Want to Film Better Nature & Wildlife? Then Shoot Something Else!

Greetings my fellow nature and wildlife filmmakers! Did you know that today is National Dabbling Day. Until recently I never even knew we had a day devoted solely to dabbling on any level let alone a national level.

So today I want to talk a little bit about dabbling

Now, you may be thinking that even if you’re still learning how to film wildlife and nature that you dabble and experiment enough as it is. Trying different camera angles, using different filters, dabbling with shallow depth of field and no matter what your skill level is, you should always try new things. It’s how you grow as a filmmaker. You don’t ever want to become a paint by the numbers, always staying within the lines kind of filmmaker.

What I’m talking about however is dabbling in something totally outside filming nature and wildlife.

As I started thinking about this post, I realized that I’ve been doing just that without even realizing how it has helped me grow as a filmmaker.

In my neck of the woods I discovered a professional dance team and studio called the CR Spirits. Ironically it turns out that Tiffany, the owner, lives only like five houses down from me. I’ve talked to Tiffany quite a bit about this but neither one of us can recall what prompted me to email her enquiring about the possibility about doing a film documentary about her and the dance team.

The CR Spirits made up as tigers for a video shoot

Sometimes the Spirits blur the line between filming a dance team and filming wildlife

For those of you that don’t know me personally, for me to do something like this is about as one hundred and eighty degrees the opposite of anything I would ever normally do. I mean I’ve been asked to take graduation pictures and wedding pictures when I used to shoot still photographs and I’d be shaking my head before they even finished their sentence.  I did film a wedding or two once I started getting into filmmaking and it was a total disaster. So if it involves people, I tend to pick up my camera and run away as fast as possible in the other direction.

Anyway, Tiffany emailed me back and said I could stop by the studio anytime to talk about filming her and the team. Right about then I had filmed some wolf footage with the new Panasonic HVX200 and as hard as it is for Tiffany to believe this, she and the team took a back seat to filming nature and wildlife for a couple of years as the wolf footage even caught the eye of Panasonic that eventually took me to Africa to test one of their new HD cameras.

Fast forward a couple of years and I saw a post from a “writer” that wanted to team up with a filmmaker to do a documentary on Tiffany and the Spirits. The reason “writer” is in quotes is another long, long, long painful story that would leave you shaking your head in disbelief. I’ll save that story for a cold dark winter’s night and I’ll spare you the details for now.

Tiffany soon became one of my closest friends and I think all the girls on the professional team think of me as just a non-dancing CR Spirit.

So what the heck does this have with dabbling and nature and wildlife filmmaking?

Well, I’m getting to that.

The CR Spirits ready for a night on the town!

I soon became a regular fixture at every Spirit practice on Wednesday night. If I was going to shoot some good footage of Tiffany and the team, I had to learn all their routines and be able to anticipate their movements so that I could follow them smoothly with the camera. I started shooting wide shots of the team and as I learned the routines, the shots got closer and closer. Eventually I could follow any member on the team in a tight closeup and track them effortlessly.

So again, what does this have to do with being a wildlife cinematographer?  Well, think about it. What difference is there between a tight tracking shot of a fast moving dancer or a mountain lion running across the red sandstone of Moab, Utah?  Sure one could totally ruin your day and make your life a living hell and the other is the largest predatory cat in North America but with that aside, a tracking shot is a tracking shot.

I don’t have the ability to be out filming nature and wildlife 365 days a year in exotic locations like Kruger National Park in South Africa or even the tallgrass prairie just a few miles from my home.

Filming the Spirits is certainly something that used to be outside of my comfort zone but by dabbling in filming a totally new subject, it allowed me to improve my skills as a natural history filmmaker.

So get out there and dabble in filming new and different subjects than what you would normally shoot. Love filming the giant redwoods on the California Coast? why not shoot some architectural footage of the tallest buildings in your town? Learn how to find angles that show those buildings at their best. Maybe it means getting up on a pedestrian overpass and shooting them straight on. Then when you visit the California redwoods, look for that higher vantage point to get some killer footage since you’ve already dabbled with shooting tall subjects.

So why not just dabble with filming nature and wildlife?

Well, of course there’s never anything wrong with that. You’ll never have to twist my arm to pack up my camera gear and head out into nature to film. But I think by dabbling with filming subjects you’d never think of filming puts you in a different mindset.

I mean with the Spirits, not only was I concerned about just keeping up with them but I had to worry about were they smiling or not. Was I cutting off one of their hands in the shot as they extended their arm out? I had to be mindful of what the other girls were doing in the background even though my main focus was on the dancer in the foreground. So I had all these things running through my head to make sure not only was the footage good, but that the dancers would like it as well. Kind of makes just filming a grizzly bear walking in a fog shrouded meadow easy peasy doesn’t it?

So get out there and dabble in something different the next time you pick up your camera!

And now for something completely different!

So here for the first and probably the last time you’re ever going to see a professional dance team from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on a nature and wildlife filmmaking website.

Shoot the ordinary and make it extraordinary!

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


By | 2016-11-06T09:39:04+00:00 October 21st, 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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