This series on casual video for the still photographer has mostly stuck to the basics. I’ve done that to show how easy it is to start shooting video. None of these videos have been edited either. I want to head off the excuse that some people use, that they have no time to learn a whole new editing program. Untold numbers of people shoot video with their phones. My goal is to get my fellow still photographers to create videos when the mood strikes, but to do them with intention and care.
I’ve also stayed away from stuff like time-lapse and slow-motion. These are rather faddish in my opinion, but speaking objectively, they are sub-areas of nature videography that require a specific focus. Time-lapses, for instance, are actually a series of still shots. While you do produce a video of sorts, the mood is often disjointed. Also there is no real-time, native sound. Creating a time-lapse is rather boring in practice, and it doesn’t really help you develop field video recording skills.
Of course there is nothing wrong with timelapse or any other type of video. But I believe that when you’re first getting into video, or any genre within the photography realm, it’s best to start simply. Go out and do it before you commit to creating a final (shareable) product. So many of us love what we see online so much that we just have to go off and create that very thing. Or something that looks just like it. It’s a completely understandable impulse.
Consider taking a more organic approach. See if you enjoy the process of creating it first before worrying about results. This way you’ll slowly develop your own style, eventually creating something that is uniquely yours rather than imitative. By the way, I don’t consider myself such a great artist. But I do have a firm idea of the way to get there!
I know this is the era of instant gratification, but it’s important to be patient. Learn to enjoy the process before you expect to create something you can be proud of. High expectations are fine, but don’t impose too-short a timeline. That will only cause unnecessary stress. Even a mild amount of anxiety can sabotage the creative process.
Video & Focal Length
Now let’s get to it! One of the best things about shooting video with a DSLR (or mirrorless) camera is the ability to use a variety of lenses. As I mentioned in an earlier post on the basics, when you’re starting out it’s useful to stick with a medium focal length lens. If you have a 50 mm. lens you’re in luck; it’s perfect for video. Otherwise use a medium zoom and stay 10 or 15 mm of 50. Reason is to avoid the distortion you get with wide angles, and the shakiness that can happen with long focal lengths.
Once you’re comfortable doing videos at medium focal lengths, you’ll naturally want to try different lenses. But this post isn’t about using telephotos for wildlife or wide-angles for landscapes. It’s about one of the most fun ways to shoot video: macro and close-up! In order to view these videos click on the title at top-left first, then click the play button.
By the way, I didn’t mean to cut short the video of the dung beetles below. A black rhino had suddenly appeared between my rental car and where I was lying on the ground. So I had to stop and figure out how to avoid being charged!
Macro Video ~ Tips
- Try to pick subjects that stay in one place. You can expand on this once you get some practice. Either way you should observe your subject for a time before you come up with a plan. For example in the video above I watched those beetles in Africa roll a couple dung balls from point A to point B before I followed along shooting the clip. That delay may have saved me, as I could have been regarded as a threat if I hadn’t been lying down!
- Use a tripod. Just as with macro still photography, a tripod is nearly essential. For one thing, most macro lenses have fairly long effective focal lengths. Hand-holding is hard to do without introducing jumpiness. Also, whether you use a macro lens or attachments like extension tubes or close-up filters, depth of field will be quite narrow. Provided you choose a suitable subject, you have a better chance of keeping things in focus when you’re on a tripod.
- Speaking of focus, choose a point of view and composition that makes it easier to keep the subject in focus without having to twist the focus ring. “Pulling” or “following” focus as it is called, is a skill that takes awhile to master. A subject that moves across the frame, for example, is easier to keep in focus than one that moves toward or away from you.
- Watch for repetitive or cyclical behaviour. Many times, when observing nature, you’ll notice that a critter will keep repeating its actions, or it might circle back to where it has been before. If you set up on a tripod focused in on that spot, all you need to do is watch and wait, ready to press record. For the video below the dragon flies were zipping around much too quickly for me to follow. So I simply watched one for awhile and noticed her returning to a nearby perch, spreading her wings like they do. I focused on her first, using manual focus (which is best for video). Then next time back, since she alighted in exactly the same spot, I shot the clip.
- Limit motions. By using the approach just mentioned, pointing at a spot and waiting for the critter to arrive, you’ll be forced to stay put. Insects and other small critters tend to get used to your presence more quickly than bigger animals, but it’s still helpful to keep still. Of course moving around is necessary for any good photography. But macro shooting, still or video, goes much more smoothly when movement is limited, planned out and deliberate.
- Look for subtle subjects too. Macro video isn’t just about insects. For example, flowers or other interesting macro subjects can be great targets for video when light is rapidly changing as clouds move quickly across the sky. Movements from wind can also make videos worth a try.
- Finally, don’t limit yourself to true macro. Do close-up videos with other lenses. If you have a lens that offers a “macro” setting, you may be able, depending on subject, to focus close enough to get that intimate feel of macro. Do you know the closest that each of your lenses will focus? You should. Wide-angle lenses often focus quite closely. They also enable you to hand-hold the camera with less chance of shakiness. For the video below I had to get my feet wet to move smoothly through the scene. At the end of the clip is a bonus: my little buddy Charl (RIP) watches from the bridge. No way was he getting his little feet wet!
That’s all for now. If you haven’t done so, try a macro video or two. If you have, let us know what you thought. Are there any tips I forgot? Thanks for reading and have a fantastically fun weekend!