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This blog is about making wildlife films, the “magic” that happens before you see it on television.
What you need and what you have to do in order to capture your motives.
This blog will as well answer and explain related questions from readers.

Author: Atte Henriksson

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Getting started

What you need
 
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I'm going to write about my own experience and the cheapest way to shoot professional wildlifefilms which I'm most familiar with due my economical situation as a filmstudent and a poor freelance cinematographer.
   






Camera

 If you are interested in wildlife and want to capture it, you'll need a camera. There's a lot of different kind of cameras made for different purposes and with huge price difference and that's why it's good to know what to get. Starting from the hightech top you will find camera brands like Red, Arri, and many more. These cameras are the most expensive ones and naturally the ones with the best image quality and most features.   I bought my first own camera last year and my prior thought was for which purpose I'm going to shoot. This was my list of features the camera must have:

  • Full HD recording
  • Full manual functions (apperture, shutterspeed, whitebalance, ISO, and focus.
  • Changeable lenses
  • Desent imagequality
  • Sound recording
  • Price under 3000€
 
After a couple of weeks of research I was surprised to find out that the camera closest to my priority features list was an DSLR camera. With minimal experience of these cameras I bought the Canon eos 600D / Rebel T3i with the EF mount. These cameras was originally built for still photography but now they have a movie mode as well. People who has more experience of the cameras than me might ask them self “why the 600D when there are (better ones) like the 5D markII, 7D, etc” the answer is simple, the 600D has the same technical specifics as all Canon cameras with movie mode in the movie mode from 550D to 7D. 5D markII would have been another choice but because of the lack of the flip LCD screen and the sick 2000€ price difference I ended up with the 600D which I haven't regretted a day since.
 
So now I and maybe even you has as well a camera which costs under 600€ with a kit lens 18-35mm f 3,5-5,6 included. And the first thought might be: how to shoot wildlife photos or films?
Firstly you, or at least I noticed that the kit lens which came with the camera is horrible, it's almost impossible to get the imagequality you want and the feel of the lens is so bad that you will stop touching your camera in just a few days if you don't get a better lens.
 
Lenses
 
As a wildlife filmmaker you will need to have a range of different lenses to capture the most of it. All the way from really wideangle lenses to super telelenses and don't forget about the macro and underwater worlds as well. You will soon notice that your camera was rather cheap compared to a good lens.
What is an good lens? A good lens, as far as I know, is a lens which is sharp with good contrast, has a good touch and ofcourse a lens wich works well in low light situations. Like most of the Canon L serie lenses which costs at least twice as much as the camera and since are too expensive for my budget to afford.
 
So what next? Naturally you will find a lot of lenses that appear to be the same as the L series, the same apperture, focal lenghts etc. Warning, be aware that the reason why these lenses are cheaper is because they are built from different materials and with different techniques and are usually just a cheap copy of the original. My only recommendation is to read a lot of reviews, watch footage made with these lenses and try to get your hands on one before buying the actual item.
 
When filming wildlife you will very seldom have the opportunity to choose exactly where you subject is placed. For example, Is the bird 1-5 m from you or maybe 10-100m from you. That's why I higly recommend zoomlenses. The sad thruth about zoomlenses is that they can never get as sharp as prime lenses due the high amount of glass inside the lens. But with a good zoomlens there shouldn't be any bigger problems with the sharpness.
 
My first lens “real lens after the kit lens” was the Tamron 17-50mm 2,8 which is quite wide, good for landscapes and fully zoomed in on 50mm is good for details or interviews. The second lens was as well a Tamron, a 70-200mm f2,8 which works well for animals which are shy and you need a bit of distance. This lens has as well a macro function which works great.
 
These both lenses are copies of the canons and nikons originals with the same focal lenght and apperture and by my own research are the best ones of the copies on the market today. Even though they are copies they are very close to the original the biggest factor which differs is the feeling of the lenses, more plastic and lighter. But still when the price is ony about 25% of the original ones I think it's quite acceptable.
More about lenses later in another post.
 
So now you hopefully have a camera and a lens, at least I have, and you start wondering about when we are going to get to the actual shooting part. Not yet.


Tripod
 
A tripod is a very important basic piece of equipment which you have to get and it is very important that it is a good tripod, even though you might have a camera which costs 50000€ and lenses for doubble that price, the footage will look horrible with a bad tripod. This is very important especially when you're using longer lenses like supertele lenses.
There are at least two completely different kind of tripods: one for still photography and one for video. Make sure to get the right one.
 
A good tripodhead is a head wich is firstly made for the weight of your equipment, so you can get the camera perfectly in balance. It has to have both tilt and pan breaks and controls which should be oil based for smoother tilts and pans. The only recommendation I have to offer for buying a tripod is to go to your local photographyshop and try one out. Tripods are all about the feeling and you wont get the feeling from a picture or video on the internet.
 
Tripod legs should be made of materials that are very strong but not very heavy. An another important point is how high or low you want to have your camera. Make sure that your tripod legs will fit in a cramped hideout but still reach over the bushes and high grass. High quality tripod manufacturers are companies like Vinten and manfrotto.
 
To be continued.

 

 

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