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Why Conservation Filmmaking Stands Apart from General Videography

Environmental videographer in Ontario Canada

Why Conservation Filmmaking Stands Apart from General Videography

Let’s face it: When conservation organizations are seeking videographers today there’s a wide array of generalists out there to hire, ranging from weddings, business, and real estate videographers.

Trying to find a videographer specializing in nature and conservation is often overlooked. It’s not a surprise. We’re a very small niche. Maybe some organizations don’t know we exist. Pro tip: We Do!! Sometimes hiring based on ‘shared values’ isn’t always paramount when some environmental organizations are seeking creative professionals. After all, anyone can press a record button, right? Um, not exactly.

Conservation field filmmaking occupies a distinct and often challenging corner of the videography spectrum. We have the bug bites, blood, cuts and scrapes to prove it! This type of filmmaking is not just about capturing moments or promoting a product; it’s about telling the crucial stories of our natural world, often in remote and rugged locations.

For sure, I’m obviously biased when it comes to conservation filmmaking, but it is indeed a world apart from general videography, and here are some reasons why:

The Purpose and Impact

Storytelling with a Cause:
Conservation filmmakers are driven by a mission to raise awareness about environmental issues, wildlife protection, and the delicate balance of our ecosystems. Unlike wedding videos that celebrate personal milestones or business videos that drive marketing efforts, conservation films aim to inspire change, educate the public, and influence policy. The stakes are higher because the subjects of these films are often endangered species or fragile habitats, and the ultimate goal is to drive conservation efforts and action.

Engagement with Science and Advocacy:
Conservation filmmakers often work closely with scientists, conservationists, and local communities. Their storytelling is deeply intertwined with scientific data and ecological knowledge, requiring them to translate complex information into compelling visual narratives that are accessible to a broader audience.

The Challenges of the Environment

Remote and Harsh Locations:
While a wedding videographer might work in controlled environments like churches or banquet halls, and real estate videographers often operate within the confines of urban or suburban areas, conservation filmmakers venture into some of the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth, or in my case, the wildest places in southern Ontario, Canada and beyond. From dense old growth forests to windswept sandspits far into a Great Lake, filmmakers must be prepared to face extreme weather, difficult terrain, and unpredictable conditions.

Unpredictable Subjects:
Capturing wildlife in natural habitat is a far cry from filming a staged event or a property walkthrough. Animals don’t adhere to scripts or schedules, and their behaviour can be unpredictable. Conservation filmmakers need immense patience, often spending hours, days, or even weeks to get a few seconds of usable footage. This requires not only perseverance but also an in-depth understanding of animal behaviour.

Specialized Skills and Expertise

Technical Expertise:
Conservation filmmake pack what they need, because running back to the car isn’t always an option when you are kilometres into the forest. The technical demands of conservation filmmaking are significant. Filmmakers must be adept at using specialized equipment such as long lenses for capturing distant subjects, underwater cameras for marine life, and drones for aerial shots of vast landscapes. Additionally, they need to be skilled in low-light photography, macro videography for capturing tiny creatures, and time-lapse photography to show processes that occur over long periods.

Outdoor Skills:
Conservation filmmakers often need to be proficient in outdoor skills. Filming in a canoe is no easy assignment. Navigating through dense forests, living off the grid while on assignment, enduring swarms of biting insects, and ensuring personal safety are all part of the job. This contrasts sharply with the more controlled environments of other videography niches.

Adaptability and Problem-Solving:
Field conditions can change rapidly, and conservation filmmakers must be highly adaptable. Equipment can fail in harsh conditions, and unexpected challenges can arise, requiring quick thinking and problem-solving abilities. Strong winds can suddenly impact a shoot unless you have the proper audio equipment for such scenarios. The ability to improvise and make do with limited resources is crucial.

Specialized Gear for Conservation Filmmaking

Robust and Versatile Equipment:
The gear used in conservation filmmaking must be durable and versatile. Cameras and lenses need to withstand extreme temperatures, humidity, and physical shocks. Protective cases, waterproof housings, and sturdy tripods are essential. Portable power solutions, like solar chargers and portable power solutions, are often necessary for extended stays or work days in remote areas.

Advanced Recording Devices:
High-quality audio is crucial for capturing the natural sounds of the environment and animal calls. This often involves using sensitive microphones and recording devices that can pick up subtle sounds without being intrusive. In my case I use Sennheiser microphones. The name itself is legendary but the audio quality is obvious. And for windy days I use a professional audio blimp cover that is a wind-buster on blustery days.

To be fair, general videography like weddings, business videos, and real estate shoots have their own set of challenges and skills, however conservation filmmaking stands apart due to its mission-driven approach, the harsh and unpredictable environments, and the specialized skills and gear required. Environmental filmmakers play a vital role in bringing the beauty and fragility of our natural world to the forefront, inspiring us all to act towards preserving it.

Gregg McLachlan
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