Filming your hunts is one of the most rewarding yet challenging things you can do in the woods. Hunting by itself is hard enough but when you add camera gear and a cameraman, things are taken to another level. However, being able to capture your experiences and share them with others is so fulfilling. I have been filming for about 2 years now and have learned many things in that short period of time. Here are the top 10 things I have learned about filming your own hunts:
Choosing the Right Camera
One of the first questions I hear all the time is “what camera should I get to film my hunts?”. There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It really comes down to budget and what exactly you are looking to use it for. Some people only have a few hundred dollars to spend and others have thousands of dollars. From what I’ve found it really comes down to how well you know your equipment and how you utilize what you have. Will a $5,000 camera get better shots than a $100 camera? Probably. But you can still make something pretty sweet with a $100 camera if you know how to use it.
Once you decide on a budget, there are really 2 avenues you can go when it comes to a video camera. You can use a camcorder style camera or a DSLR camera. A camcorder style camera typically does not have interchangeable lenses. This makes the camera a little easier to use but also makes it a little less dynamic. The DSLR is your “photography” looking camera but they can capture some amazing video and have tons of flexibility due to interchangeable lenses. I don’t want to get into a ton of detail here but I usually tell people who are self-filming to go the camcorder style route and people who have a cameraman choose the DSLR. Or if you are a self-filmer but really like taking pictures, choose a DSLR. However, you can capture some amazing video with almost any camera these days.
As a side note, we use a camcorder (Sony AX-100) as our main camera and use a DSLR (Canon 70D) for b-roll type footage. We have many lenses for the 70D depending on what the situation calls for. We also run go pros for secondary angles and time-lapse video. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a go pro as your main camera but for second and third angles they are perfect.
Audio: Wireless Mics and Shotgun Mics
Now that you have a camera you need to start thinking about audio. Most cameras don’t have very good built in audio so you will need to invest in a microphone of some sort. The audio portion of a film is just as important if not more important than the video. I know it sounds crazy but it is 100% true.
A wireless mic system is great to wear on the hunter. It will give you crisp audio on interviews and also capture tons of emotion throughout a hunt, especially when there is an intense situation (heavy breathing, drawing bow, etc.).
A shotgun mic is another option. This sits on top of the camera and picks up everything out in front. These are great to pick up the sounds of the woods but can also be used for hunter interviews when the camera is pointed at the hunter. They won’t really pick up much sound directly behind them but that usually isn’t an issue since the camera will be pointed in the proper direction. They aren’t quite as crisp as a wireless mic when someone is talking but they are super versatile.
We currently use a Beachtek splitter which allows us to run a shotgun mic and a wireless mic at the same time. This allows us to get crisp hunter interviews and also pick up the sounds out in front of the camera. If you are deciding between the two, I would probably lean towards a good shotgun mic to start.
Auto Focus vs. Manual Focus
A key to filming is understanding focus. Let’s say you have a deer out in the middle of a field. If you put your focus on the deer, the woods in the background should look blurry. In an open field auto focus would work great since there is nothing in between you and the deer. When you get in the woods this gets a bit more tricky. Let’s say you are in a tree and a deer is coming in at 100 yds. You put your camera right on the deer but it is in auto focus. Between you and the deer are hundreds of branches. Chances are the camera will focus on the branches instead of the deer (obviously a big issue). This is where you want to use manual focus so you can pull your focus on exactly what you want.
I would say 90% of the time we are shooting in manual focus. This gives us the most flexibility and assures us that what we want to film is in focus.
As you will quickly learn, lighting in videography is crucial. When you are hunting you are filming in super low light situations (ex. daybreak) and also very bright situations like midday. You need to know how to adjust your camera settings so your shot is properly lit. You have the find the right balance so your shots are not too dark and not too bright. There is not much you can do when editing a shot if the lighting isn’t correct.
For staged shots you are able to manipulate the lighting with lights and reflectors. If you can understand lighting and master that skill, you will be way ahead of the curve.
Think Outside the Box
One of the things I love about filming is trying crazy shots. Don’t just hold your camera at your chest and film the same 10 shots every time you go into the woods. Film some shots close and some far away. Film some from right on the ground and some from the air (a drone helps here!). Don’t be afraid to try different things.
Tell a Story
This one is huge for us. It is so tempting to carry the camera gear into the deer woods and break it out when you are in the tree. It is much easier to do that then to film the entire day (from waking up to packing up the truck to leave). However, if you want to captivate an audience you need to tell the entire story. Keep in mind the story may start 5 months prior when you were planting food plots and hanging trailcams. Trust me, you will want to have footage from those times if you end up shooting a deer. Make sure you have your camera with you at all times and capture as much footage and possible. If you don’t end up using it, who cares! But I guarantee you will regret not having footage from certain times if a hunt comes together in the end.
One way to tell a good story is focus on things that are unique to that hunt. Is there a small town nearby that you always drive through to get there? Is there a gate you always have to jump out and open? Maybe there is tree you always walk by or a certain sound you hear when in the woods. Is it raining or snowing that that? You need to capture all of this! Obviously filming the actual hunt is important but filming the secondary stuff is what is going to separate your film from others.
Still Shots vs. Motion Shots
There are two points I want to make here. The first one is related to still shots. When you are filming, you need to have your camera still. Having a good tripod or a tree arm is an absolute must. Shaky shots are hard to watch and can really ruin the quality of the film.
Second, motion in some of your shots is crucial. Go back and watch your favorite hunting film and I guarantee you will see some motion in a lot of the shots. You can use things like sliders, a fluid head or drone to get the motion you are looking for. There are many ways to achieve motion in your shots but they add a ton of drama. Just make sure it is smooth and not jumping around.
Remember I mentioned how important audio was a few points back? Well music is the other piece to the audio puzzle. In general music can bring out specific emotions in us. It is vital that the music you pick sets the tone for emotion of your video. If you are going for a cinematic feel, you probably don’t want a hard rock song. If you want more of an upbeat tone, you probably don’t want an emotional piano score.
I spend a ton of time picking the music for all of my videos. I look through all the video clips and try to relive the emotions of the day. Then I start listening to songs to see which one captures it best.
Don’t be afraid to use unpopular music if you think is captures of the mood of the video. You see so many videos with that cinematic piano and string music. While this has its place, if you can capture the mood of the video with a different style of music, your video will stand out that much more.
You will need some sort of editing software to put your videos together. The two main ones are Adobe Premier Pro and Final Cut Pro. We currently use Premier but there are other editing software packages that can work as well. Just find something you are comfortable with and can navigate easily.
There are so many things you can do when editing a video. The key is to understand your software and have a good flow to the video that tells a story.
Don’t Forget to Have Fun!
Filming can be stressful at times. Animals can move in fast and it can be a scramble to get it all on film. If filming starts to take away from the enjoyment of the hunt, I would suggest backing off. For us, it has added a whole new element to the hunt that we absolutely love however, there are still times when we head into the woods without a camera. At the end of the day, just make sure you are having fun!
If you have more specific questions, I would love to chat with you. There is so much more that goes into creating a film but I hope this article was helpful. I am by no means a professional but I do study filming and work on my craft every single day. I look forward to checking out some of the awesome things you capture in the future!