Filming wildlife out of a hide!
Lee Smith and I went out to film some nights out of a hide in the Kenyan Wilderness...
As I am always looking to improve and learn more skills for wildlife filming, my friend and sound recordist Lee Smith and I headed out for a newly built hide in the remote Kenyan wilderness. This time we were scouting a new area and wanted to focus on some hide videography and 5.1 surround sound recording.
We left Nairobi in the early morning and after some hours of driving on bush roads, we finally reached our location for the next days. The task was to film out of a hide with a waterhole. The hide was surprisingly comfortable and Lee and I felt quite comfortable in it. The hide is built out of two 20 foot containers and has a front area, where all the photography and filming takes place, and a back area with proper flushing toilet and beds. Not that we would make use of the comfortable beds....
Even with the hide having a good lighting system, I was unsure how high I would need to pump up the ISO to get good exposure on my RED V-Raptor VV. Shooting R3D raw, this shouldn't be an issue at all later on, but it was also good to see what the RED can deliver in extreme low-light conditions. To limit the amount of light in the hide at night, I was using my Zacuto Kameleon plus view finder. A nice EVF which allowed me to pull exact focus even shooting wide open at f2.8. I knew that I would need fast lenses for this session and decided to use my SIGMA 120-300 f2.8. As range wasn't that important on this shoot, the end of the water hole was only 14 foot away from the hide, the SIGMA 120-300 was the right choice. Lee was setting up his 5.1 microphone on top of the hide and one more additional stereo mic directly outside the hide. In combination with the Aaton Digital Cantar X3, we got some amazing sounds of the many animals coming to the hide to drink.
Everything was set for the first session and shortly after we closed the door on the hide, the action started to happen. Lots of birds, Impalas, Baboons, Zebra, Wildebeest and other game showed up at the water hole. I tried out some different frame rates from 24 up to 160 fps in 6k. Especially the many birds flying in and out offered some nice shot opportunities. As the sun was setting and the night began to fall, it got a bit quiet at the water hole. Suddenly we heard the warning calls of the baboons not far away from the hide. And seconds later the lions were roaring in the dark and the thunderstorm in the background made the scene surreal. How exciting! Will we get the shots of lions coming to the waterhole in our first session? Unfortunately it took some time until we got the first visitor coming in. An African Civit! A nice little carnivore drank quickly before disappearing in the dark.
At this point I filmed on 3200 ISO and got some good results. But it was still not what I was hoping for. The lights at the hide are only 80W so I needed a higher ISO to work with. I decided to get up to 6400 ISO! And to be honest, I was really surprised at the final results. With a bit of post noise reduction, the image looked great and the noise was rarely visible after post production. Now I know that I could push the RED V-Raptor VV up to 6400 ISO if needed and still get some good results. The lions unfortunately dodged us the first night.
Beeing better prepared, the next sighting was a beautiful striped hyena. What a wonderful animal and she spend quite a while at the waterhole. The rest of the first night we saw some more hyenas, buffalos, giraffes and some impalas. With the first light of the day, we were getting ready to get back to our camp for some brunch as suddenly a lioness passed by the hide. What an exciting end of the first session.
After brunch and a quick nap, we went back to the hide for another night session. And this time it was just crazy! The evening before sunset was busy as usual with all the birds and plains game. While we were having dinner, we were joking around that someone should watch out not to miss anything coming to the hide. So Lee took his dinner with him to the front of the hide. Only a couple of minutes later we heard some lions roaring really close to the hide. As soon as I went back to the front of the hide, I heard a lioness calling cubs. I was really excited and as soon as I checked the outside of the waterhole, I saw two tiny heads sticking out behind the tire which was used for the lighting. Two lion cubs and her mom came to drink less than five meters away from us! What a start!
And the night continued to deliver. We again saw striped hyenas, a spotted hyena and then just after we finished filming a striped hyena, a leopard showed up out of the darkness! This beautiful female also spend quite some time at the waterhole and gave me plenty of time to film and even take some pictures with my 500 f4 on the Nikon D850. The rest of the night was full of action as giraffes, civets and other animals came to drink.
Overall a crazy experience and I can't wait to get back into some more hide filming work. Nothing better to spend the night in the African bush, listening to the sound of nature and being close to some of the most amazing African animals!