Don’t Pass On An Opportunity To Film Nature and Wildlife

Nature and wildlife filmmaking is all about decisions. Where do we go to find our subjects? Once we find them how do we compose the shot that we want? Is the exposure right? Is the white balance where we want it to be?
Sometimes our decisions are based on compromises. We can’t put the tripod where we’d like because we may harm our subject. The wind is blowing harder than we want so we can’t zoom in as tight because the subject will move out of the frame.

There’s one decision however that I think the choice always needs to yes as often as possible. That decision is whether to film the subject when the opportunity presents itself.

It probably sounds like a foolish statement. I mean why wouldn’t you film a subject when the opportunity presented itself. Well, let me give you a couple of examples…

Your Goal Is To Film Something Else

Flower_630Often times when I go out in the field to film it’s with a particular subject in mind. Maybe I woke up and discovered everything was shrouded in fog. You better believe that I’m going to grab my HPX-250 and head over to Indian Creek Nature Center and film some magical fog scapes before the fog lifted.

Maybe my goal was to film a woodland wildflower that I found out was blooming. Woodland wildflowers bloom for only a short time so there’s no time to waste when I know that they’re blooming.

Sunrises and sunsets. I love to film them! It’s important to get to a spot that has some great foreground details to silhouette against the reds and oranges as the sun rises or sinks against the horizon. Often I’m racing the sun to get to where I want to be and set up in time to capture this magical event.

You’re Just Too Tired

I like to film during magic hour. That short period of time when the sun is low on the horizon and the light is golden and beautiful. So I’m out long before the sun rises and long after it sets. By the time the sun has risen high enough to make the light too harsh to film I’ve usually been out for several hours with most of that time hiking around looking for a location while carrying all my film equipment on my back.

I don’t know about you but after a hard morning of hiking and filming, once I stop, I need some time to recover.

What Does This Have to Do About Passing Opportunities By?

There’s been plenty of times I’ve seen something I thought about filming and said I’ll get that on my way back or I’ll come back tomorrow to film it only to not be able to find my subject again or conditions had changed to prevent me from filming.

Moth300Recently in Montana and as I was returning to base camp after a morning of filming,  I happened to see this moth that I thought was just resting on a flower. It was very bright by now as the sun had risen far above the horizon so it was hard to see details in the viewfinder as I was also trying to shield the moth and flower with my hat to soften the harsh light.

The moth really wasn’t doing anything so I shot a few minutes of footage and continued back to my base camp where I promptly reviewed the footage from the mornings filming session.

Upon reviewing the moth footage, I discovered that the moth wasn’t resting on the flower, it was in the clutches of a Goldenrod Crab Spider that had ambushed the moth when it landed on the flower sometime earlier in the morning.

The spider blended in so well with the flower it was on that I never saw it through my viewfinder. But on the bigger laptop screen it was plain as day.

Do I Stay Or Do I Go?

I already had a long morning hiking, filming and more hiking. I was tired and wanted nothing more then to rest.
I knew from past experiences and kicking myself that if you don’t grab the opportunity when it presents itself.
So i picked myself up, slung my camera bag over my shoulder, grabbed my tripod and went hiking back to where I had seen the moth and crab spider.

It took me a little bit to find the spider as the moth had fallen off the flower. But there she was arms open wide waiting for her next victim to come just a little too close. Although the wind was picking up, I set up my tripod, attached my camera and waiting for moments of calm to start filming.

The Footage I Captured Was Worth The Trip

The Goldenrod Crab Spider doesn’t weave a web. It sits in ambush waiting for its pray to come within striking range.
However, the spider does throw out silk safety lines to keep it anchored.
As I was filming, the spider walked to the top of one of the flower petals. It certainly looked like she was going to walk across the silk thread to the next petal on the flower. But not this spider!

As I filmed, the spider pulled in the silk safety line bending the flower petal towards the spider. When she had drawn the flower petal close enough, she simply just stepped onto the petal and was across without having to risk falling off the flower because of the wind.

It was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen! If I hadn’t gone back, if I decided to call it a morning, I would have missed witnessing this incredible moment. When I went back later in the afternoon, the spider was gone.

So no matter how tired you are or what your plan is to film if you see something that you feel is worthy of your video camera being pointed at it, then take the time to do just that.

Opportunities when they present themselves need to be taken advantage of. If not, you could miss getting some really incredible nature and wildlife video!


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

Kevin J Railsback is a wildlife and nature filmmaker

By | 2016-11-06T09:39:02+00:00 August 18th, 2014|Categories: Filmmaking Naturally News|17 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.

17 Comments

  1. Claude Bourgeois August 23, 2014 at 10:29 am - Reply

    Hi Kevin,

    For your documentaries, what editing system do you use?

    Thanks !!

    Claude

    I really like your website.

    • Kevin J Railsback August 23, 2014 at 10:16 pm - Reply

      Claude,

      I’ve been a Final Cut Pro user since version 2. I currently edit everything in Final Cur Pro X. I love it because it lets me focus on the story and not the software.

      I’m glad you like the site. There’s a lot more planned in the near future so please check back and let me know what you’re up to!

      • Claude Bourgeois August 23, 2014 at 10:46 pm - Reply

        Hi Kevin,

        Thank you very much for your prompt reply. I am a retired cameraman from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I have worked as a cameraman for 31 years,news and documentaries.I have been retired for 3 years but now the ”bug” is coming back!! The equipment is changing so quickly that it is hard to decide on something. I like your comment about Final Cut Pro, it falls pretty much with what I think,to keep as much stuff as simple as possible. I think this is the software I would like to use too. Are you still using your Panasonic? The zoom lens is quite interesting. Are you still happy with 1/3 inch sensors?

        Cheers

        Claude

        • Kevin J Railsback August 25, 2014 at 10:09 am - Reply

          Hey Claude,

          I’m still using my Panasonic. I have a PX270 coming this week hopefully since I’ll have some free time the first week of September to prowl the tallgrass prairie near my home looking for great things to film.

          A lot of people think the new Final Cut Pro is too amateurish. I don’t understand why people feel that something professional has to be difficult. For me, the easier the better. The magnetic timeline is wonderful and I love being able to concentrate on the story and not have to break my train of thought by trying to remember how to do some simple task.

          I am still happy with the 1/3″ sensors. They do the job for me just fine.
          So many people get hung up on specs and have to this gear or that gear in order to make great films.
          You only really need three things to make a great film.
          A camera
          Passion
          And the ability to transpose that passion into a finished film.

          So many people think you need the latest and greatest and spend so much time saying if only I had this, I could make a great film.

          I used to be like that for a long, long time until I realized that it’s not the brush that makes the painter or the saw that makes the carpenter. It’s passion and the desire to tell a story. You have those and you don’t need to have the latest and greatest gear.

          Thanks again for the reply! Please keep me updated on what you’re working on and if you have any questions that I might be able to help with, please ask!

  2. Claude Bourgeois August 25, 2014 at 11:43 am - Reply

    Hi Kevin,

    Thank very much you for your reply. Yes I agree with you,buying some more equipment to compensate for lack of motivation has happened to many of us. Often it takes time and quite a bit of money to understand that equipment is the easy part.

    Thank you so much again for your time and yes, I will come back to you with my questions.

    Have a great time shooting !!

    Claude

  3. Claude Bourgeois August 26, 2014 at 11:10 pm - Reply

    Hi Kevin,

    I have a couple of questions about the PX250 orPX270 if you don’t mind.

    For your documentaries(broadcast) which recording format and frame rate do you use. I am just trying to figure out how many micro P2 cards to get. And is there a macro position on the lens or we have to use a close-up filter to go macro?

    And to use Final Cut Pro with the Panasonic, can you download the video directly or you need to convert with a third party converter?

    Thank you very much, really appreciated !!

    Claude

    • Kevin J Railsback August 28, 2014 at 9:41 pm - Reply

      Hey Claude,

      I always like to film 1080p/24p. When I shoot slow motion with the PX270, I shoot 1080p/60p AVC-Intra.
      Sometimes when I’m shooting specifically for Panasonic’s NAB presentation, I’ll shoot 1080p/30p since it converts 10 1080/60i pretty effortlessly.

      There is a macro setting on the camera when you focus zoomed all the way in and focused at minimum distance. If you then zoom out you lose focus because of the way the lens elements work.
      But if you want to get REAL close then you’d have to use a supplemental closeup filter to do that.

      Final Cut Pro X ingests the footage directly and then I have it transcode it to ProRes to work easier. But it does it all internally within FCPX.

      I just got another PX270 today that is supposed to be tweaked a bit more than the one I used earlier this year. So I’m anxious to see what it can do now that it’s all finalized.

      Let me know if you need me to go out and shoot something for you to give you an idea of like the macro ability etc.

      Take care,

      Kevin

      • Claude Bourgeois August 28, 2014 at 10:12 pm - Reply

        Hi Kevin,

        Thank you very much for your reply. I have been thinking of buying the Panasonic 270 for a few weeks now, I think I will go for it. You have a beautiful and informative site- helpful and inspiring! Thanks again.

        Claude

        • Kevin J Railsback August 29, 2014 at 6:04 am - Reply

          Claude,

          Like I said, I have a new PX270 in my hands now so if there’s something you need to see, let me know. I can shoot it for you or I can shoot something on the 270 with my 250.
          Always happy to help!

  4. Claude Bourgeois August 29, 2014 at 10:45 am - Reply

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks again for your help, I am sure I will have more questions.

    Take care

    Claude

    • Claude Bourgeois August 31, 2014 at 9:34 pm - Reply

      Hello Kevin,

      Just one question about your new Panasonic 270. Have you tried to edit pictures taken with the longG codec,50 or 25. I was wondering if FCPX can deal with the new Long G codec, I don’t think the 250 had this codec.

      Thank you very much Kevin

      Claude

      • Kevin J Railsback August 31, 2014 at 10:00 pm - Reply

        Claude,

        Do you already have FCPX? I can shoot some test Long G footage and upload it and you can play around with it yourself.

        If not, it’s supposed to rain here tomorrow so I may not go out filming so I can see how FCP handles it.

        Let me know.

        • Claude Bourgeois September 1, 2014 at 12:10 am - Reply

          Hi Kevin,

          No I don’t have FCPX right now. I read that some people were having some issues ingesting pictures from longG codec. I am about to buy Apple computer to get FCPX. If you happen to try it I would certainly like to hear from you!! I am really interested with the 270.

          Thank you very much for all your help !!

          Claude

  5. Paola Fuentes September 5, 2014 at 7:44 am - Reply

    Nature has always been my favorite subject, be it in photography or filmmaking.

    • Kevin J Railsback September 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm - Reply

      Paola,

      I’ve photographed or filmed nature and wildlife since I was eight. It certainly is one of my greatest passions!

  6. Elissa Joy January 25, 2015 at 10:41 pm - Reply

    Hey Kevin

    Yes! Love what you said about capturing the subject and timing.
    Photography and filming are all about the timing.
    How great that the spider was still there when you went back the first time.

    She sure is pretty. Its easy to see why you did not see her the first time. She matches the flower so well. 🙂

    • Kevin Railsback January 27, 2015 at 8:44 am - Reply

      Elissa,

      There’s been so many times I’ve been out in the field and seen something I wanted to film but thought “Oh, I’ll get it on the way back”.

      Well, two things, one is that oftentimes the subject was gone when I returned or two, since things look different from the opposite direction I couldn’t find the spot where the subject was.

      I’ve learned since then if I want to return to a subject I turn around and find landmarks or features so that when I return from the opposite direction I know what I’m looking for. 🙂

      But I’ve found that striking while the iron is hot works in all kinds of things.

      I’ve seen things I wanted to pick up at Costco and said I’d come back next week to get it only to find that it was gone . So when I saw some Christmas decorations in October that I wanted, I picked them up and sure enough next time I went, they were all gone already.

      So I guess seize the moment are words to live by in just about anything that we do!

      Thanks for the comment Elissa, I really appreciate it and enjoy our conversation!

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