As a nature and wildlife cameraman, I want to share one of my best tips for shooting better nature and wildlife video.
But before I tell you what it is I want to tell you how this one single tip has worked for me.
It has allowed me to win several awards in film festivals, even international film festivals.
I have licensed footage using this one tip for programs on Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, as well as in AT&T commercials and theatrical films.
I was paid to go to Hawaii to teach HD cinematography.
Panasonic sent me to Africa to shoot footage with one of their new cameras.
I just found out yesterday that some of my footage will be featured in Panasonic’s presentation at NAB in Las Vegas. This is like the third time now that Panasonic has used my footage at NAB.
I mean think about how huge that is. One of the top video camera manufactures in the world says my footage showcases the best that their cameras are capable of. I’m still blown away by it.
This tip won’t cost you any money, I’m not selling it. In fact you have access to it right now. It all depends if you’re willing to pack it up and take it with you and use it out in the field.
So have you guessed what the number one tip for getting better nature and wildlife video is?
Well, when I tell you what the tip is, you’ll understand why I typed all the above and if you’ve read this far you’re probably capable of using this tip if you want to.
The number one tip for getting better nature and wildlife film or video is….
Are you disappointed? Do you feel cheated? You shouldn’t feel either.
It doesn’t matter if you have the latest greatest camera gear, the money to travel to exotic locations. None of that matters in nature and wildlife filmmaking if you don’t have patience.
For the people who haven’t read this far and clicked away to their Facebook page, they’ll never make it. Sure they may get some good footage every now and then, but they’ll never consistently get footage that blows people away.
Yellowstone National Park is one of my favorite destinations in the United States for filming nature and wildlife. There is just so much diversity.
But the one thing I see time after time is people in a hurry to get a shot and move on to something else. If the geyser isn’t erupting or the grizzly bear is too far off in the woods, they don’t have time to wait to get a great shot. They can’t be bothered to wait until the light is a little bit better.
We live in a fast food, instant gratification society now. The wolves should be right by the road ready to be filmed, the geyser should be going off as soon as we set up our tripod. No one wants to take the time to get that great shot. Instead we’ve decided that mediocre is good enough and we’re fast to give excuses on why our video or photographs aren’t better.
Now granted, you can’t control nature so even with an abundance of patience, you still may walk away without a shot. However, your chances of getting a great shot increase dramatically if you’re willing to put the time into getting it.
If I told you the story behind a lot of my footage it would begin with “I waited until…”
So many times I was the only one there to witness something magical because I was willing to put in the time and wait to see if something would happen. Sure plenty of times I walked away without ever hitting the record button, but the times when I did made every time I’ve ever waited worth it.
You know geyser watching is a great test of patience. One of my favorite geysers is Great Fountain Geyser. It erupts every nine to fifteen hours. Yep, I said hours.
When you visit the geyser there is a prediction sheet there based on the last known eruption. But you still have about a six-hour or so window of time around the estimated time of the next eruption. So what to do? Do you move on and hope that maybe next time you’ll be closer to the eruption time and get a shot then? Or do you stick it out and wait? There are so many other geysers in the park that are more predictable and erupt more often.
Or, how about wildlife?
Wayne Gretzky once said “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” In wildlife filmmaking, that’s where patience comes into play. If I see a bear or elk or lion I often times go ahead and set up and allow the animal to come to me. So many people leap out of their vehicles and storm after an animal that they end up driving the animal away. By having patience and allowing the animal to come to me on its terms if it so chooses, not only do I get better behavioral footage but my encounter last much longer. The animal has been aware of my presence, doesn’t see me as a threat and continues on with whatever it is doing. But if I was in a hurry to get that shot I might still get something but nothing compared to the experience is I just wait and allow the animal to come to me instead.
So you say ok, all this is great but I’m not a patient person. How can I become more patient?
Well, like most skills, the answer is practice.
Here’s a few tips I’ve found scattered on the Internet…
In a world of instant gratification, growing plants and flowers take time and patience to see results. I’m currently growing some cacti that I’ve grown from seed. They’re only about an inch tall after a couple of years but I look at them and think “I’ve grown these from a SEED”! My goal this year is to grow my own Indian Corn for Halloween. Sure I could go out and buy some but where’s the fun in that? Besides, it helps develop patience.
Delay Instant Gratification
If you see that new power tool or that new purse and just have to have it. Put off buying it for a day or two.
Don’t Cut Corners
Do all the steps needed to properly complete a task. It could be as simple as staying on the sidewalk and not cutting the corner by walking on the grass. Maybe instead of taking the shortcut while out driving you take the long way instead. Don’t know how many times I’ve discovered things to film by taking the drive in the country instead of taking the Interstate.
Set Aside Times to Practice Being Patient
One of the things I like to do to practice patience is to stand in the longest line at the checkout. How many times do you get into a short line only to be delayed by the cashier needing a price check for an item that can’t be scanned or the person who waits to get their checkbook out only after they’ve been given the total and then has to scrounge around for a pen? I know I get frustrated for sure. But by getting into the longest line and expecting to be delayed I’m sometimes surprised and rewarded by getting checked out while people in the shorter line are still waiting.
It’s much like nature and wildlife video and photography. Sometimes you just need to expect to be there a while and you get rewarded by having something extraordinary happen in a short amount of time. Whether you’re there for just a short time or waiting hours for something to happen. If you plan on being there for as long as it takes, you’ll never be disappointed.
So there you have it, my best tip on how you can film better nature and wildlife.
Let me know what you think in a comment below. It’ll help build your patience by taking the time to write down your thoughts about this tip.
And as always, shoot the ordinary and make it extraordinary!