Eden Shorts is a great way to share your passion for the natural world. Check out the growing collection of How To Guides and Blogs and you’ll find a wealth of information about wildlife filmmaking, ideas for potential subjects and lots more.
You’ll be amazed at the variety and quality of image you can achieve with a simple compact camera or even your mobile phone.
But what if you’ve never filmed wildlife before? What if you don’t have the latest DSLR camera or a myriad of expensive lenses? Is it still worth entering? Of course it is!
You’ll be amazed at the variety and quality of image you can achieve with a simple compact camera or even your mobile phone. Many of the basic principles of wildlife filmmaking and photography are exactly the same regardless of the equipment you use and with a few simple tricks and tips up your sleeve you’ll be on the way to creating your own 60-second wildlife masterpiece!
Preparation Is Key!
60 seconds isn’t a long time to tell your story so preparation is very important. Here’re a few things to consider before you even pick up your camera…
- Read the rules – Check out the full terms and conditions and download the music pack.
- Story – With only one minute to grab the viewer’s attention and get them emotionally involved don’t over complicate things!
- Storyboard – Rather than wandering outside with your camera and randomly pressing record at anything that moves spend a little time making notes in the form of a storyboard. Don’t get too hung up on the detail, as nature can be quite unpredictable. Use your storyboard to help plan the bare bones of the story and the type of shots you need to tell it but be prepared to press record at any second. You never know when something extraordinary may happen!
- Location, location, location – As this may be one of your first attempts at wildlife filmmaking choose a location you are familiar with. Your garden, local park or favourite nature reserve are ideal but the final location will obviously depend heavily on your subject. Scout out the location prior to filming - and take your camera with you of course, just in case! Try looking around the area at different times of day. Where does the sun rise? Where does the sun set? Will key areas you would like to film be in full sun when you film or will they be in shadow?
- Read the manual - This sounds like an obvious question but you’ll be surprised just how much you learn about the available video features on your camera. You may even pick up some general filmmaking tips and creative ideas too! This will also help you understand the limitations of your smartphone or compact camera. Manual setting will be minimal so there will be some things you just won’t be able to do creatively. This simplifies things somewhat helping you focus more on the subject and story.
- Learn about potential subjects – Investigate what wildlife you are likely to see in your chosen location and read as much as you can about it. Finding out about feeding and breeding habits is always a good place to start. This may inspire you to create additional habitats or feeding stations to maximise your filming opportunities. What plants are likely to attract what types of wildlife? What tracks and signs does your subject leave?
- Welfare of wildlife always comes first – If you minimise disturbance and stress to your subject you will maximise your chances of capturing that perfect clip!
Basic Camera Techniques
You can transform yourself from a ‘happy snapper’ into a fledgling wildlife camera-operator with these eight simple camera techniques. When you're watching natural history programmes and you’ll see many of them used throughout.
Keep practicing at them and you’ll soon find they become second nature!
- Sequences - Remember that to tell your story you will need to build your shots into a series of sequences. You only have 60 seconds to tell your complete story so keep your shots reasonably short. Five to ten seconds is a good target to aim for but shorter or slightly longer will work depending on the action.
- Cutaways – These are short clips that can be extremely useful in the editing process. Shots of the sky, moving water, leaves blowing in the wind etc. can all be used to help your sequences and story flow. Make time to record a few cutaways when filming. You won’t regret it!
- Composition - For some filmmakers composition may come naturally but for others it is a skill that may need to be learnt and practiced. Simply put, your composition refers to where the key elements are within the frame and how your eyes move between them. There are five simple rules to consider.
- Rule Of Thirds - This is a common phrase in photography and you may have already read or heard people talking about it. This equally applies to filming video clips too and fortunately it’s an easy rule to follow. Imagine lines running through the frame both vertically and horizontally that divide the image into nine sections. Check the settings on your camera or phone and chances are you’ll find a feature that enables you to superimpose a grid on your screen to help with this. Positioning the point or points of interest on these lines will make the overall image more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Where these lines cross create ‘sweet spots’ offering the optimum position for your subject.
- Looking Room – If your subject is looking towards the side of the frame give it plenty of space to look into.
- Walking/Flying Room – as with ‘looking room’ if your subject is moving towards the edge of the frame and you are panning the camera to follow make sure you leave plenty of room for it to move into. If the tail end of the subject goes out of frame now and again it’s no big deal but if the head moves out of frame it can totally ruin the shot. Rather than pan with the subject try keeping the camera fixed and record some shots where the subject either walks into or out of the frame. You could also combine the two techniques by allowing the subject to walk into frame, pan along with it for a while, stop the pan and then let it walk out of frame. These will provide excellent cut points when you come to edit your shots together.
- Shot Size – Always start by trying to capture at least three basic shots – a mid-shot where the whole animal is in frame, a long-shot or establishing shot to help give an idea of location and scale and a close-up by focusing on the eye or other interesting part of the animal. Once you’ve got these recorded try experimenting with other shots. The zoom on your camera can help with framing but avoid using the zooming motion in your final edit unless it adds to your story in some way.
- Camera Angle – Get creative with the positioning of your camera. Positioning the camera lens at the same level as the eye of the subject is always a safe place to start. Looking slightly up at a subject or at eye level is almost always more interesting than looking down especially when filming small creatures such as insects. Don’t be afraid to lie down on the ground to get the right angle.
Although by no means exhaustive the rules of thumb above are a great place to start, but as with many rules, they can be broken! Feel free and have the confidence to experiment. This is your film you are creating so don’t be afraid to be creative and tell it in your own style.
Having one or two extra items in your kit bag can make a world of difference to your filming options and the overall quality of your finished story.
A tripod or other method of stabilising your camera is an essential addition to your kit bag. Lightweight and compact tripods are ideal for use with smartphones and compact cameras and will add minimal weight to your bag. Monopods work well too. I’ve even made my own using an adjustable fishing bank stick and some self-setting rubber to create a custom grip!
Tripods are ideal for use with smartphones and compact cameras and will add minimal weight to your bag
A small bean-bag can also be very useful. If you don’t have a small beanbag don’t worry, it’s very easy to make something that works just as well. Take an old sock (with no holes!), fill it 1/3 full with uncooked rice or bird food, twist the sock in the middle a couple of times and then fold the top back over the bottom. Simple! Many compact cameras now have excellent zoom lenses and a macro feature built in. The macro function can be your best friend for many shots and the zoom is ideal for framing your subject without getting too close. Avoid using any digital zoom though as this will severely reduce the quality of the recorded image.
If you are using the camera on your smartphone you may be a little more restricted. A clip on macro lens is an essential on my kit list. There are several different designs of lens attachment available for your phone costing between £5-£70. I’ve got some amazing results with my iPhone 4 and an Olloclip 4-in-1 clip on lens. Telephoto shots with your phone can be a little more challenging. However, with practice, it’s possible to obtain some good results holding your phone up to the eyepiece of a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope.
Take advantage of the ‘golden hour’ - the hour just after sunrise or just before sunset
Taking advantage of the ‘golden hour’ - the hour just after sunrise or just before sunset - is the best way to add atmosphere and depth to your recordings but it’s always useful to have something around to add a little extra illumination if needed. A mini reflector made out of a piece of cardboard covered in tin foil or white paper may be all you need to help illuminate that perfect shot. A torch can be useful too but make sure to have something to diffuse the light slightly if needed. Part of a slightly opaque plastic milk bottle is ideal!
Using your smartphone may restrict you in some areas but it excels in others, such as with apps to help you get extra creative! There are hundreds of video related apps out there but the ones I find most useful are to help me record time-lapse sequences. These are ideal for recording sunrises, sunsets, activity at a bird feeder or just the passing of time in your finished story.
Putting it all together
Once you’ve recorded all your clips it’s time to edit your sequences together and tell your story.
There is a wide selection of editing software available ranging in price from free to several hundred pounds, although the more expensive, professional software is unnecessary when first staring out. A quick search online will provide lots of options. One of the many free options such as Windows Movie Maker or Apple’s iMovie are probably perfectly adequate when you are first starting out.
Avoid using fancy transitions. I always keep things simple by using either a cross fade, fade in and out to black or no transition effect at all.
Adding a soundtrack can add an extra dimension to your clips and help draw the viewer into the world of your story. Remember though that you can only use music supplied by Eden in the Music Pack.
I hope this guide inspires you and gives you the confidence to create your own Eden Short. It’s by no means exhaustive but does provide you with information about many of the essential basic skills to help create a potential winning film. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!