Find insight from five Shutterstock Contributors on how they capture footage of nature, landscapes, and wildlife with the power to transcend boundaries.
Capturing footage of nature is a daunting, yet rewarding, task. Video by Vladimir Kurilov.
Shutterstock Contributor Vladimir Kurilov currently lives on the road, scouting beautiful and wild locations around the world from his motorhome. Once, he even landed a paraglider in a thick mangrove forest in Thailand, wandering for three hours before he found his way back tocivilization.
While they might have been made in remote corners of the globe, Kurilov’s clips have traveled far and wide, appearing in documentaries, feature films, and music videos. “The most famous are Up & Up by Coldplay and My Way by Calvin Harris,” he tells us.
We asked five talented Shutterstock Contributors — Vladimir Kurilov, Doug Jensen, The Clay Machine Gun, Sergey Nadiya, and Mark O’Connell — about how they capture footage of nature, landscapes, and wildlife, which transcend boundaries. Our natural world faces serious threats, ranging from deforestation and species extinction to climate change and rising sea levels. But, by capturing the beauty of our planet, these artists remind us of what’s at stake.
Here are their top tips for creating stock footage of nature that resonates.
Waiting for that perfect shot, in nature, takes time and patience. Video by Doug Jensen.
1. Keep It Moving
“The nature and wildlife videos that sell best for me all have one thing in common — movement,” Doug Jensen tells us. “There is very little demand for stationary shots of landscapes or wildlife. Video is all about movement, and that is what stock footage buyers are looking for.
“There are two types of action you can have in your footage, and the best-selling clips will have a mix of both types. The first type of action is movement that occurs within the scene you’re shooting. For example, a river cascading over a waterfall, an alligator slithering into the water, ocean waves crashing onto rocks in slow-motion.
“The second type of action comes from camera movement. Even when you’re shooting a mostly stationary landscape — such as a mountain, desert, or beach — you should consider adding some motion to the scene by executing a slow, smooth pan that has a nice beginning and end. The use of a portable slider or dolly can also be an effective method of adding movement to subjects that would otherwise be stationary.
For a secure shot, zoom in as close as possible and follow your subject’s movements. Video by Doug Jensen.
“My best-selling nature and wildlife clips are the ones that combine action within the frame and camera movement. For example, if I’m shooting a bull elk crossing a river, I want to zoom in as close as possible and follow the action as he moves. A locked-down shot that didn’t pan with the animal’s movement would be less effective. And tracking a bald eagle as it flies through the sky is going to have more success than the same bird just sitting on the limb of a tree.
Following the movement of the bird helps in capturing your image. Video by Doug Jensen.
“It is imperative when shooting nature and wildlife video that you have a fluid-head tripod that will allow you to smoothly follow the unpredictable movement of the animals you are shooting.”
2. Shoot in Manual Mode
To get that kind of dynamic motion, Jensen recommends avoiding auto-focus. “Success at shooting nature and wildlife requires proficiency at operating one’s camera on manual mode, as often as possible,” he says. “The auto-focus function on most cameras isn’t good enough to accurately track focus on moving wildlife for video. If you’re a novice at focusing manually, go to the beach and practice on seagulls. That way, when you see a bald eagle someday, you will be ready.
“Exposure is another setting that must be controlled manually to ensure that the camera’s best settings are used. Unlike photos, shutter speed for video has a very narrow range, where the footage will seem to have a ‘normal’ amount of motion blur. Too slow, and your clips will look blurry. Too fast, and your clips will have a strobed look to them that most buyers won’t accept. Therefore, the shutter speed for video should fall within the range from 1/50th to 1/100th for all but slow-motion or time-lapse clips.”
“When shooting wildlife, the aperture of the lens should be manually set within a stop or two of the maximum aperture, in order to minimize the depth of field. For example, an f/2.8 lens should only be used at an aperture between f/2.8 and f/5.6. Minimizing the depth of field will allow the sharply focused animals to stand out from the background clutter, thus giving your footage more of a three-dimensional feel.”
Minimizing depth of field gives your footage a three-dimensional feel. Video by Doug Jensen.
3. Remember Your Neutral Density Filters
“When the lens is opened to the maximum aperture and the shutter speed is restricted from going faster than 1/100, you may find there is too much light coming into the camera to get a correct exposure,” Jensen continues. “That is the primary reason all professional television and video cameras come equipped with built-in neutral density filters. Neutral density filters are like putting sunglasses on your camera when there is too much light. So, if your camera does not have built-in ND filters, you should get some screw-in ND filters for the lens.”
When shooting in filtered light, make sure you have ND filters for the lens. Video by Sergey Nadiya.
4. Wander off the Beaten Path
The best vantage points aren’t always the most popular — or the most accessible — so as long as you’re respecting the environment and sticking to designated trails, feel free to spend some time exploring.
“I love nature, and if I have time, I spend a long time walking in the mountains, through forests, and along rivers,” Sergey Nadiya says. “I choose interesting places simply by looking and walking around. Sometimes, it takes a while for me to find the right spot, at the right time, and in the right weather conditions.
Shooting a quiet creek in beautiful light. Video by Sergey Nadiya.
“My advice is very simple: relax, take your time, look around, and observe the play of light and shadow — this is the music of nature. Bring a heavy backpack with a tripod and some food to tide you over. Walk around, and remember to look for details. If you take the time to look, you can find great subjects along the path, beneath your feet.”
Capturing a shot of a bald eagle, in the right light, takes a patient eye. Video by Mark O’Connell.
5. Return to the Same Spot Multiple Times
“Persistence is required for this kind of work,” Mark O’Connell explains. “If you’re shooting animals or birds, they obviously have to be there, and they don’t usually publish their itineraries. If the animals are there, you also need the weather’s cooperation, as wind and rain are likely to ruin your shoot. If the weather and animals cooperate, you still need decent light. Don’t be discouraged if you have to make multiple trips in order to realize your shot.”
You may be required to return to the same spot multiple times in order to capture your intended shot. Video by Mark O’Connell.
6. Protect Your Gear
“Your gear has to be designed to survive in the elements,” O’Connell advises. “Is your camera weather-sealed? Most dedicated video cameras are not, but DSLRs generally are. Is your tripod solid? If you’re shooting with a long lens, you’ll need the best support you can get. Don’t skimp on your tripod.”
When shooting near water, make sure to protect your gear. Video by The Clay Machine Gun.
7. Plan to Shoot at Sunrise and Sunset
“My most important tip is to learn to see light,” Dmitrii from The Clay Machine Gun says. “Arrive on time to see the sunrise and sunset at scenic viewpoints that overlook beautiful locations. You have only a couple of ideal hours for shooting each day.
“With that being said, not every sunrise and sunset will result in great footage. Sometimes, you’ll have to deal with dreary weather or cloudless skies. The secret here is not to get discouraged. Be persistent. I’ve seen a lot of sunrises where I didn’t even take my camera out of my camera bag. And every time, I still had a great time enjoying the silence before dawn and studying the light.
“These moments give me strength, energy, and motivation. The more you shoot at sunrise and sunset, the quicker you’ll develop a sense of what beautiful lighting looks like. Just make sure you don’t forget a thermos with warm tea!”
Shooting at sunset and sunrise helps in developing a sense of light. Video by The Clay Machine Gun.
8. Add a Human Touch
“My portfolio is a great mix of footage of people, events, and nature,” Dmitrii says. “Recently, I have been trying to ‘insert’ more people into beautiful scenery and landscapes, as I feel this adds a sense of completion and beauty to the footage. There are already quite a lot of landscapesavailable as stock footage, so adding people is one way to stand out.”
Placing a person in the shot creates perspective of the surroundings. Video by The Clay Machine Gun.
9. Be Patient
“It might take a few years for you to master videography,” Dmitrii adds. “In the beginning, you need to learn a lot, take in all the information you can, and find things that inspire you. You need a certain number of hours of experience. The more you shoot, learn, and see, the better you’ll get. I have been engaged in photography and videography for a total of about ten years now, and I’ve come a long way. Take your time, and enjoy the journey.”
Shooting pollution raises awareness. Video by The Clay Machine Gun.
10. Give Back
“When you create nature videos, remember to do some kind of advocacy work for nature and the people around you, as well,” Dmitrii urges. “I think often about plastic pollution, so I shoot videos about it to raise awareness of the problem.
“I see it everywhere. I see it in my home country (Russia) when people use tons of plastic for shopping without thinking twice about how to dispose of it. In Bali, I see a lot of plastic on the beaches. I imagine a time when my kids are grown up, and I realize that they might not be able to surf on these same beaches, since the ocean might be fully polluted with plastic. Every time I visit this magical island, I see more and more plastic.
“Tell stories that affect local communities. It will help you develop professionally and expand your portfolio — and it will also help other people. By sharing stories that matter, you can inspire positive change in the lives of real people and animals who need it.”
Top image by Doug Jensen.
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