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Tuesday, 15 April 2014 20:55

Filming Nature and Wildlife with David Wright

Written by  P3 Staff
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Working on location in remote areas of the world can be quite challenging. Add to that, your pursuing some of the most unique wildlife on the planet such as polar bears and King Penguins to North America’s largest venomous snake, the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. From the beginning, you know your in for it. 

Such is the life of award winning filmmaker and photographer David Wright who has worked in more than 50 countries and shoots for such notable clients as National Geographic, the BBC and the Discovery Channel. Recent projects have included landmark series like Nat Geo’s “Untamed Americas,” which just earned him an Emmy for cinematography. 

Wright PhotoWhile Wright lives in Maine he often finds himself traveling to distant locations including upcoming travels to Australia and the Arctic. While he started shooting 16mm film for television programming, using a clockwork Bolex, Arriflex, and Aaton cameras he eventually turned to video and ended up shooting with Nikon cameras and lenses. He said he always preferred the Nikkon lenses. " In my opinion, the turning point for video capture technology came in 2012 with the introduction of the (Nikon) D800," says Wright. "Superb quality of stills, combined with 1080p video, has made this my camera of choice on many expeditions, including work for the BBC Natural History Unit and Discovery Channel."

Besides the fact the D800 offers photo file resolution greater than what HD television can show, the motion capture features  make it an "invaluable tool for filmmaking, in particular wildlife shooting," he noted. "A favorite feature of mine is the ability to take the camera’s super high resolution stills and stitch them together into image sequences that yield time lapses with cinema quality."

Write said he also likes the  video capture flexibility with exceptional image quality. "The caliber of video shot straight to the card is superb, limited only due to the compression imposed by the H.264 codec. For many instances this limitation is not a problem, and in fact gives a good trade-off between image quality and manageable files sizes." 

Since Wright spends the majority of time focusing on nature and wildlife subjects  capturing wildlife video using an HD-SLR comes with its own set of challenges. First, you need to have the right mindset.

"Know that rather than just recording a single moment in time, video demands that you envision a series of moving images that will unfold into a story. That story may last just moments, or it may extend to days," says Wright. 

Below are few tips Wright shares with things he learned along the way:

  • Invest in a steady platform: one with the ability to pan and tilt so you can follow your subject. A good quality fluid head is a must.

  • When filming, capture a variety of shot sizes (wide, medium and close-up) that can be edited together to create a well-paced and compelling story.

  • For lenses, I like the AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR which allows me to shoot a quickly moving subject without the need to break and change lenses.

  • When shooting video you work in Live View mode. This can be challenging, especially in bright conditions. Ninety-nine percent of the time I add a lens shade, loupe or preferably an external monitor/electronic viewfinder (EVF). This gives me a much better way to judge composition, exposure and focus.

  • Sound is just as evocative as an image. Add an external microphone to the HD-SLR, perhaps the Nikon ME-1. The built-in microphones may pick-up handling noises for routine camera operations, such as focus or exposure change and even the sound of your breathing, so accessorizing with an external microphone helps ensure you get better audio.


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