By Chris Larsen
Outdoor television shows are a hot commodity these days. There are several networks featuring outdoor programming exclusively. Deer hunting shows are by far the most popular and for good reason… deer are the most popular game animal in the country. Most of these shows have some sort of storyline, perhaps a tip or two, and usually end with the star bagging a trophy buck. Getting all the details perfect is essential for a top tier television show. It takes a lot of work and even more experience. Most camera operators are dedicated professionals with extensive training.
Hunters just trying to document their hunts to share with friends and family don’t need extensive training or cameras that cost tens of thousands of dollars. With just a few tips and some practice, you can become very proficient at creating high quality deer hunting videos.
The Buddy System
Having someone to run the camera for you can be invaluable. It allows you to focus on hunting while your partner works on the video. Many of the videographers I work with barter time with other hunters. In other words, “I’ll shoot your hunt this week. You shoot mine next week.” As hunters, most just enjoy being outdoors and I enjoy sitting with the camera as much as I do with a gun. Yes, you can shoot the video yourself. However, shooting a gun or a bow and operating a camera while focusing on the target is tough to do. Besides, it’s just more fun to hunt with someone else.
It’s important to cover all lights on the camera. If there is a red light that indicates the camera is recording, it needs to be covered before going into the field. If your camera is silver or has metallic parts, covering them is also a good idea. There are several camo tapes available, but I like cloth tape. The tape I use is matte black but doesn’t have the glare that some vinyl camo tape has.
Nothing is more annoying in the video world than shaky video. To prevent shaky video a tripod is highly recommended. This will keep your camera solid even during the shot. When you know the shooter is about to take a shot, take your hands off the tripod briefly. The bark of a rifle will jar just about anyone, even when they know the shot is coming. A monopod works well when space is an issue or you plan on a lot of hiking. For tree stand hunters, there are several companies marketing camera arms. These arms secure to the tree and keep the camera out of the way as you hunt.
Second to shaky video, too many quick, back and forth zooms are my second pet peeve. When zooming in and out use a steady motion. Some cameras allow you to adjust the speed of the zoom. Use the slowest speed possible and practice before hunting. Visualize in your mind when you will zoom in and when you will zoom out. Think about why and when you should zoom in or out. When the animal approaches try to zoom in as close as possible to fill the frame with the deer. But keep in mind, as you zoom in tighter your movements become amplified. Any shake looks shakier and moving side to side smoothly becomes more difficult.
The Other Stuff
You may be out to film a deer hunt, but there are lots of other things to capture on video as well. Get shots of everything from squirrels, turkeys, raccoons, coyotes, and birds. If your heroic hunter nods off to sleep, get some shots of that too. Sunrises and sunset shots are also very cool and something everyone can appreciate. Capture the essence of the day.
“There He Is!”
So that trophy buck finally arrives. What to do? On hunting shows you see both the hunter and the deer. But with one camera, what should you shoot? Some may already know this, but most hunting shows have just one camera in the field. Focus on the deer and get shots of the hunter later. Your buddy can stage getting his gun ready after the shot. Chances are, the deer won’t be around to do his thing again. When getting shot of the hunter be sure to mix up your shots. Get some wide shots that show the scene and some super detailed shots that show focus. When getting these shots, get as tight of a shot as possible while holding a steady shot. These are called cutaways. These shots should be taken immediately after the harvest so that the intensity of natural lighting remains constant. If the deer runs off, get a good mark before shooting your cutaways. You want to give that deer some time anyway, so make your waiting time productive.
Be sure to take these shots from creative angles to add interest to your video. Get wide, medium, and tight shots as well. The more variety, the better. Watch hunting shows and pay attention to different camera shots and how they are utilized within the video.
Post Game Speech
The speech is found in just about every hunting video you can find. As the star of the show, keep a few things in mind. First, keep it short and simple. Most people can’t give five minute monologues and be interesting. Try to keep the speech to a minute or two and focus on what you are feeling, not what just happened. The people watching your video don’t need a blow by blow account of where the deer came from and what it did. They just watched it on the video. Talk about how excited you are and the deer itself. Give some context as to how much time you spent in the field, is this your biggest buck, first deer, etc.
No matter how well you shoot the video, the editing makes or breaks the finished product. Most computers come with basic video editing software preinstalled. This software is pretty simple compared to what pros use but beginners can make a decent home video with it while learning the basics of video editing. One of the main mistakes I see with amateur video editing is called a jump cut. A jump cut occurs when you see a shot of something and the very next edit is a shot of the same thing doing something different. This is why cutaways are important. Let’s say you have a shot of a hunter looking out into the distance. The next shot is of the same hunter firing his gun. That’s a jump cut and it’s very jarring to the viewer. If you put a shot of a squirrel running around on the forest floor between those two shots, the video will be much smoother to watch.
Filming a hunt is no easy task. Think about how many times you hunt and come home empty handed. Now compound that by adding another element of difficulty. It’s tough but if you are successful, you will have something most people don’t… documented proof of one of your greatest moments as a hunter.