Sabyasachi Patra

Wildlife Filming Queries

Wildlife Filming Queries

I have been getting many mails from readers asking questions about wildlife filming or how to become my assistant. In the first part of the series (http://www.indiawilds.com/diary/the-three-idiots-effect/), I had documented the irrational wishes of some of those newbies…

In this article I am providing some direct answers to the queries. If you have any questions, you can post your comments here.

Question of PK via Facebook:

Hello brother… I just watched the trailer of your wildlife doc on youtube… That was awesome… I always have an aim to make some wildlife doc like you did…. But due to i don’t have sophisticated equipment i could not… Still i have hope that one day i will fulfill my aim… Regarding this i want to ask you something… Firstly how you gave the background music??? Did you compose it personally??? And 2ndly when we will able to see the full movie you made??? And 3rdly is that possible to make a wildlife channel like discovery, natgeo in India… The 1st Indian wildlife channel… with the collaboration of all the experienced wildlife film maker like you in which i can also take part in some extent… Personally i want to know the nature very closely so that i want to be a part of it… Which is alone can’t be done…. so can we all together do such kind of new start??? And in last, I have a d3100 and 18 55 lens.. Want to go for a telephoto lens… I am selected tamron 70 300, nikor 55 300…due to my budget is low… Will you help me to choose the correct one??? Hope replay from you soon…

My Answer:

Sophisticated equipment for Wildlife filming in India:

I agree that I used lot of high end sound equipment, high end tripod and fluid head etc. However, the camera I used for my film “A Call in the Rainforest” is a DLSR, though it is Canon’s professional 1 series camera. I used the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV and I shot it in Full HD ie. 1080p at 24 fps.

One can use a lower end Canon DSLR as well like a 600D, or 60D or 7D. However, at the moment Nikon is far behind in terms of its video capabilities. The new D800 is fine but with lot of moire etc. Nevertheless, you can use your Nikon if you know its limitations. In life, we will always have some limitation or the other. It is important to circumvent the limitation and achieve your goal.

For example: The Canon EOS 1D Mark IV that I used for wildlife filmmaking doesn’t have auto focusing. So I had to do the focusing manually. One may say what is wrong in that, as all the professional cinema guys focus manually. The answer is those professionals don’t depend on a small LCD screen at the back of the camera to focus. SLRs and then DSLRs were primarily meant for shooting still photography. So you see through the viewfinder. However, video came later and for shooting video, you need to see through the LCD at the back of the camera. That necessitates camera to be placed or held in front of you depending upon your eyesight. When you try holding a camera at a distance from you to look through the viewfinder, then you will quickly realise that handholding becomes out of question. In sharp contrast, a video camera has been designed for a shoulder mount or to be held by hand with the LCD screen swiveling at any angle you want.

So what did I do? I bought an external viewfinder called LCDVF which can be attached to the back of your camera and then you can focus. The details are here:  http://www.indiawilds.com/diary/lcdvf-viewfinder-for-filming/

Wildlife Filming requires Good Tripod:

I first used my still tripod Gitzo GT3530LS carbon fibre tripod and a Wimberly V2 head. Unfortunately, when you attach your Canon 1D Mark IV and the heavy EF 400mm f2.8 L IS lens weight 5.3kgs on it, you will quickly realise that though this is a great combination for still photography, it is not good enough for filming.

If you are shooting in a windy situation and filming, then there would be jitters in your video. In still photography, you can discard one shot, however, when filming the entire sequence gets ruined. With the Full HD footage (1080p) that you get from most of the DSLRs, it is important that you have a stable support. Also while panning your shot, you need a good fluid head. Else, your panning will have be horrible to say the least.

Sabyasachi using OConnor 1030 HDS Fluid head, Sachtler CF 100 ENG HD2 CF tripod

For example, the fluid head that I use – Oconnor 1030 HDs which is the beginning of the range used by Hollywood guys – costs 7000 USD. The tripod costs around 3000 USD. A relatively cheap Miller DS-20 Fluid costing about 1100 USD will also work for people, if you don’t have stringent requirements. Ofcourse, you can use the Manfrotto 519 costing around 800 US dollars.

Add to this the price of a tripod.

If you thought, wildlife photography was costly, then wildlife filming is like breaking the bank. Unfortunately, there are not many wildlife filmmakers in India because of the prohibitive costs of filming and total production costs. Still with a dream in our heart, hoping that our wildlife film footage can help in conserving our fast vanishing wildlife and wilderness areas, I trudge along…

If you want to compete with the best in the world, then obviously you will need to invest in high end equipment.

Sound is everything in Wildlife Filming:

I have invested in equipment to do sound recording. I should warn you that this is entirely a different field altogether and the investments to get good equipment is huge. I have recorded the sound myself.

External Microphones for Wildlife Filming:

The built-in mic of your DSLR is not good enough.
There is no way out but to buy external microphones. They come in all shapes and sizes depending upon your quality requirements and budget. It can vary from couple of hundred dollars (like the a Rode microphone) to a few thousand US dollars like the Schoeps SuperCMIT at 4750 USD. I have settled on a Sennheiser MKH 416. I have bought the all time favourite Sennheiser MKH 416 microphone. In case you want to record interviews, then you may need to pick up a Lavaliere microphone. I use Sennheiser EW 100 G3 series of wireless microphones for recording interviews. I use a Telinga Parabolic microphone for recording distant sounds.

Sabyasachi with Sennheiser microphone, miser, 400mm f2.8 L IS USM lens on Gitzo tripod

Mixer for Wildlife Filming using DSLRs:

You would need an amplifier/mixer to connect your microphone and then the output can be recorded in a sound recorder or plugged straight into the camera. Plan at least about 400 odd USD for that.

Sound recorder for Wildlife Filming:

sound devices 702t sound recorder review

Sound Device

The cheapest sound recorder with professional XLR inputs can cost you about 300 USD (Tascam DR100). If you want a much better quality like the ones used by Hollywood fellows, then you have to buy Sound Devices or a similar brand costing several thousand dollars. I use the Sound Devices 702 recorder . You can use lower end recorders as well like the Tascam DR 100 (which I have as well).

 

Head phones for Wildlife Filming:

It is important to monitor the sound that is being recorded. So you need closed microphones. A popular Sennheiser one can cost you about 90 USD and upwards. However, it will last for a decade or so. Remember, that it is not advisable to use a noise cancelling microphone, as you certainly want to hear any noise that is creeping into your recordings.

Importance of Music in Wildlife Films:

I didn’t compose music. I got it scored by a music composer and it costs money. However, you can see the output. People just pick up some bits of music from the net or buy a few bits and then use it in their videos. Obviously, the output is not likely to match music that is specifically scored for your video.

Full Movie:
I have released the DVD. One can buy it by paying a token amount of Rs. 300/-. For further details please check here:

http://www.indiawilds.com/diary/a-call-in-the-rainforest-dvd/

Wildlife Film Channel for India:

Yes it is possible. However, it is not easy to procure content and compete with the likes of Discovery, National Geographic and Animal Planet. I hope some of the existing players are looking at this genre.

The only wildlife programming I remember used to be done by NDTV and aired on Sundays. I guess that is also stopped. Doordarshan used to allow some programming. I am not sure what is the scene these days. However, doordarshan used to have some stringent conditions for Indian programs. Whereas they used to allow a foreign program where the presenter is himself seen in the video, they were not allowing Indian presenter to be seen in the video. Not sure if the situation has changed. Anyway, I am not photogenic and don’t like to come infront of the camera, though I have narrated for my film.

Today I primarily use the Canon Cinema C300 professional camera for filming. http://www.indiawilds.com/diary/review-canon-c300-for-wildlife-filming/

Please post your comments and feedback on Wildlife Filming in India in the comments below.

Sabyasachi Patra

Sabyasachi is an award winning DoP/Cinematographer, passionate wildlife filmmaker and photographer. He has been striving to make his films and photographs full of life and emotion and write articles to educate and evangelise the need for conserving the last tracts of vanishing wilderness and wildlife in our country. He hopes that his wildlife films, photographs and writings force people to pause, look, ponder and ultimately take action.
His documentary film ‘A Call in the Rainforest’ has been screened at various national and international film festivals.

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