Filming Nature and Wildlife – A Little Planning Can Avoid Frustration

Do You Know What Today Is?

As nature and wildlife cinematographers, we’re certainly faced with a lot of frustrating situations that at times make us just want to scream.
The weather is probably the biggest frustration we face on a reoccurring basis. Can’t tell you the number of times I’ve planned to go out filming tallgrass prairie wildflowers only to discover that what seemed like Hurricane (Insert Your Least Favorite Persons Name Here) was blowing with gale force ruining my filming plans for the day.

We don’t however have control over the weather so there’s not much we can do about that. I do want to share some tips with you though that are within your ability to control and hopefully will help you avoid those screaming in frustration moments.

If you didn’t know, today is International Moment of Frustration Scream Day. Yeah until recently I didn’t realize that it was just delegated a day. Sometimes it feels like it should have its own year.

Today however, I hope these tips will help reduce the number of times you want to chuck your HD video camera in a swamp and pull out your hair in frustration.

Before we get started, I should mention that I share these tips with you because I’ve dealt with all the issues that I’ll be telling you about. Believe me, I’ve kicked myself across the landscape more than once because of these. These are just general tips and not specifically wildlife video tips to how to shoot nature video tips but can be used in pretty much any shooting situation.

Develop a Questionaire Checklist

Ths is something I’m working on right now. I’ve used to have checklists but I shoot so many different situations that I soon started to lose track of which checklist I should be using for a particular shoot. So obviously, just having a bunch of check boxes next to “Camera”, “Batteries” etc just wasn’t cutting it.

So I’m developing a new checklist based on a list of questions and I think this is going to work oh so much better for me.

The idea is to have one master checklist so that pretty much everything is covered.

So the checklist might go something like this:

Are you recording natural audio?
If Yes

Do you have the proper microphone packed?

Do You have the proper XLR cable packed?

Do You have headphones packed?

Is Boom Pole packed?

Are On camera switches set to Phantom power and Mic switch set to input from external Mic?

Batteries in camera bag?

Recording Media in camera bag?

Using Filters? Are they in the bag?

Lens Cleaner and lens cloths packed?

Warm cards packed in bag?

Well, ok, you get the idea? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken off only to turn around and come back for something I forgot. Or even worse, arrived on scene, started setting up my gear only to realize I didn’t have something I needed and ended up not shooting anything.

Something else I’m thinking about doing is creating a laminated wallet sized reminder list for when I get out in the field.
Simple things like:
Check to make sure gain is set to low

Check front of lens for any debris or smudges

Check white balance

Check recording setup is set for 1080p/24p or 720p/60p etc.

Filming nature and wildlife doesn’t have to be frustrating!

I don’t know how many times I’ve used the camera in low light around sunset and bumped up the gain a bit only to discover I had been shooting the next time around in bright sunshine with the gain still bumped up.
Luckily I’ve shot enough with my current camera that I realized that I shouldn’t have to stop the camera lens down so far with the amount of light I was shooting in and was able to reset the gain back to low.

Next thing on my list is a return checklist.

Batteries on the charger?

Clean lens and camera?

Recording media transferred to hard drives?

Recording media reformatted?

That last one is a big one. I’ve been out on shoots where I’ve returned very late at night only to dump the recorded video to the hard drives then throw the cards back in the camera bag, planning to reformat once I was back out in the field in a few hours. Of course, something spectacular happens and then I don’t have the time to insert the cards, format them and then switch back to recording. So always go out in the field like you’re going to hit the record button the second your feet touch the ground.

If you’re interested maybe I’ll publish my checklists once I’m done. We can add things I may have missed and I’ll put it up as a downloadable PDF file. How’s that sound?

So those are my tips wrapped up in one big tip for helping you avoid International Moment of Frustration Scream Day. Create a yes/no checklist for packing for a shoot, on the shoot and returning from a shoot. Because sooner or later, International Moment of Frustration Scream Day is going to pay you a visit at the most inopportune time.

Shoot the ordinary and make it extraordinary!

Kevin J Railsback is an award-winning nature and wildlife filmmaker


Don’t get frustrated when filming nature and wildlife

Don’t get frustrated when filming nature and wildlife

By | 2016-11-06T09:39:04+00:00 October 12th, 2012|Categories: Filmmaking Naturally News|0 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.

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