Tips on Filming Wildlife with a DSLR Camera

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After filming this short piece of buffalo wallowing in the mud, I decided that it may be quite interesting for some of you to see how I set my camera up. For this piece I used a Canon 5D Mark II with a 70 – 200 mm F2,8 Lens. This camera is obviously a very good DSLR and takes incredible stills, but a lot of people who arrive with DSLR cameras are not fully aware of just how brilliant these cameras are for filming.

Here are just a few very basic hints that I would give to any person going on safari that would like to get involved in filming some of the wildlife using their digital cameras.

Use a Beanbag
You can not hand hold a DSLR whilst filming. You will get a shaky image. Alternatively you can use a tripod which is even better, but is difficult to use in a car.

Focus
You must take the time to learn to focus manually. Be confident with this. When filming with these cameras the Autofocus is not good/quick enough. Remember to Switch the focus to Manual. Also remember to Focus where your subject will be, not necessarily where it is.

Use the zoom Focus
You will see that your camera may have the ability to zoom in up to 10 x digitally. Although you don’t film with this it is a vey useful tool to zoom in first and then fine focus. This will give you very clear definition.

Camera Mode
The best is to film on M (manual), if this scares you as it requires a good knowledge of a camera, then possibly try us AV (Aperture Priority).

Exposure
If your camera allows, use manual exposure settings when shooting video because exposures will change as you pan the camera.

Shutter Speed
A good shutter speed for video is 1/50th second.

ISO
In terms of ISO you can play around but I set it initially at 320. If you are more clued up you can look into your cameras native ISO. The Canon DSLR’s natively shoot at ISO’s that are multiples of 160. By limiting yourself to 160, 320, 640, and 1250 you are utilizing the best out of your camera.

Aperture
I find that an aperture setting of F/5.6 is the best average and works well. This can obviously be changed as needs require but is a good starting point.

Frames Per Second
Make sure you have changed your settings to 24 or 25 frames per second (fps) if you have that option. This must be changed in the settings of your camera.

White Balance
Avoid Auto white balance! Auto will mean that as the light changes so do your colours. Rather just choose a white balance mode and stick with it throughout the video. I often use ‘sunny’ or ‘shade’. The ‘cloud’ option is good, but may make your subject matter appear too orange.

Image Stabilizer
If you have an Image Stabilized lens (IS in Canon or VR in Nikon) turn if off. These stabilizers are only needed in stills photography.

Focal Lengths
Try shoot at different focal lengths…e.g. sometimes set the scene with a landscape shot, then have a good close up of the whole animal and then look for extreme close ups of the eyes or feet. For each shot film short sections/clips of 10 -15 seconds.

Shoot Landscape
Never shoot vertical. It requires lots of editing and is very time consuming and confusing afterwards. Rather just shoot landscape.

Zoom Out
Dont miss all the action. rather zoom out and ensure you get the shot.

Don’t Zoom while recording
Don’t zoom while you’re recording. It can be distracting and jarring. If you need to get a closer shot, it’s better to stop recording, zoom, and then resume recording.

Memory Cards
Spend a little extra and buy a high-performance memory card. Slower cards cost less for a reason and will let you down.

Movie Record Size
In the main settings change your to 1920 x 1080

Framing
Be very aware of your subjects and try not cut off heads or feet. Use trees and roads and other natural features in the landscape to act as a frame.

Extra
For a good closing scene let the animal move out of the scene.
Try shoot a diverse range of content.
Use the natural light.
Sometimes it pays to have a ‘script’ in your mind. Just to ensure you get some nice opening and closing shots that will help you tell the story.

Editing
If I have a small piece that I want to quickly edit for my own use then I use Apple’s iMovie. this platform is very basic and easy to use. If however, we are wanting to create something more substantial, then we use Apple’s Final Cut Pro. This allows flexibility and customization.

If you have any other suggestions, hints and tips, that you may have picked up during your safari, please feel free to share with others in the comments section below…