And the bush has friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him, In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, And at night the wonderous glory of the everlasting stars.

Banjo Paterson (1889)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Widlife Videography

I was originally going to have two blogs, one for general wildlife posts and one dedicated to wildlife videography, but due to work commitments and a busy lifestyle, one blog had to go. I have decided to post videography information on this blog, as it’s my main enjoyment when out in the great outdoors with wildlife.

First thing, why video? I suppose because it’s harder than modern wildlife photography (yes, I must be a glutton for punishment). I have probably lost all the photography followers now, but please hear me out. I also love the way video can capture animal behaviour that photography often misses out on.

So why is wildlife videography harder?

• As a videographer, you need at least a 1000 times longer than a photographer! A photographer may shoot a photo at 1/100, but for some good footage on video you usually need about 10 seconds minium. That’s often a long time for an animal to stay around in the open!

The animal must be doing something! A photo of a still animal may look good, but 10 seconds of video of that same animal looking like a statue is boring!

Keeping the video still is so important for most good wildlife video. A photo is shot quickly, but video is going for many seconds, so any major shake or movement will be noticed and usually distracts from the animal. Video needs a very good (expensive) and often heavy tripod. Not much fun lugging a heavy tripod (plus video gear) all day on steep slippery muddy trails in Borneo! When we go on organised birding tours, I’m usually forced to only carry my small hand-held camcorder and hope for the best.

Good Pan and tilt techniques used in video need to be mastered and a good expensive heavy tripod with a good video head are needed. It’s very hard to master constant smooth speed when panning (eg. as when animals are moving) and cheaper tripods often have what’s called bounce-back. This is when you stop your panning, but the tripod head moves back slightly (very noticeable on high magnifications).

The wind is your enemy! Generally, any windy day is not a good video day, with lots of distracting background movement, video camera shake (wind gusts will shake your camera not matter how good your tripod is!) and sound is ruined. Unfortunately, Perth is one of the windiest cities in the world! Many places and habitats are very hard to video in.

Sound, sound, sound, this is one of the most important elements of video! People always forget about sound, how many great wildlife videos have I seen on YouTube, but are ruined by someone talking all through it! Most of my videos need sound editing when I go out wildlife videoing with other people, due to people making some type of noise which the video camera always records. Since starting videography, it is amazing how many human-made sounds I have noticed out there (close your eyes and give it a go next time). You can be in a remote area, but often there’s a long distance car or train noise, a plane flying somewhere. You can add to those chainsaws, building noise, dogs barking, digital camera noises (a big one when with photographers!) and the old enemy, wind noise.

• To get good sound recordings for video, you need to carry extra sound gear out into the field or go out and get them later from somewhere else.

Editing is more time-consuming and more limited to fixing (than photography), even with expensive editing programmes. Because you are working on many frames of footage and sound, many elements may need adjusting (including splicing video segments together). Videos are much more limited to fixing than a single photo. When you are panning and following a bird from a dark forest area to suddenly a bright sunlit patch, video often can’t cope or be fixed in editing, with video it’s often what you get is what you get!

Larger storage is needed. An average one minute compressed HD video sent to Youtube is about 200 MB. To keep all raw video (most of my video folders for one day of shooting have 5 GB) and edited video, you need big computer hard-drives and lots of safe storage on external hard-drives (I also leave my original video on mini DV tapes).

These are some of the things that make wildlife videography so hard and challenging, but also the things making it so enjoyable, to be able to bring all these elements together and make a interesting wildlife video.

So next time you see a wildlife video have a look and enjoy it (maybe leave a comment), and be aware that it wasn’t easy to make.


Bob Pelkey said...

Congratulations on your decision to do what you find most personally rewarding, Richard. I was visiting the website recently and had to express my opinion that videography with DSLR cameras will be a bust. A fad if you will. For quality nature video production, a high end video camera dedicated for that purpose alone makes the most compelling imagery. All of the complications you describe for a quality "production" must be overcome with great diligence. Your comment about the importance of sound is so relevant. I've made one video documentary, if you will, of mating Burrowing Owls. The sound captured with the event included not only the wind buffeting the microphone, but a resident of the neighborhood (Cape Coral, Florida) building something in his garage nearby.

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Yikes all that soundss sooo complicated, think I'll stick to the video mode on my point and shoot 'stills' camera - Hardest part is keeping the commentary going smoothly without waffling on about nothing..I'm goodat that last bit.



Stu said...

Agree re wind, it can ruin my 7D videos. Also agree the subject must be doing something. My panning technique leaves a lot to be desired too........