Taking your video camera on a hike or into the back-country can be an especially rewarding experience.
Photos are nice, but with video you not only capture beautiful scenery, you get sound to go with it. The chirping of birds, the roar of waterfalls and the story you tell is what makes video different than an envelope of pictures.
When it comes time to hit the trail, your photographer friends don’t know how easy they have it. They load a fresh battery in the trusty Nikon (with its built-in flash), toss ten rolls of film in the bag, grab a few filters and they’re ready. Their whole kit only weighs a couple of pounds and fits right into a fanny pack. Your commitment to bring back video is a little more involved. But with careful planning and the right equipment, you can capture great footage and keep your expensive camera safe and sound. The following tips tell you how.
1) Know your Destination
Your destination will impact the way you prepare for your shoot. Are you taking a six-hour hike, boating on the lake or riding horses? You won’t want to lug a heavy tripod on that six-hour hike, but a lightweight monopod might be nice. Neither will be of much use on that boat, but you will want to take your camera bag to keep your camcorder safe and dry when it’s not in use. Once you’re on that horse it’s not easy getting the camera out of your backpack. You’ll need a strap so you can hang it around your neck and get cool shots while you’re sitting in the saddle.
If your trip will be more extensive, do some research. Talk to people who have visited your destination. Get a guidebook, a map or contact a local so youll know what to expect. Know the conditions and prepare for them.
2) Check the Weather
If the weather report calls for possible afternoon thunderstorms, you’ll need to be ready. It’s a good idea to carry a large, clear plastic bag in your pocket. If it starts raining, you can slip your camcorder into the bag to protect it from the weather. Professional weather gear is nice, but can be pricey. A plastic bag is compact, lightweight and can be just as effective in wet weather.
3) Make a List
Make a checklist of all the equipment you will need on your trip and use it when you pack your camera bag. It’s a good idea to take extra tape, cam-corder batteries, a wireless mike, microphone batteries and a can of compressed air (see tip #4) at the very least. Think through the tools you’ll need for every possible shooting scenario and make sure you have everything you’ll need. It’d be a shame to get to your campsite only to find that you forgot a really important accessory.
4) Test your Gear
Make sure everything is in good working order before you hit the bulkhead. This is especially important if you haven’t used your equipment for a long while. Batteries occasionally lose their juice. Make sure to charge them before you leave. Remember, you probably won’t have access to an electrical outlet if you’re shooting in the wilderness.
5) Keep it Clean
Dust and dirt, which are common on the trail, can badly damage your expensive camcorder. Never open the tape door if there is dust in the air. Remember, the video head drum is spinning inside the tape compartment and can attract dust. It only takes a little bit of dirt to scratch your record heads, ruin your tape and rack up a lofty repair bill.
6) Look at Lighting
To get awesome outdoor shots you need to think about light. The magic hours of light occur early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Light at mid-day falls almost vertically. Mid-day sun is not flattering to people and can make scenery look flat and uninteresting.
Shots in the shade may be fine at mid-day, but will likely have a bluish hue. In a shady setting it’s a good idea to use manual white balance. Zoom in on something white in the lighting you are balancing for to get accurate color. You’ll probably need to take along your own white card or use a friend’s white T-shirt, though, as white is not a color that is easily found in the forest. Remember to re-white balance after you leave the shady area.
What about a video light? In most cases you’ll be better off leaving it at home. Harsh lights don’t look natural when shooting nature video and they drain batteries rapidly. Instead, use a reflector to re-direct sunlight. Select a slow shutter speed or use gain-up for low-light and campfire pictures.
7) Be Wary of Wind
Shooting video in an outdoor setting often means wind. A foam wind guard on the microphone does a great job of cutting down on the annoying thumping sound that wind makes when it blows over the mike.
A wireless microphone can get great sound. Have your talent position his back to the wind to keep it from blowing across the mike. Headphones are an essential tool for monitoring sound quality. Take along a lightweight pair of headphones and use them when recording important audio segments.
8) Shoot Steady
How about that deluxe fluid head tripod you’re so proud of? Bring it if you don’t mind lugging it around, but a bean-bag can work equally well for most situations. A bean-bag works as an amazing tripod substitute for low angles or on rough terrain. Squish it down on a rock or on top of a tree stump and you’ll get the steady shots you want. Making a bean-bag is easy. All you need are two pieces of dust-resistant cloth about ten inches in diameter. Sew around the edge and pour in a pound-and-a-half of beans. Hand stitch the opening and you now own a "professional" bean-pod. Total cost: about two dollars.
9) Protect your Lens
If you must remove dust and dirt from the lens, try to blow it off, never wipe. Even a photographic lens tissue can’t save your lens from abrasive dirt particles. A can of compressed air is the best tool for ridding your camcorder of dust and dirt.
Keep a clear or UV filter on your camcorder’s lens. The filter will protect your lens from scratches. A polarizing filter will protect your lens from the elements and let you shoot dramatic skies and clouds. This filter can also be used to eliminate reflections or glare on water. Use the polarizing filter to make a kayak seem to float above the bottom for a really interesting effect, or to get shots of fish swimming below the surface.
10) Stow It
When you aren’t shooting, put the camera away safely in its case. If you’ve finished a tape, slide the erase inhibitor to save, and do not rewind (to conserve your battery). Put in a new tape and keep the used one in a safe place away from heat and moisture.