Don’t Play the If Only Game
What camera should I buy? That’s the number one question I get asked when it comes to nature and wildlife cinematography. The second most asked question I get asked is what camera do you use?
While I’m humbled that other nature and wildlife cinematographers think highly enough about my work that they want to get the same results that I get, the camera doesn’t make the filmmaker.
So many filmmakers play the “if only” game. If only I had this camera, if only I had this tripod, if only…”
There’s no doubt that better gear can oftentimes get you a better image but it doesn’t nothing to make you a better filmmaker.
I think a lot of it has to do with peer pressure and “keeping up with the Jones’s” You see everyone else going to 4k so you feel that you have to as well in order to keep up with everyone else. Everyone else is shooting with a DSLR so you have to ditch your video camera and get one too.
Course, then you have the tech snobs that feel if you don’t have the same or better than you are beneath them and not worth their time.
I’ve never ever worried about the tech snobs. Most can’t shoot their way out of a paper bag. Anyone that thinks I am beneath them because of the gear I shoot isn’t anyone I’d want to be associated with and neither should you. The next time a tech snob looks down on you for the gear you shoot, remind them that one of the breakout films at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Tangerine, was shot on an iPhone 5s. Yep, not a Red, Not an Alexia or even a Canon DSLR but an iPhone. Imagine if the filmmaker had worried what other filmmakers were going to think?
The “I have to get one because everyone else has one” mentality is a lot harder to deal with. A lot of people are shooting with DSLR’s or moving up to 4k video cameras.
I remember when I had a restored ’69 Mach 1 Mustang I saw Mustangs all over the place. It’s like everyone had one. When I bought a ’84 Z28 Camaro, it seemed that everyone else had one too. Now I drive a Toyota Tundra. Guess what I see all the time now?
It’s a similar thing when the next generation of cameras come out. It seems like they are everywhere even though they really aren’t. Because you have 4k cameras in your head and they are the cameras everyone is reviewing and talking about you think you’re the only one that doesn’t have one. Not true.
There are far more nature and wildlife cinematographers out there making money and creating great films with standard HD video cameras than there are with 4k video cameras.
Instead of Film Gear, What Should I Get Instead?
Two things I think you can never have enough of are batteries and recoding media. Nothing worse than being out in the field and running out of recording space or your last battery dying just as that big whitetail buck steps out of the shadows. Trust me, I’ve encountered both and it will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done to walk away from a great situation simply because your battery is dead or you have no more space on your cards to film anything else.
I’ve actually had to delete good clips in the field because I was out of space on my P2 cards and I knew if I stuck around long enough, this dew covered dragonfly would eventually take flight.
It worked out in this case but what if it hadn’t? I would have thrown away good clips for nothing.
Buy Books and Field Guides
The more you know about your nature and wildlife subjects, the better your chances of finding them and getting some amazing video footage of them.
Spring is still several months away but I’m already combing field guides for wildflowers, insects and other animals that can be found in my area and learning about their behavior, what they like to eat and where they like to spend their day.
Mourning Cloak butterflies are found near my house at Indian Creek Nature Center. I’ve never been able to film them. I picked up a book on butterflies to learn more about Mourning Cloak habitat, diet etc. When the weather warms up, I’ll be much more prepared to find them and film them.
By the way, did you know that Mourning Cloaks don’t migrate? They’ve even been spotted on warm winter days.
Pick up some travel guides to future destinations. It always helps to know what’s off the beaten path before you go.
There are numerous photography guides to National Parks and natural areas.
I picked up a book called Yellowstone’s Treasures that breaks down the park by mile markers along the roads and what features can be found there. A place like Yellowstone is so huge with such diversity you really need to plan your trip well in advance to get the most out of it.
Save For Your Bucket List Destinations
I was fortunate to have Panasonic send me to Africa to shoot some test footage with one of their new cameras several years back. Next year I’m looking to possibly go to Norway to meet some fellow filmmakers and film the amazing scenery and wildlife found in Norway.
I took a quick peek at airfare and it’s over $1000 just to fly to Norway, That doesn’t include lodging, transportation and meals once I get there.
Instead of laying down your hard-earned cash for expensive gear, why not sock it away and travel to amazing destinations? Remember DVD’s are still only standard definition and Blu-Ray is just standard HD. Sure there are advantages to shooting 4k but in the end is it really going to tell your story any better? Me? I’d rather be able to travel to great destinations, film amazing nature and wildlife and tell a story that makes a difference than to have the latest and greatest. How about you?
Let me know what your opinion on this is. Do you think it’s more important to be happy that you have the latest and greatest or is filmmaking about the story and not so much the resolution? I’d really appreciate it if you left a comment below and let’s start a discussion on this topic.
And as always, shoot the ordinary and make it extraordinary!