When it comes to nature and wildlife filmmaking, one of my favorite places to visit when I want to shoot some nature footage is the Indian Creek Nature Center. From tallgrass prairies and Iowa woodlands to Iowa creeks and wetlands, it’s a great place when I want to connect with nature and do some filming.

Recently the former director of the nature center contacted me to discuss some things about fundraising for their new education building.

He had recently returned from the Outdoor Writers Association of America conference. He told me that while he was there he saw several outstanding videos but none quite as good as mine.

Now I know that the OWAA has some top nature and wildlife photographers as members. I also know that many still photographers are venturing into shooting nature and wildlife video as well.

So it intrigued me as to why he thought my films were better than what some of the top photographers are doing. So, I asked him.

He responded… “I like yours because they are outstanding and very much set a mood.”

He had said that both my films and the OWAA films were outstanding, the one difference was that mine set a mood.

I looked up mood in the dictionary and it defined it as a state of mind or emotion.

How Do You Set The Mood In Nature Films?

I started to ponder how my films set a mood where others that he saw didn’t. I know one of the films he saw was an Emmy award-winning film on Aldo Leopold, the father of modern-day conservation. So to say my work rose above an Emmy award-winning film is nothing to shake a stick at.

I came up with three ways that I think my films set a mood where others may not.

They are:




There may be other minor things that separate my films from others but I think these are the main three.

In this post I want to talk about the one that I consider my secret weapon when it comes to putting together a nature and wildlife film and that is music.

Music, in my opinion, is the greatest creator of mood there is. At least I think so.

So how do I use music as my secret weapon?

Many nature and wildlife filmmakers edit their films then either find music that fits the story they are trying to tell or hand off the edited film to a composer to write a custom score for the film.

What I do, however is a very different approach. I pick my music before I even turn on a camera. And this is where I think I pick up an edge over other filmmakers and here’s why.

Once I have an idea for a film, I start looking for music that fits the mood I want the film to have. Sometimes I find a track right away, other times it takes me days or weeks to find the music that says this is how I feel about the subject of my film.

Bird_320After licensing the track, I play it over and over and over and over. I put on a set of headphones, close my eyes and play the track as often as I can. I play it in my truck when I’m out driving around. I play the track so many times that I can “hear” every note from beginning to end solely from memory.

Now, I’m ready to roll the camera.

With the music track vividly burned into my brain I go in search of the subjects of my film. When I find something that I want to film, I compose then roll the camera while “listening” to the music track in my head. It’s like I’m editing my film to the music while I’m filming it.

When I think I have enough to finish the film, I lay down the music bed and start laying down the video clips.

People have commented before how fast I can edit video once I sit down at the computer. It’s because I’ve already “edited” the film while I was shooting it.

In the video below, I’m going to take the exact same shots but lay down two very different music tracks and you can decide for yourself how much music can create a mood.

So what do you think? Do you think finding the music before you shoot helps you make a film that works better than adding the music later?

I’d love to know what you think so place leave a comment below.

In future posts I’ll cover the other two areas I feel help give my work and edge and those are Light and color.
And as always, keep shooting the ordinary but make it extraordinary!
Kevin J Railsback is a wildlife and nature filmmaker