of sunflower footage out there. If its a wolf bringing down a bison, then yeah, it’s going to sell over and over and over.

          The one thing I would say is to develop a style. Once your style gets known, people will seek you out and say do you have this or hat because they know if you do, your style will work for their project.

          Most people that sell stock footage shoot flat. Tht is they have contrast, color and all tht good stuff kind of right in the middle so when people license the footage, they can grade it however they want. I shoot mine with a lot of contrast, crushed blacks and lots of saturated color. That’s my style to make my footage look like Fuji Velvia slide film.
          If you need flat footage, I’m not your guy. 🙂

          I’m working on a beginners course that addresses all the stuff like what camera, the difference between tripods, c,area bags, filters you name it.
          Just have to get the time to get it finished. Hopefully things re slowing down that I can focus on that and make it a priority.

          Hope this helps a bit. But keep an eye out here, things will start being added in greater frequenc soon.

          Kevin

  4. Jordan Walker September 24, 2013 at 8:54 am - Reply

    Kevin,
    Thanks again for all the help. I live here in GA I am close to Cumberland Island and Okefenokee. I figure I can really develop some good style there haha. I am sure I will be checking in on the page all the time and also will have some more questions for you I’m sure. I will also be sending everyone I know to your site as well. Let me know when your class will start I would love to take it. If there is anything I can do to help at all let me know! I can’t thank you enough for taking time to give me a few pointers. I really appreciate it.

    • Kevin J Railsback September 24, 2013 at 11:34 am - Reply

      Jordan,

      You’re welcome. This is why I created the site is to try and help people who want to shoot better nature and wildlife video.

      You can also follow my Facebook page as its a little less formal and it is more up to date on what I’m up to.
      If I come up with some footage I like frame grabs will show up there much sooner than you would see here.

  5. Liz McGee October 1, 2013 at 10:06 am - Reply

    Hey Kevin,

    You give me hope LOL! 🙂 I don’t think of myself as a creative person, I’ve always felt a little stifled, although I’m getting better with effort and your post has given me some great ideas to say the least.

    I’m not a filmmaker like yourself but I do write a lot, but I think there are similarities when looking for creative ideas.They’re both forms of art and they each require some creativity.

    I love your comments about sunlight. I live in a city where it’s sunny all the time and I think we tend to take that for granted so I do try to get out and see the creativity in nature when I can. It also helps put me in the right frame of mind for writing.

    But like you say, I think to find creativity we just have to get out there and look for it. Creativity will come if we just open our minds a little to the possibilities.

    Blessings,
    Liz

    • Kevin J Railsback October 1, 2013 at 11:53 am - Reply

      Liz,

      Getting comments like yours just makes my day!

      I think no matter if you’re a writer, painter, musician, teacher or any other occupation that requires creativity there are times when you feel your creativity has abandoned you.

      I think in all of my soul searching I’ve found that its really us that has abandoned our creativity because we let all this other static into our heads and hearts and we block creativity from coming through.

      I do think people underestimate the power of sunlight. Look how depressed we get on dreary days. With winter quickly approaching the daylight is available to us is less and less each day.

      If I’m still out in the field but done shooting for the day, I love nothing more than to find a place to sit and just let the warmth of the sun shine on me.

      It’s funny once I opened the door to let a bit of creativity creep back in, it slammed the door open and all kinds of creative ideas came bursting in.

      Now of course comes the hardest part, acting on all of it!

      Thanks again for stopping by and leaving a comment Liz! I so appreciate it!!!

      Kevin

  6. Susan Neal November 23, 2013 at 11:21 am - Reply

    Hi Kevin – I’m not into filming at all, but still found this an extremely inspiring post.

    I’ve recently started meditating regularly, and can testify to its power – I tend to just do it the old-fashioned way, sitting in silence and focusing on my breathing, rather than using any meditation apps or tools. I find it helps to relax me and makes me generally more self-aware and less inclined to react in damaging, self-defeating ways when things go awry during the day.

    I can also relate to your point about checking out what other film makers are doing. I’m learning how to write fiction, and one of the things that helps me a lot is participating in a weekly challenge to write a 500 word story in response to a prompt on a writing website – it’s very inspiring and encouraging to read other authors’ submissions, as well as getting feedback on my own.

    And just as you, as a photographer, have to “just shoot” something, without worrying about the results, I make sure I “just write” something every day. I think that in order to free your creativity, you’ve got to be prepared to make a mess. It was fear of “doing it wrong” that stopped me writing for years.

    Don’t get me going about sunlight – it’s in short supply here at the best of times (Northern UK), and I’m really going to miss it over the next few months when the days are so short, but I’m making the most of some spectacular autumn dawns and sunsets at the moment – I could have done with your camera when I walked the dogs first thing this morning; the views took my breath away.

    Thanks, Kevin – for a brilliant post and some fabulous images 🙂
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    • Kevin J Railsback November 23, 2013 at 4:00 pm - Reply

      Hi Sue,

      Thanks for for stopping by again!

      Meditation has really helped me in just about every aspect of my life. I can certainly tell a difference on the days when I don’t have a chance to get some meditation in.
      I use the apps on my iPhone to mediate when I’m in noisy places but when I’m out in nature, I’m more like you and just sit in silence. The sounds of nature are much better than any iPhone app could hope to be.

      Challenges are great. I try to get in a couple film challenges every year where you have three weeks to create a four minute film based on a theme you are given. Certainly helps you grow that’s for sure.

      I like the idea of the writing challenge you participate in. The thing I like about it as well as my film challenges is that they are all responses to the same topic or theme. I think too often we kind of get pigeon-holed into a certain way of thinking and seeing how someone else tackles the same topic opens our minds to different ways of thinking and seeing things.

      The sun starts setting here in Eastern Iowa at about 4:30. A far cry from the summer nights when you could still see fine at 9:30 at night. So maybe a little more sun than you have but it’s still a rare commodity this time of year.
      I also have full spectrum bulbs in my office so that helps a little with the winter blues too.

      The nice thing about carrying my iPhone is that it has a decent camera. Not great but decent. While I don’t use it to shoot video, I still enjoy documenting my travels with it when I don’t happen to have my video camera with me.

      Thanks again for stopping by. Always nice to see repeat visitors. 🙂

      Take care,
      Kevin

  7. Susan Neal November 25, 2013 at 5:38 am - Reply

    Thanks for your reply, Kevin – our sun starts setting a little earlier than that, but not much, so we can’t be much further North than you. Not sure what it is about the UK, but we just get so much cloud – must be something to do with being an island, I guess. Shouldn’t complain, though – we’re having some lovely autumn sunshine this week.

    It’s good to know that a professional photographer’s not averse to using a camera phone – I’d really like to take a few more pictures and keep saying I’m going to take my Droid out with me whenever I go for a walk. Trouble is, I’ve usually got the dogs in tow, which can make concentration and focus a bit of an issue 😉
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    • Kevin J Railsback November 25, 2013 at 8:40 am - Reply

      Sue,

      I’m sure the air gets cold and laden with moisture over the Atlantic as the jet stream heads your way.
      I guess I’m lucky in that the Rocky Mountains take some of the punch out of the storms coming from the West but the ones that slide up from the SouthWest are the ones that really dump a lot of bad weather on us.

      One of the things I like to do with my iPhone is to take a general picture of the area I was just filming in to see if people can pick out the composition. Its really amazing to look at the iPhone pictures and try to figure out how they heck I saw the composition in that tangled mess sometimes. I guess it’s juts like writing. You know how to pick out the right words to entice and inform your readers while I can isolate my subject from all the other distractions.

      I think some of it is practice, practice, practice like we talked about but then there also has to be passion and just raw talent to be able to do it well.

      Thanks again for stopping by! I’m enjoying our conversations here!

      ~Kevin

  8. Mark
    Twitter:
    November 25, 2013 at 9:32 am - Reply

    Hey Kevin,
    I guess I am a bit late in finding this post, but can relate so much to what you write here. Many, many, many times I do end up forcing myself to get out and more times than not, I am typically glad I did. Even if what I thought was going to be my goal to see and photograph doesn’t pan out, I always end up finding some other little gem along the way.

    I am interested in the meditation apps you wrote about, I am going to make a note to check out that Omvana app – any others to recommend?
    Mark invites you to read…After the leaves have fallenMy Profile

    • Kevin J Railsback November 25, 2013 at 9:45 am - Reply

      Mark,

      Another one I’ve been using lately is Brainwave by Banzai Labs. It has 30 “programs” from Morning Expresso to Deep Sleep. They have a creativity program that I like to use or the brainstorming program when I’m thinking up ideas and writing posts.

      I really can’t think of a single time where I made myself go out into the field and regret that I did.
      Even if I come back with nothing, nature somehow recharges my batteries and I can’t wait to get out again.

      I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set out to film something like dragonflies and not find a single one to film. So, I guess it pays to be able to go with the flow and film whatever catches your eye.
      Luckily for us, nature provides endless opportunities for us to find something to film. If we can’t find something, it’s our fault, not natures!

      ~Kevin

  9. John Messingham May 16, 2014 at 5:08 am - Reply

    Hi Kevin,

    I have just started using the video setting on my DSLR and the the tutorials/articles on this site have really helped me get going.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and work with us all.

    John

    • Kevin J Railsback May 18, 2014 at 8:42 am - Reply

      John,

      Thank you so much for the kind words!
      I’ve had some other projects that has occupied pretty much all my time so I’m kind of back logged with tutorials and commentary that I need to get posted.
      Going to see if I can get back in the groove here and provide regular updates.

      What kind of things would you like to see here?

      Do keep in touch and please, don’t hesitate to drop me a line anytime with questions or concerns.

      Kevin

      • John Messingham May 19, 2014 at 12:13 pm - Reply

        Hi Kevin,

        Thank you for the reply. I think at the stage I am anything and everything you post will be of interest to me.

        John

        • Kevin J Railsback May 20, 2014 at 10:40 pm - Reply

          John,

          Hopefully I’ll have the first of many new posts up this week.

          Kevin

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