July 01, 2019These days anyone can get a cheap camera and film pretty much anything they want. Even smartphones can take relatively good video clips for personal use or social media sharing. But taking video in the field, and getting a top-notch production are two very different things. So what needs to be done to get great video, and make your production rival TV quality?
Although I do not claim to be an expert by any means, there are a few simple things I've learned over the years (from experience as well as from real pros like Jimmy Sites, and the guys at Heartland Bowhunter) that have really helped me make pro-level productions.
Here are 4 of the biggies:
1) Quality Gear Matters
Good quality gear does not cost an arm and a leg anymore. Many people ask though, "What is good enough?" First, a 1080 HD camera is plenty good for quality shots, although 4K is becoming much more affordable. I'd go with a prosumer over a consumer model. These are slightly better than your standard handicams, but aren't too expensive compared to the higher-end professional models. I use a Canon Vixia HF G10 which was around $1000 at the time I bought it, and a good bang for your buck investment (though discontinued there are similar models out there like the Canon Vixia HF G50 UHD which has 4K definition). DSLR cameras are another option, but more expensive and somewhat limiting and bulky in my opinion. Explore options though, as a good DSLR takes great video and pictures, allowing you to effectively kill two birds with one stone. Additional lenses can be very expensive, however, which is a downside to DSLRs and why I stuck to a camcorder.
Accessories are important too. A good mic is critical to both setups, and I'd suggest some sort of shotgun microphone. These allow focused sound collection (like a shotgun pattern), or the option of 360 degree sound recording. Even without a shotgun mic, the internal mic on many cameras is pretty good and you may get away with that in certain situations.
Camera arms allow you to have a steady shot and quickly switch from filming to firing your weapon.
Also, try a good camera arm with a fluid head. There are a lot of good camera arms out there for mounting your camera while in the stand or blind (Muddy and 4th Arrow to name a few), but a good fluid head is key to getting steady shots (try Manfroto brand heads). There's nothing that screams amateur more than a jerky pan, and a fluid head makes it very smooth and easy to watch as you pan.
A varizoom attachment works on most cameras, and makes it quick and easy to adjust your focus as well as zoom with only the movement of your thumb. When game is close, this is critical. When selecting a camera, pay attention to optical vs. digital zoom too. You want a camera with a lot of optical zoom. This won't degrade and pixelate your image, which will happen once you get into digital zoom. A good point of view camera can really help you get cool shots easily (like a GoPro or Tactacam) and offer extra angles for your shots. This will add variety to your video that you can add in editing later. With my GoPro, I can also take some slow motion shots that I cannot with my main camera, and put together some cool time lapse scenes. These can add a lot of dynamics and professional touch to your production.
2) Super Stealth is Essential
When carrying extra gear, there is greater chance to make noise, be picked off visually, and possibly be scented, so extra precaution is necessary. "Hang 'em High" is not just a Clint Eastwood classic, but a must when hanging treestands. Seek to find trees with extra limbs to help breakup your form and disguise added motion you will make when filming. And yes, go higher than usual to make sure to stay out of a whitetail's normal line of sight. Twenty feet with some good breakup cover is my desired height and a minimum in most cases.
Extra gear also means more chance of noise. Let me say, you WILL make more noise as it's unavoidable. Make sure to silence this new gear or you will bust many hunts and ruin many opportunities. Good products like Buck Bumper by Sound Barrier solve this problem and allow for dead silence. I use it on all my stands, climbing sticks, and camera gear to avoid fatal mistakes.
Scent you create will also increase. Whether due to an extra person (camera man), or if solo filming just from lugging around more weighty gear, perspiration will increase along with unwanted body odors. This can ruin a hunt quickly. I carry some scentless wet wipes in my truck and hunting pack at all times. I wipe off regularly to keep scent at a minimum, which I'm convinced has saved more than one hunt.
3) Video Savvy is Crucial
There's only so much you can fix in post editing. Much of the quality of the end product relates directly to the quality of the original video recorded. As a rule of thumb, I use an auto white balance to make sure colors recorded are as close as possible to the actual. Unless the colors look completely unnatural in the viewfinder, I personally do not mess with manual white balance as this can get tricky. Try to get wide, medium zoom, and tight zoom shots of your hunting area.
Film as many things as possible, at as many interesting angles as possible before the action starts. Shots of your weapon, hunting area, trees, birds, and any magical moment you can capture is your goal. This is called B roll, and you want as much of this as possible. This way, when editing later you will have a lot of options and won't be wishing you had more to choose from.
A great technique to try is a rack focus. This is where you focus on one object in the shot, and then shift the focus to another object in front or behind of it. Get creative with this to make your videos stand out from the pack. Also, think about and even write down the shots you want to capture ahead of time, so you can focus on this when in the field and won't forget anything. It takes effort, but will be well worth it in the end.
4) Post Production is an Art Form
Getting good video is half the battle, the other half is editing. There are many good editing programs out there, but I use Final Cut Pro X and many in the hunting industry use Adobe Premiere Pro. Both are good, but do some research on what will best fit your budget and needs. When it comes to these programs, put in the effort and get tutorials online (many on YouTube) to help learn tricks and effects to make your videos pop. Don't get too crazy though, as the point is to tell the story not show how many cool effects you can add to your video. A pinch here and there will add to the story, too much is just a distraction though, so beware.
You can choose to narrate over the video by recording your voice in the studio, do narration from the stand (that you recorded in the field while hunting), or possibly do an interview style recording in a studio setting to help construct your story from all the film you've collected. I suggest having this well scripted out and refined to ensure you look and sound professional. This means putting it on paper first. Make sure the way you tell your story has a good flow that is easy to follow.
A huge mistake which I've seen on way too many outdoor shows, is telling what happens before it is shown (i.e. "let's watch my fall rut hunt where I shoot a nice buck"). Make sure to avoid this amateur pitfall. Let the viewer experience the hunt as you build anticipation through a beginning, middle, and satisfying end to your story, impressing your audience with your top-notch video production.
There are many things that can make a great video, but starting with these few simple tips will get you well on your way to having a pro-level production!