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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

The moose of Sandy Pond is a subject I tend to gravitate to, you might imagine. I love photographing them, but with the introduction of HDSLRs, recording their biology with video just seems like a natural extension in telling their story. Working on a 15-minute segment for my presentations, this was shot with the Nikon D3S and 200-400mm zoom. This young bull, dealing with the stress of fall, came out in the wind because all the big boys were tucked away in the forest. One click can't tell that story, so a video showing all the players is the only way I know to accomplish it. The bull was making a low moan, which the RØDE DSLR mic did a pretty good job of capturing. In post, I had to work to reduce the wind noise. If I could have positioned another mic out of the wind, the results would have been better, but that's not always an option.
Sound Is So Important
Sound is really difficult to do well while photographing wildlife. Sound is everything, and capturing the sound we experience when watching a documentary requires an auxiliary mic. The one that's built into your DSLR is useful, but for wildlife work, you'll want an audio-recording system that gives you more range while eliminating a lot of the off-axis ambient noise. You could use a shotgun mic like the RØDE VideoMic Pro, but even that may not work for wildlife. Other options? I go with a handheld digital recorder like the Olympus LS-10S, Zoom H4n from Samson Technologies or Tascam DR-40 that records stereo. These recorders can do an incredible job, and many of them allow you to connect a separate mic, like a shotgun, for even greater control. You'll find that experimenting with audio, while challenging, can make a big difference in the final clip or film.

Shooting Strategies
There are many, and it really comes down to you. I do have some suggestions that may help you get started. Unless you're shooting a documentary, you don't need long segments. Since we're coming from the perspective of shooting stills, we only need short clips. I tend to start the video right after I've captured the stills I want. A minimum clip length of 90 seconds and a max of about five minutes is the norm. If you're after producing just a three- to five-minute YouTube clip, this will serve you really well.

I would encourage you to use video to aid in your still storytelling, though. Shooting video clips that are segmented with your gorgeous stills is a great strategy. The one struggle I have is that sometimes when shooting stills, I think that would be a great video clip, and when shooting video, I think that would be a great still. With this "conflict" often going through my mind, I'm switching a lot. The one feature of the D4 I really appreciate is that the metering compensation is separate from the stills and video. For example, there may be only -2⁄3 exposure compensation dialed in for stills, but the same scene for video could be -11⁄3 exposure compensation. If you're flipping back and forth between the two and exposure is linked, this can cause a little shooting stress.

Manfrotto Q5 055; RØDE VideoMic Pro; Zoom H4n
On this same note, one of the luxuries of shooting video is low light. While we're often concerned with noise shooting stills, with video, not so much. I have a lot of video shot at ISO 25,000, and since the image is moving, the mind's eye doesn't take note, and that's the best part of having video in our still cameras!

Wait, There's More!
Oh, there's really so much more, but I wanted to just get you started. All those things that are photography—ƒ-stop and shutter speed, composition and light—are still very much part of the video picture. There's plenty of technical to suck in the biggest camera junkie. But for those who love photography to tell a story, the HDSLR is a grand vehicle for doing just that! You probably already have the tools; you just have to flip the switch and go. Keep in mind, like anything digital, if it doesn't work, you can simply delete it. With a little bit of experimenting and time, though, you'll gain the same satisfaction from your video captures as you do from your stills.

You can see Moose Peterson's wildlife videos and his photography on his website at www.moosepeterson.com.

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