I suck at shooting video

561765_351316744991544_1715610368_nI’m not a very good videographer.  In fact, to call myself a videographer is an insult to videographers.  Hobbyist?  Close.  Rank amateur?  Now we’re talking.  I’m not alone.  With the advent of Youtube, every asshole with a Sony Hanycam has a hunting show.  There’s good and bad out there.  Mostly bad.  You’ve seen the videos.  Animal out of focus while the tree branches three feet in front of the lens are crystal clear.  Audio so hot you can hear the camera man’s heart beat.  And my personal favorite move, a frame so shaky you need dramamine to watch the footage.

Last year was the first full season I messed with videoing hunts and I had mixed results.  It was a learning experience.  I didn’t really care and while I still don’t, I’m going to try to apply the things I learned and get a little more serious.  While I am in no way an expert on the subject, here’s what I learned from what I did right got close to right and what I did wrong (which was mostly everything).

Getting close enough to an animal to kill it is hard enough as it is.  Add a camera to the mix and you’re really handicapping yourself.  If you’ve ever tried to film a hunt, you know what I’m talking about.  It made me step back and prioritize.  Am I doing this insane amount of leg work scouting and putting in countless hours on a stand to get video of a hunt or kill the animal?  I choose the latter.  If those two things overlap, cool, but if not, I’m not losing sleep over it.  This is my biggest obstacle to obtaining quality footage.  I’d rather drop the hammer than roll tape.  For those of you who don’t have this problem, keep reading.  

Camera/audio:  If you want to do this right, you’re going to have to spend some money. The sad truth is a cheap point and shoot camera like a Sony Handycam is not going to cut it for most hunting applications.  The biggest reason is there’s no manual mode.   You’ve seen the videos on Youtube where the guy is videoing a turkey or deer and all of a sudden, the subject goes out of focus and a big cluster of tree branches in the foreground becomes crystal clear.  That’s autofocus at work and it is not your friend.  Using a premise similar to sonar, autofocus works by bouncing an infared beam off of whatever is in front of the lens.  The camera judges distance by how long the beam takes to return.  Once the distance is determined, the camera focuses to that distance in a fraction of a second.  In non-geek this means that whatever the infared beam hits first is what the camera focuses on.  It isn’t a smart bomb.  The camera doesn’t know you’re trying to video a Booner walking toward your tree stand and not the tree limb five feet in front of it.  Ditch your point and shoot and get a camera that has a manual mode.

The Sony NX70U

The Sony NX70U

I use a Sony NX70U.  It isn’t overly complicated and offers good video and audio quality and a manual mode that allows you to change the focus, zoom, and iris from the same ring behind the lens.  You just select which variable you are changing and then adjust the ring.  The camera is water and dust resistant which is nice because most cameras aren’t.  Most importantly beside the manual mode, the NX70U offers 2 channel audio which brings me to my next point.

Audio controls on the NX70U

Audio controls on the NX70U

Most people don’t realize how important quality audio is.  Bad audio can distract from good video.  It’s pretty simple to do correctly with the right equipment.   Having a camera with 2 audio channels allows you to use a camera mounted microphone to cover most of the sounds of the hunt and a lapel mic for recording any talking you might have to do such as an interview or giving the play by play of an approaching animal.  The shotgun mic mounted on the camera allows you to use a windscreen (the big furry thing) to cut down on wind noise.  Integrated camera microphones don’t have these and the make a slight breeze sound like a hurricane.  Experiment with your audio settings to come up with a good baseline that you can make slight adjustments to depending on your situation.

Set Up:  One thing that separates good video from bad video is stability. Unless you’re videoing bigfoot, shaky video is not acceptable.  Most entry level professional cameras (sometimes called prosumer grade) have a pretty good image stabilizer.  The Canon XA10 is exceptional in this respect.  It helps smooth things out when you have to shoot off hand.  If you’re set up videoing a hunt, use a tripod on the ground or a camera arm when you’re in a tree.  The footage is still and won’t make you motion sick when you watch it.  Also, the camera won’t jump when the gun goes bang.

A quality fluid head that connects your camera to the tripod is actually more important than the tripod itself.  They allow you to pan the camera in all directions smoothly.  I use one from Manfrotto that can be picked up for 150 bucks online.  Although not absolutely necessary, adding a wired remote to the handle on the head allows you to pan the camera and zoom and focus with one hand.  Pretty invaluable if you’re self filming.

Editing and other odds and ends:  Now you have hours of amazing raw footage, what do you do with it?  The coolest video in the world is worthless if it stays on your SD card.  There are a lot of editing programs available and the good ones are expensive.  Final Cut Pro is a very robust and you could make a feature film with it.  It is also expensive and it takes a lot of time to learn to use it correctly.

Mixing magic with GoPro Studio

Mixing magic with GoPro Studio

There is, however, a simpler solution in GoPro Studio.  Developed by the makers of the popular point of view camera, it was designed so people with no experience could share their GoPro videos.  It’s very simple to learn and allows for multiple file types.  It has just about everything you’d need for mixing a hunting video.  Oh yeah, its free and you can download it here.  There might come a time where you need something as strong as Final Cut Pro but for most people, there’s no need to pay for a bunch of features you’ll never learn how to use.  GoPro Studio is one of the easiest ways to get your footage off your camera and on the internet while not looking like it was made by a 4th grader.

If you want to get quality shots consistently, get yourself a camera man.  Self filming sucks and is incredibly hard.  Trade places behind the camera with your hunting partner if you have one.  If you don’t, make a friend and go hunt together.  You might even get lucky and find someone who doesn’t want to pull the trigger but likes to shoot video.  No matter how you do it, having a dedicated camera operator will increase your chances of getting some top notch footage.

I stumbled around in the dark by myself for almost year before I even got close to doing anything correctly and hopefully this will help shorten your learning curve.   And if your video still sucks,  just take a couple pictures and write about your hunt instead.  I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there are things called books and magazines and it seems to work for them.