8 Tips to give your wildlife film that professional look

A common frustration for new film makers is that they feel like their films are coming across amateur-ish.  I’ve been asked many times how to make a film seem more professional and the answer isn’t that far- fetched.  You don’t need a top of the line camera to make a professional looking video – if you just stick to the basics in pre-production, production and post – production your film will come across much more professional.  Here is a list of 8 things to keep in mind for every shoot that will help give it a more professional look.

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Number 8STORY –  Sort out your story in pre-production.  One of the biggest problems with a film coming across as an amateur production is the lack of a meaningful story.  This is not a part of the film that can be glossed over.  You’re story should drive everything and the more time you spend on it in prep, the better it will come across in production.

Number 7TRIPOD – Get a bloody tripod!  This is the easiest thing to fix about the amateur look.  A shaky handheld video doesn’t look artsy, it looks unprofessional.  I’ve personally battled with this and if you really like the shaky look go buy a shoulder mount or steady-cam.  Either of these options will still have a shake to the image but keep it stable enough to watch without feeling queasy.

Number 6FRAMING – Focus on your framing.  Where is the subject in the frame, what’s going on in the background, is it level?  These are all questions you need to ask when setting up the shot.  There’s nothing that will look more amateur, than having the subject right in the middle of the screen with a white wall or crooked hillside behind it.  A film needs to have layers, a foreground, the subject and the background, and each layer needs to be addressed.

Number 5DEPTH OF FIELD – Keep your depth of field in mind.  Forgetting about the depth of field is a very amateur move, but if remembered will automatically bring up production value and make your film look more professional.  Even if you have to use a zoom lens and back up a few meters to get that nice blurred out background, it’ll be worth it.

Number 4WIDE, MEDIUM, CLOSE – Have variance in your shots.  The one and done shoot is a lazy concept that will leave your film looking bland and rushed.  You need a variety of shots to create an atmosphere and to have nice cut points.  Close, medium and wide shot are just the tip of this ice berg.   This is a part of the film where creativity can shine as long as you don’t go overboard.  Remember to keep your shots appropriate to the scene.

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Number 3AUDIO – Audio, the killer of the professional dream.  If you have all the production value in the world, but bad audio, your film will suffer greatly.  Go out and get a microphone, a boom mic or a body mic -really anything that captures sound and isn’t built into your camera.  Once you have a mic, take the time to set up the scene and test out how it sounds.  Remembering to do things like turning the air conditioner off, shutting windows, and capturing natural sound will make a huge difference in the overall sound quality of your film.

Number 2DRAFT EDITS – Have multiple drafts of your film.  A rough cut is very different than a final cut.  You need to go through this process to weed out unnecessary movements, sounds, and/ or frames.  The difference a few frames can make may be the difference between your film looking amateur and looking professional.

Finally, number 1COLOUR CORRECTION – Once you have your final cut and everything just how you want it, it’s time for colour correction.  A common theme in amateur films is their lack of proper colours. Color correction can fix most white balancing mistakes and matching colour for each clip will bring the film together as a whole.

These are 8 very basic ideas to keep in mind when filming and can make all the difference in the overall look of your film. Good luck and keep on filming!

Ryan Johnson Shark Scientist

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Ryan is a well known wildlife film maker and shark biologist located in MosselBay, South Africa. His work is highlighted as researcher, television host, camera operator and scientist on shark and marine documentaries for international broadcastors including National Geographic Network.

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