How to record great film while working with bad light

There are many challenges to shooting wildlife, and shooting at night can be difficult. Most cameras are designed to shoot in well-lit conditions; however some of the most interesting animals only come out at night.   Luckily there are a few options you can choose from to make that night shoot work. The first and most obvious option is to simply add a light to your kit. There are many different kinds of lights that can be added and they all serve very specific purposes.

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Making your own light

A big diffused light is a nice light that can be utilized as it gives a soft light to a large area, and you can often pass it for moon light.  However, a diffused light doesn’t have a very large range, so your subject will have to be relatively close.

You could also use a spotlight.  This is a highly concentrated beam of light that can shine at quiet a distance.  This is an option that will never pass as moonlight but is still a widely accepted form of lighting at night.  The spot light might be widely used, but many problems can come along with it.  The first is that a light which is concentrated can be very blinding to whatever nocturnal animal you’re shooting.   It also can be a dead giveaway for prey animals to predators and vice versa.  And last but not least, it can give you away to whatever animal you’re filming. Luckily, there is a fix to these problems, and that would be to use a filter on the spotlight.  By using a red or blue filter your spotlight suddenly become invisible to colorblind animals, giving you the filming advantage you need.

Camera trap

If using a light doesn’t sound like what you want for your film there are still many other options to explore.  A solid and relatively cheap option is to use a camera trap.  The camera trap is a camera that you leave in a selected spot and if anything moves in its area it will start recording. This works great for filming timid animals that steer clear of human interaction. However, leaving a camera unattended in the wild might not always work out great for you.  Curious animals, like an elephant for example, often like to pick up and check out camera traps and they sometimes throw them in water holes, like what happened to mine.

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Night vision

If the camera trap isn’t for you, then maybe night vision will work. Cameras with night vision are sometimes used to film wildlife at night.  The night vision turns the frames a green color but gives a nice overall image.  Using night vision is a nice option, but like the diffused light it is best utilized at a closer distance.  The last option is to use an infrared or a thermal camera to shoot great film where there is bad light.  This is a pretty expensive option that is sometimes used in wildlife filming.  The camera is designed to pick up the heat signature of an animal.  This would work best in a pitched black situation where there’s really no other option.

These are just a few options for tackling the challenge of filming wildlife at night.  I’m sure there are many other alternatives, but these are what I have tried and tested; and therefore recommend as best options for night filming. I hope that this helps and that you successfully shoot a great film despite the bad light!

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Ryan Johnson Shark Scientist

Blogger Profile - Ryan Johnson

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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