How many times have you said to yourself, if only I had (insert some piece of filmmaking gear) I’d be able to shoot better footage?

I know I’ve said it dozens, hundreds, heck maybe even thousands of times. Yet every time I’d add a new piece of video equipment to my inventory I always found myself still saying, now if I just had (insert another piece of video gear) I’ll be all set.
That pattern repeated and repeated itself year after year. It was always if I just had this one last piece of gear I’ll be set and my nature and wildlife footage will be unbelievable!
Well, my footage did improve but it took me a long time to realize that I was the reason my nature and wildlife video was getting better, not because of the gear I thought I absolutely had to have.
I have to be honest with you, it took me a long time to realize that. I still resist the urge to whip out my credit card whenever I see a new piece of gear. I’m not sure how or why I finally figured it out but here are a few things to think about.

It’s Behind The Video Camera That Counts

Behind the cameraNo matter how technologically advanced video equipment becomes, it still requires someone to find a subject, compose the shot and hit the record button.
While it’s easy to write off the new piece of equipment as the reason why you’re shooting better footage, the reality is that you’re the one that is making the difference.
The more you get out in the field, the more you hit the record button, the more experience you get under your belt.
How Experience Improves Your Filmmaking

It’s really pretty simple. The more you shoot, the more opportunities you get to learn what worked well and what didn’t.
Reviewing your footage is a great way to improve your work.
I’ve literally yelled at my computer monitor more than once while reviewing my footage wondering why I moved the camera, composed a certain way or failed to notice a distracting element.
By reviewing my footage and seeing my mistakes, I gained experience so that the next time I was in that situation I would be in a better position to get it right this time.
Believe me, there’s nothing more motivating to get it right than to come back after a day of shooting excited to see the incredible footage you shot only to find out that it wasn’t as spectacular as you thought it would be because you didn’t get something right.

How a Kiss Can Make a Difference

I believe that when you get caught up in the “gear will make me a better filmmaker” cycle, you’re actually keeping yourself from reaching your full potential. How’s that you say?
Well, I think its too easy to rely on the gear to try and deliver the shot and not your skill as a nature and wildlife filmmaker.
When you do something in auto you don’t understand what the camera is doing. You’re giving it the creative control and that’s not where it belongs. There’s nothing wrong with letting the camera do things but only if you understand what the results will be.
Long zoom cameras get you closer but then you begin to rely on your cameras reach instead of your ability to approach wildlife without spooking them.
A few years ago I spent $2500 on a matte box for one of my cameras. Filters were $100-$200+ and I used it all the time.
But when I switched cameras, the step-down ring was too small for my current camera. So I went without a matte box. Know what? I learned more about light and what I needed to do to get great footage without using filters. Everything I’ve shot in the last couple of years is all done without filters.
Now granted, there are times when you really do need to use filters. So I’m not at all saying that you need to throw out what you have. What I am saying is that I learned how to get great footage without using them because I really focused on light, how to compose a scene so I left out the washed out sky etc.

Build Your Foundation Before You Build Your House

Filming with a Panasonic HVX200I don’t know too many filmmakers that aren’t gear heads. We love getting our hands on the latest and greatest technology if we can afford it.
But before you buy gear that will make your life easier, make sure you understand as much as possible on how to shoot footage without it.
I think if you go into buying new gear with that thought you’ll be buying the gear for the right reasons because you understand how to achieve the same results without the new gear. The gear just makes it easier. Does that make sense?
It’s like a carpenter knowing how to nail something together with a hammer understands how it goes together. A nail gun just makes the job easier but they still understand how to put it together without the nail gun. It just makes the job easier.

And as always, keep shooting the ordinary but make it extraordinary!

Kevin J Railsback is a wildlife and nature filmmaker