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