It’s no secret that one of my greatest passions is filming nature and wildlife.

I’ve been taking photographs or shooting video since I was about eight years old. No matter what my day is like there’s something almost medicinal when I get behind a camera and take in what nature decides to share with me. All the stress flows from my body, my spirit is renewed and I never fail to leave feeling better than when I came.

This year however has been a rough one for me. The final straw was when Sadie, my miniature schnauzer, crossed the Rainbow Bridge after a short but fierce battle with liver cancer. As she rested her head in my arms and took her last breath, my creativity, my desire to go out and film nature and wildlife died in that room as her heart stopped beating, forever.

Typically even when my schedule prevents me from getting out in the field to shoot video, I’m still thinking about it no matter what I’m doing. Now however, it was the furthest thing from my mind. Even an international film challenge wasn’t enough to get me to take the camera out of the bag and head out into the field.

The tallgrass prairie was starting to bloom and I still hadn’t taken the camera out.

Dew Covered SPiderwebAs silly as it sounds, I knew if Sadie knew she was the cause behind my lack of desire to film and my loss of creativity, she would be very upset. They say energy can’t be created or destroyed so maybe a little bit of what came together to give me such a great little dog was still with me in some way.

So with no desire and no creativity, I picked up my camera bag and headed out to the tallgrass prairie at Indian Creek Nature Center. Really wasn’t feeling like being out there but I know Sadie would want me to get back out into nature.

We’ve been having a lot of rain here in Iowa and my of the trails at the nature center were still under water. The tallgrass prairie was dry but the flooded areas of the nature center had produced so many mosquitos that within seconds of stepping onto the prairie I was engulfed in clouds of these blood sucking vampire insects. Since I hadn’t picked up my camera for so long I hadn’t yet stocked my camera bag with bug spray.

Luckily I found a couple blooming wildflowers just feet inside the prairie’s edge. I set my bag down, set up my camera the whole time swatting the swarm of mosquitos that followed me wherever I went.

I knew the was going to be a quick trip with no bug spray or protective netting but I wanted to take the first step in getting back out there and hopefully recapturing my creativity.

What happened next really surprised me and was totally unexpected. No, my creativity didn’t come flooding back. What happened was that I reached to add the built in neutral density filter built into my camera and it wasn’t there. Well, it was there, just not where I thought it was when I reached for it. In just that short amount of time not up taking the camera out into the field I was already forgetting camera control locations.

Use It Or Lose It

It doesn’t matter if you’re a carpenter, computer programmer or nature and wildlife cinematographer. If you don’t use the tools of your trade religiously, you not only start to lose your edge, but like me, you even start to forget how to even use the tools that had been as familiar to you as the back of your hand.

This wasn’t a situation where I had put down my cameras years ago and decided to go out and film something. This was just in the span of a few months.

When you have to stop concentrating on your subject to look where a control is located on your camera you start to miss things. Your focus shifts from trying to get the best footage possible to figuring out how our camera works again. Out in the field is not the place to break out the manual to figure out how to enable something you should instinctively know how to do. Prior to my lull in filming, I could operate all the controls on my camera merely by touch thus being able to focus exclusively on the subject I was filming. Now I have to go back to school and relearn all the ins and outs of my camera again.

School’s Back In Session

So now, instead of working to improve my cinematography, I need to relearn the things I’ve forgotten just to get back to the level I was a few months ago. So what’s the gameplan?

Spider and WebMost evenings now you will find me in my living room, camera and tripod set up running through all the controls of my camera. I’ll do things like change the shutter speed, add a ND filter, change the iris and then pick an object in the room and keeping focused on the subject adjust my camera to get a proper exposure and composition. I will keep doing that until it once again is second nature and I can do it without having to think about it.

The camera should be an extension of myself and if I have to think about it then my full focus isn’t on my subject.

Once I feel that I can operate the camera without having to think about it, I’ll be ready to work on getting my creative mojo back.

Finding Your Lost Creativity

Now that I’m getting back to speed from a technical perspective, the much more difficult task that lies before me is finding my creativity again. This, I’m afraid might be a much larger hurdle to get over.

Creativity at least in my mind is kind of like a tornado. Conditions have to be right and all the necessary elements have to be present for a tornado or creativity to take shape. It doesn’t matter how well your technical skills are or how much you love wildlife and nature, if all the pieces of the puzzle aren’t in place you’re not operating at full creative capacity.

Creativity Lost and Found

I’ve been working this past week on things I can do to get my creativity jump started again. Maybe you could use a jump start to get your creativity flowing again or maybe you feel you’re just not as creative as you want to be.

In my next post I’ll outline the things I’ve done and am doing to get back into a creative frame of mind.

Until then, at least try to shoot the ordinary but make it extraordinary.

Kevin J Railsback is a wildlife and nature filmmaker