Video is a wonderful visual medium that adds whole new dimensions of movement and sound to your photography. Just having a beautiful composition isn’t enough to hold someone’s attention with video because people expect video to move and change. Video is about something happening over time compared to the single image of still photography.
So what do you do with video? I’ve talked to a lot of photographers in my workshops and classes who are getting started with the technology. Most are skilled photographers, but their video clips show a lack of experience. From working with many of these photographers, I’ve compiled a list of quick tips that should be helpful for any nature photographer who’s interested in exploring this dynamic medium.
1. Carry enough memory cards. Video uses up memory cards in a hurry. My Canon EOS 7D records about 20 minutes of video to an 8 GB memory card.
2. Carry enough batteries. Since video is recording things continuously and using the live LCD, battery power is used much faster than shooting still photos. On my Canon EOS 7D, for example, I find I need a battery per 8 GB card of video.
3. Shutter speeds for video should be between 1⁄30 and 1⁄125 sec. Video is essentially 30 images shot per second, so it’s impossible to shoot a shutter speed of slower than 1⁄30 sec. To deal with low light, you have to change your aperture or ISO setting. Video of anything moving doesn’t look very good when shot faster than approximately 1⁄90 sec. (this depends on how fast the movement is; I often cheat a little with 1⁄125 sec.). If video is shooting 30 fps and you’re shooting at 1⁄500 sec., you’re only exposing something for 6% of that second! What happens to the rest of the second? It shows up as chattery or jumpy movement in the video. Shutter speeds faster than 1⁄90 to 1⁄125 sec. are for video used for special purposes such as stopping motion to analyze movement. If you need a faster shutter speed to use your desired ƒ-stop, use a neutral-density filter (a polarizing filter can help).
4. Get a separate microphone if your camera has a microphone jack. Audio is important to video, but unfortunately, the microphones built in-to digital SLRs aren’t all that great. In addition, those microphones pick up all sorts of camera-handling noise. You can get a good, reliable shotgun mic at a reasonable price. I use a Sennheiser MKE 400.
5. Record lots of different shots. When you start editing video, you’ll never feel that you have enough clips. Even if you’re putting together a simple video with music, having a variety of angles and perspectives really helps.
6. Look for movement. Even if you’re shooting a grand landscape, find something blowing in the wind near the camera. Or if you’re photographing flowers, wait for the breeze that moves them slightly. Video is a medium of motion, and your video looks best when there’s some movement in the frame.
7. Avoid zooming in and out while recording video. DSLR lenses aren’t designed for smooth video zooms, plus a lot of zooming will make your viewers seasick.
8. Use a tripod. With anything longer than a wide-angle lens, a tripod is mandatory to prevent the kind of bouncing and shaking that makes viewers feel motion sick. (While it’s possible to handhold while shooting video with a wide-angle lens, it’s generally not a good idea.) Also, if you want to pan across a scene, get a fluid head designed to make panning and tilting smooth.