Ever have one of those days when you’re out filming nature and wildlife and something happens that makes you realize that no matter how long you look through a viewfinder, nature will always take you back to school and teach you a lesson?

I had one of those days last week.

I’ve been working hard since last Fall to document the lifecycle of the tallgrass prairie. Now that Summer is here, the prairie has really come to life. It seems every day I discover something new.

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Preparing for flight

Now normally when I go to film at the tallgrass prairie, I’m concentrating on filming the prairie grasses and all the prairie wildflowers as well as the insects that make them their home. My focus becomes so intent on capturing those subjects that I become oblivious to what’s going on around me.

Like I explain in the video below, when I’m done filming a subject, I’m done. I pop up, pick up my tripod, sling it over my shoulder and start looking for the next thing to film. Since I tend to film at first light and last light you have to find your subjects quickly because that great light doesn’t last that long and I have a lot of ground to cover.

But the other day I realized that I can’t be doing that anymore. In my rush to capture as many plants and insects as possible I realized that I’m passing up opportunities I didn’t realize where even there.

So this is what happened that opened up my eyes and caused me to change the way I work in the field.

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Bee Balm

I was filming some Bee Balm and I spent a lot of time crouched over the camera waiting for the wind to die down to get better shot. Eventually I got the shot I wanted and as usual, popped up and started to pick the tripod up when I heard a loud snort. As I turned and looked, a whitetail deer had just risen from it’s daybed and had been watching me to try and figure out just exactly what I was. Well, not only was the deer startled but my heart skipped a beat as well. I was so focused on filming the Bee Balm and so determined to find my next subject while the light was still good I wasn’t aware of my surroundings. Well before I could set the tripod down, the deer took off bounding over the tall prairie grass and only stopped when it reached the edge of the woods and safety. By then it was to far away for a good shot but I filmed a few seconds anyway just for the record and to remind me of how foolish I had been to miss that opportunity.

To make matters worse, once I looked at the footage, I realized that the doe had a fawn with her. The prairie grass was so high I didn’t even see the fawn as they headed for the tree line. I had already kicked myself in the field but now I kicked myself again even harder that I missed filming the doe and her fawn.

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Red-winged Blackbird

Before I head out to film I always make sure my gear is prepared and packed so I’m never in a situation where I can’t film a subject because I left something behind. Yet here I was totally unprepared to film this wildlife encounter since I had come to the prairie to film plants and insects. I decided I needed to make a change and to always assume that an “Unexpected Wildlife Opportunity” could occur at any moment.

As soon as I made this change, it paid off almost immediately. The image above of the cottontail rabbit would have never been captured if I hadn’t made this change.
This change is really a no-brainer. In fact, I smacked myself in the forehead for not making this a normal practice in the field from day one. Who knows how many opportunities I had missed and never even knew they were there? I think this tip goes perfectly with my article “The Best Tip Ever for Shooting Better Nature and Wildlife Video“.

So take a couple minutes and watch the video. Maybe you’re already doing this out in the field. But if you’re not, give it a try and if it works leave me a comment below.

I hope you found this tutorial to be of value. Please consider sharing!

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

Kevin J Railsback is a wildlife and nature filmmaker