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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Wildlife Videography

HDSLRs give you the ability to create professional-level wildlife films, shorts and even simple multimedia clips. If you haven’t tried, here’s a primer on how to get it done.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

It simply takes a lot of forage to keep the largest deer in North America fed. This bull moose at Sandy Pond, Baxter State Park, Maine, is walking the shallows, foraging on the underwater grasses on the edge. The single click gives you a sense of place, but not purpose. The moose, as you may imagine, isn't a fast mover or eater, but rather very deliberate. Shooting with the Nikon D3S and Nikon 600mm lens, the camera was locked in place, and I shot so the moose slowly moved through the frame right to left to tell the foraging story.
Lens Settings
The lens is what really makes HDSLRs just so darn cool and the final results cinematic! The range of lenses we can easily use to shoot video is vast. This is key in wildlife videography since we can, with the switch of a lever, change back and forth. But there are a couple of "gotchas" in this process that you take for granted shooting stills that you can't when shooting video.

Up until HDSLRs, controlling depth of field in video was the realm of very expensive cinematic cameras, but no longer. We can easily shoot at ƒ/1.4 or ƒ/2.8 or ƒ/4 and have a really shallow depth of field and dramatically throw the focus to and from our subject. Just keep in mind that when you do that, you not only have to have very smooth focusing, but also watch the shutter speed. If your subject is moving and you're shooting faster than 1⁄160 sec., your subject will move in a very rigid, jumpy way.

With this in mind, you also have the ability to zoom as you shoot. When shooting stills, you set your focal length and then just focus and shoot. When looking at the same subject through the lens thinking video, though, you can zoom to that focal length. Telling the story using motion rather than stills, zooming brings another dimension to the story. Doing this smoothly, I find, is made easier using the plastic wrenches you use to remove filters. These can slip over the zoom or focus ring, and that extra leverage permits a smooth action.

One warning I want to pass along: Turn off the VR/IS! When the camera is attached to a lens and the lens to a tripod, when you have this turned on and shooting a long clip, you'll see the image "shift" up and down in the frame. It's subtle, yet annoying, just as the focus jumping in and out. Most use manual focus when shooting video because there's nothing worse than a great clip being spoiled by the lens searching for focus.

More On Keeping It Steady
The tripod you use for shooting stills should work perfectly for your HD video. The same may not be true for your head. While not a game-killer when shooting stills, if the panning movements in your head aren't smooth, you'll see it in your video, and it's a game-changer.

When shooting video, the moving subject tends to require a moving story. The movement comes from either the subject, the lens or the camera. Subject movement is pretty obvious. Movement from the lens can be depth of field, focus or zooming, or a combination thereof. The camera movement is either from panning or a rail (something we tend not to shoot on for stills). That panning comes from the tripod head, and it has to be smooth. To find out how good your head is, set up the camera and just pan with a dog walking by. You'll soon discover how good your head and technique really are.

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