The first and most important tip for discovering a great wildlife filming location is to just get outside and explore! Some of my best wildlife spots have been found through research and studying and others by pure luck. You are not going to find a barn owl if you do not get out and look for one!
However, when considering potential locations for your film, bearing the following factors in mind may help you not only find a beautiful backdrop but also fantastic animal subjects in their natural environment.
CAN YOU GET ACCESS 24/7?
It is vital to be in position before sunrise or after sunset if the 'golden hour' light is important in your story. You can then make sure you get to your subject on time and without disturbing it. If your spot is on private land then make sure you confirm entry with the landowner first - you may even be allowed total freedom by some wildlife-loving occupants. If your subject is nocturnal then access late at night is, of course, essential!
ARE YOU LIKELY TO BE DISTURBED?
There have been countless times I've waited hours for my subject to turn up, only for it to be subsequently scared off by an unwitting dog walker. I could have saved many hours if I had been tucked away somewhere more secluded. Finding somewhere you can work in peace could improve your results dramatically.
CAN YOU LEAVE EQUIPMENT IN PLACE?
It's not always possible, but sometimes being able to leave equipment in place can be a great timesaver.
I love to leave my hides in position for the duration of a project as my subject will end up getting used to it and therefore more comfortable around me. It also makes it a lot easier to head out filming without having to carry it around. Camera traps play an important role in some projects, and knowing that I can leave them without damage or theft is very important.
HOW QUICKLY CAN YOU GET THERE?
If the weather suddenly changes and the conditions are perfect for filming, how quickly can you get to your location? It's very hard to work with freedom if your location is a long drive or walk away. If possible, keep it local and therefore you filming can be more spontaneous.
WHAT IS THE LIGHT LIKE?
Every now and then I find somewhere great. The wildlife performs, the background is perfect and I never get disturbed, but a dense woodland blocks the sun as it gets lower in the sky. No matter how hard I try, I will ultimately struggle to get my subject in that glorious golden light.
Some locations lend themselves well to the middle of the day and some for dawn or dusk, so keep an eye out for what the light will be like at different times of day. It's always useful to carefully consider what kind of shots you want to get when checking out a new spot.
IS YOUR SPOT SAFE FROM EXTREME WEATHER?
This may sound insignificant in most situations, however it is a very important consideration. Have you thought how your location will react to heavy rain, snow, wind or sun? Have you made preparations if the weather takes a turn for the worse?
If you're near a river and you are planning on leaving a hide or other equipment in position, is it safe if the river level rises after a hard rain?
I was recently left 2 inches from flooding a camera trap on the banks of the river Allen in Dorset and on another occasion had to physically rescue a remote CCTV camera from under the water after the river gained a metre over night last year.
CAN YOU GET AS CLOSE AS YOU NEED?
Although you don't want to disturb the wildlife, sometimes you may want to get a bit closer than is possible at some locations. Is it better to get distant shots on a long lens or find a new location to get a bit closer to the action? It is factor worth considering.
Always remember when you are working with wildlife is that it never reads the script and the more hours you put in the more lucky you get. While planning and preparations will only get you so far, being in the right place at the right time is often the most crucial.
Inspired? Put these tips into practice by getting out there and filming your own Eden Shorts entry.