The 5 Biggest Mistakes when Filming Wildlife

Careers in Wildlife film-making are becoming more popular, and people realise this once distant dream really could become a reality. This inspired career can be very rewarding; however, filming wildlife is not filming your dog in the back yard, so there are a few rules to remember.  This is a list of the top five biggest mistakes I’ve found new filmmakers make when filming wildlife.

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Using a tripod

The first (and in my opinion the silliest) rule that gets broken, is not using a tripod.  The quality difference alone should make you shudder. I, better than most people, understand personal preference and style but there is no place in wildlife filming for shaky handheld footage. Making the handheld idea even more unrealistic is, that you will more times than not, be using a large zoom lens as wild animals are often nervous and quite skittish around humans.  The added zoom to your already shaky hand will make for some frustratingly unusable (and unwatchable!) footage.  The only time that not using a tripod might be considered okay is if you are caught in a situation where you have to immediately start filming and don’t have time to get properly set up.  This, however, leads me into broken rule number two.

Setting up

Always give yourself time to get properly set up. What are you doing on your ride to the location?  Enjoying the view, messaging your mom, singing Adele?  You should be getting your camera set up.  Get your filters and white balance correct and definitely go ahead and pop that camera on your beautiful tripod.  You never know when or where something amazing might happen and, if you’re prepared before you get to your destination, you will always be ready to start filming.

White Balance

What’s that white balance thing you mentioned before some might be asking.  Well, it’s the third most frequently broken rule.  Put simply, white balancing matches the color white in any light, ensuring that you have constancy in your colors.  Forgetting to white balance will make your life hell when editing.  I know it’s something that might seem easy to remember, but when you’re shooting a Lion devour a Zebra, that tiny white balance button seems to slip EVERYONE’S mind.  Just don’t let it! Easier said than done, I know, but its vitally important to your mental health while editing.

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The first three mistakes took place before filming wildlife.  The next two take place during the actual shooting.  Please, please, please just let the animal walk out of frame.  Always panning is the fourth biggest mistake.  Don’t take this as never pan when shooting; just know the difference when to pan and when not to pan.  If a Lion is chasing a Zebra pan!  If a lion is walking in a field alone, maybe just let it walk out of frame.  This will give you a shorter clip to work with, but more importantly it gives you an editing point.  It’s always awkward trying to find a nice cutting point when editing if every shot is a long panning shot.

Wide Shots

The last broken rule should be pretty easy to remember, although it’s very often forgot.   Remember wide shots!  A huge problem I’ve seen with new shooters is, when filming animals, all they worry about is the close up.  All they want are close ups of the face. The thing is, you can’t put together a film of just close ups.  When shooting a documentary, or any film for that matter, you need a variety of shots; close ups, mediums and wide shots.  Wide shots are great!  They can be used for so much.  Wide shots work best as establishing shots.  You have to establish where your story takes place and what better way to do that than through a beautiful wide establishing shot!

These are the five rules that get broken most often.  If you can avoid these five mistakes when filming wildlife, things will go much smoother for you!

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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