Archive for the ‘videos’ Tag
My blog series on video for still photographers continues. It’s not been too popular, something I figured would happen because of the the nature of blogging. The blogosphere is quite biased toward still photography. Videos are very popular overall, but tend to be concentrated in other places on the web. It’s sad to say but most serious photographers still don’t think video is worth doing, I believe because they think the learning curve is too steep. But when you’re out shooting photos you’re also carrying a very good video camera around with you. So why not add movement and sound, even if the results aren’t likely to measure up to those of a pro videographer?
Last time we looked at landscape videos. Today let’s talk about critters, or animals. Specifically wildlife. Domestic animals have their own challenges. Video of wildlife is not easy. But it’s one of the few subjects that even non-video people think of shooting. The reason is that wildlife often do interesting things that are very hard to capture with still pictures. They also make fascinating sounds.
To view the videos don’t click the play button right away. First click the title at top left, then the play button.
Wild animals are generally shy and not easy to find. In modern times there is a two-edged sword. Plenty of roads and easy access make it a snap to go looking for wildlife. But the same development and population growth that gave us those roads also causes most species to decline in numbers. And the survivors normally become very shy and elusive.
A general truism is that the easiest critters to find also tend to have the fastest and most unpredictable movements. On the flip side, leaving aside rarity, if they’re very difficult to find they tend to be slow and easy to follow. Sloths come to mind. But it’s not always true that the slow ones are hard to find. It could be the animal is simply not afraid and instead looks on you as lunch, like the Komodo dragons below.
Location, Location. There are just a few main strategies that will make it easier to find wildlife. One is heading to protected areas. Parks and preserves concentrate the wildlife that we have chased out of most parts of the world. Some African parks even fence them in, which is actually to prevent them leaving the park where they can be poached. Of course the poachers just go into the park to kill, so the fences are relatively ineffective in that way. The fences do cut down on human-wildlife conflict, as well as reduce road-kill.
The Right Time. Another strategy is to go out looking when animals are most active. And I’m not just talking about dawn and dusk, when most (not all) animals are likely to be moving about. I’m also talking season. Fall is when many animals become active, and spring (or the start of wet season in Africa) is also good because many have their young and are thus forced to go out hunting, foraging or browsing to feed them. Also, the babies are irresistible.
‘Tis the Season. Seasonality also affects the ease with which you’ll be able to spot critters because of vegetation. For example going on safari in Africa during the dry season is popular because the general lack of green leafy growth on shrubs and trees of the savannah makes it easier to spot wildlife.
Some wildlife during a specific season will ignore their natural instinct to avoid humans and come right down into our towns. In late fall, the elk of several western U.S. National Parks (Rocky Mountain and Grand Tetons for e.g.) descend from higher country and congregate in gateway towns like Estes Park, Colorado.
Showing their Moves
Animals move (I know, duh). And they move apparently without warning and in unpredictable ways. But really not so unpredictable once you observe and learn about them.
Ready & Steady. Be ever ready to move the camera instantly. It’s a mindset that is applicable to still photos of critters as well. Your positioning and stance needs to be such that you can swivel or pivot easily. I liken it to when I was a kid being coached on how to take a lead in baseball. You also need a way to smooth out your motions, covered in a previous post: Video on the Move.
Observe. The most important thing in this regard is careful observation. The more you learn about a species, the better you’ll be able to predict its movements. But avoid the trap even experienced people fall into. You can know the species but not the individual. Like us, each one is different and unique, in ways that seem quite subtle to us (but presumably not them). So even if you know the species well, a little pre-shooting observation goes a long way.
If you record the voices of animals (and why wouldn’t you have sound recording turned on?), you can be sure that even the chattiest of them will choose the time after you press the record button to give you the silent treatment.
Observe some More. Same goes for sound as for video: if you have the opportunity, observe the animal for awhile before you press record. You’ll gain a sense of the periodicity or patterns inherent in the animal’s vocalizations. The keys, as it is in general nature observation and photography, is patience and timing.
Examples. At Yellowstone Park I went out in the very early morning to film the buffalo above. On a previous morning I’d seen them crossing the Lamar River and figured they were sleeping on one side and eating breakfast on the other, with a bath in between. Also the early hour meant only one other tourist, and he stayed up by the road. A shotgun mic helped to capture their voices. Below, on the Kafue River in Africa, I couldn’t get close enough to these hippos but their voices carry so well across the water that I didn’t need the shotgun mic.
That’s it for this Friday, thanks for looking. Have an excellent weekend and don’t forget to press that record button!
Addendum: Dry Run
Try is a dry run from time to time. For example you could walk out into a forest in the wee hours to hear the dawn chorus of birdsong. Try leaving your camera in the bag, at least at first. The goal is to find the best locations and to simply listen. Note when certain bird species begin and end (it’s strictly regimented), along with how long the singing lasts. If you go out several times you’ll begin to learn how the weather affects timing along with other features of bird vocalization and behaviour.
Believe it or not I did this for a job one summer. I surveyed forests in the Pacific NW proposed for logging, looking for evidence of use by endangered bird species. Since most of the areas lacked trails, I would go out during the day with some white surveyor’s tape. I’d find a good spot to observe from and then, on the way back to the road, flag a route by every so often tying a piece of surveyor’s tape around a branch.
Then in the morning, at “zero dark thirty” I returned with my flashlights (I recommend two, a headlamp and a strong hand-held) and followed the trail in. White shows up in the dark a lot better than orange. On the hike out after sunrise I’d remove the surveyor’s tape. This is, by the way, also a good way to find and shoot out-of-the-way places at dawn, your “secret” spots that are away from roads and trails.
This is the 3rd part of my mini-series on video for the unrepentant still photographer. The over-arching premise is that, no matter how in love with still photography you happen to be, there is always a enough time to add in a bit of videography. If you need real reasons to press that play button, check out Part I. For tips on things to watch out for when getting started, check out Part II.
Note that in order to watch the videos here you have to click the title at top left. That will take you to my Vimeo page, where you simply press play to watch them. There’s a full-screen option. By the way, they haven’t been edited, even for length. On my to-do list. Now let’s get into it!
Video & Focal Length
Last time I recommended starting out simple, by placing your camera on a tripod and recording without moving the camera. You can also keep things still while hand-holding the camera. But choose a fairly wide-angle lens for this. If you zoom in beyond, say, 70 mm., it will be next to impossible to hold the camera still enough. Even with focal lengths around 50 mm. it’s hard. Use a tripod.
There is another issue with focal length when recording video. When you use a medium focal length, on the order of 50 mm., you are replicating the approximate field of view for human vision. It means that the viewer will not be distracted by either an unusually wide angle, with its distortion, or by any unsteadiness and jittering of the frame that may happen when you zoom in to longer focal lengths. This doesn’t mean you should avoid those different focal lengths; that’s one big advantage of shooting video with a DSLR. It’s just that as a rule of thumb 35-60 mm. is a good baseline, or default, focal length.
Camera Movement: Panning
If you do follow my advice from last post and start out by locking the camera down on a tripod while recording (and in that case you’ll be choosing moving subjects that are interesting in some way), it won’t be long before you get bored and start moving the camera. The most basic kind of camera movement is panning. If you shoot a lot of landscapes like me, panning will show you the whole area. It’s sort of the video equivalent of an establishing shot in still photography.
You have two basic choices. You can just pan like most people do with their phones, pivoting around while pointing the lens at what you want to include. Or you can pan while on the tripod. An in-between option is a monopod set up for video. In the first case, just winging it by hand, you should realize that a camera phone has a very wide-angle lens. Any deviations from a smooth pan (short of tripping over your own feet!) are masked by the wide angle of view. Speaking of hand-holding for video, there are stabilizer rigs that you hold/wear that will make it much easier to keep things smooth while panning and otherwise moving the camera.
For the video below, I bushwacked to a very beautiful & secluded spot in Olympic National Park. I climbed onto a rock beside a lovely falls and panned through the scene by hand. Even though I used a wide-angle, you’ll see a couple small errors toward the end. If I had used a stabilizer rig it would have been smoother.
Panning on the Tripod ~ Which Head?
If you pan on a tripod, which is what I’d try first for longer focal lengths, you have another choice to make. Do you buy a so-called fluid panning head? And how nice/expensive? You can literally spend thousands on a super-smooth fluid head for video. You’re thinking why can’t I just use my regular ballhead? Sure. But if you go this route you will have to develop quite the steady technique. You’ll also need to limit how long a focal length you use and probably accept small hitches in the final product.
‘But’, I hear you saying, ‘my ballhead has separate panning movement.’ Yes it does. But it’s there for shooting a series of still shots on a plane (a panorama, for e.g.). It’s movement isn’t really smooth enough for video panning. That said, I have used my ballhead (not the panning base) to pan through shots. I use the ballhead itself though, not the pan. And I don’t do it with particularly long focal lengths.
Panning Heads: What to Buy
If you go for a panning head, and if you’re not yet a serious videographer, I would buy an intro. model. But intro. doesn’t mean cheapest. Cheap fluid heads are like cheap tripods. You’ll soon regret your purchase. Get one a bit further up the scale, one with some good reviews by practiced videographers on a budget. Figure on spending at least $100 and probably closer to $150 or even a bit more. Look at the Manfrotto fluid heads in that range.
EXTRA ~ FOR OWNERS OF LONG TELEPHOTO LENSES ONLY
If you have a long telephoto or zoom, and especially if you plan on shooting wildlife, you’ll probably want a Gimbal head. Wimberley is a popular brand but there are others just as good. Gimbals aren’t cheap. But when using big lenses they are more stable, balanced and move more easily than on a ballhead. As a bonus Gimbals allow smooth panning and other movement during video recording. So with big lenses it is your go-to head, whether you are doing still photography (following a bird in flight, for e.g.) or video. There are partial Gimbals that clamp onto your ballhead. Cheaper than a full Gimbal, these are better than using just the ballhead but not as good as the full version that replaces your ballhead.
Next time, more video on the move: tips for when you’re in the field and want to shoot a video or two to go along with your still shots. Have a fantastic weekend and happy shooting!
Saratoga Springs surprises with so much water in such a dry desert.
Happy Friday! Here’s another installment of Likes/Dislikes, where I give my totally personal opinion on a trend or issue in photography. I want to do a series on videography soon, so why not preview that by taking a subjective look at video? I have so many still images from recently at Death Valley, so forgive me if I share them instead of videos. So here we go!
LIKE: The ability to shoot video on most cameras today has changed the way we use our cameras. I love being able to just switch modes from still to live action on a whim.
DISLIKE: There is an explosion in photographers switching over to making videos. It’s trendy, which for me is a reason to view it with some skepticism. I realize most photographers shoot video simply because it adds profit, and that’s perfectly fine. But it’s a lousy reason to create something artistic.
Abstract of the reeds reflecting in Saratoga Springs, home of those cute pupfish!
LIKE: When they’re well done, nature videos are quite educational, even inspiring. They’re similar to the best of that series Planet Earth. Videos that feature humans can be eye-opening as well.
DISLIKE: I have a confession. I don’t like most videos I see. I’m not sure of the total reason, but part of it is explained in the next Dislike. For example, nearly all time-lapse videos bore the heck out of me (probably in the minority there). When in school I really enjoyed being exposed to time-lapse for educational purposes. Who doesn’t love seeing exactly how a flower blooms? But most time-lapse goes for the wow as with still photography. And it fails miserably.
Line and pattern: Ibex Dunes, Death Valley N.P.
LIKE: Seeing good interesting action is such a different experience than viewing a still. Good videos are engrossing.
DISLIKE: When you view a still image you are in control of the experience. You can look as long as you want and focus on different parts of the picture at your leisure. Videos on the other hand, control the pace and duration of your viewing. And before you even watch it you’re being told how long it is. When the first thing I experience with imagery is the duration of the experience, the life can be sucked right out of it.
The pan near Saratoga Springs features unusually soft and puffy evaporite deposits.
LIKE: The world is filled with wonderful sounds, and I’ve often lamented the inability to include it in a still image. I want to create those greeting cards that play a short audio segment when you open the card. That would be cool!
DISLIKE: It’s hard to get sound right, even if you have a separate microphone and the gear to monitor and adjust audio. To make things worse, humans seem to be in love with making noise. Our world is now filled to the brim with noise pollution.
I can’t count the times I’ve been inspired to record sound in nature only to have Murphy’s Law strike! I’ll get my microphone out to record some lovely bird call or the wind through tall grass. And just before I press ‘play’ a plane suddenly drones overhead. Recording audio at Yellowstone’s thermal features is near impossible without people talking. You have to go late at night or hike to some off-trail thermal areas.
A desert five-spot blooms near Saratoga Springs.
LIKE: What about creating videos? That can be fun and a nice change of pace. It may even stoke your creativity. There are several different variations, such as time-lapse and slow-motion.
DISLIKE: Although shooting natural-time videos can be very enjoyable, making time-lapse videos is like watching paint dry. You have to sit there with your camera clicking away, automatically taking shot after shot. Boring!
Most time-lapse shooters do something else while the camera is doing its thing. They snooze in their cars, look at their phones, and essentially disconnect with their subjects. And as I mentioned above, I think viewing time-lapses isn’t much better than making them.
LIKE: Moving pictures can tell you more about the subject than a still photo can. For example it’s easy to see exactly how graceful a lynx is as it walks across the snow. A still might hint at that grace, but it’s nothing compared to seeing it in action.
DISLIKE: Videos can be either distracting or boring, often in the same video. Sure you can eliminate distracting elements just as with a still image. But it’s far easier to cut right to the point with a still. A bad still is easy to ignore. A bad video may get good, so you’re tempted to stick with it. You often end up disappointed.
Please add your take on videos in the comments below. Do you like doing them? How about viewing? Why? Have a fantastic weekend of shooting you all!
Sunset colors over the Ibex dunes, Death Valley N.P.