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Old April 8th, 2009, 01:09 PM   #1
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Suggestions for newbie - Grouse lek

Hi all,

I've been doing a lot of reading for the pass couple of weeks.

My wife and I are heading up to a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek in a couple of days, and I want to do my best to get some decent video. We'll be shooting out of a blind with 6 other photog/birders, but we won't know how far/close they will be. It'll be early morning/low-light. We're also hoping for some wildlife shooting later.

I'm mainly a bird photographer with just okay equipment - Canon 1Dm2, 120-300/2.8 + 1.4 & 2x TC's, also a 50-500 Sigma, no big fast prime. I know I can handle low light with that equipment.

On the video side, I've just purchased the Canon HF100 + 1.5x (Canon TL-H37) and Raynox HDP5050 0.5x wide and an older no-name shotgun mike. I also have a Edirol R09 for recording some ambient sounds. I went with the HF100 mainly due to cost and better low light capability instead of the HF200. I've got plenty of batteries & memory cards for everything.

It seems that I should not be trying to up the shutter speed - contrary to my photog thinking, that 1/30 or 1/60 should be sufficient/desired. Is that correct?

Would 24p or 30p work better for a subject like this? The HF100 will do 60i, 30p and 24p, max bitrate is 17mbps.

Any other suggestions, do's/do not's, etc.
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Old April 8th, 2009, 04:23 PM   #2
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Kin - I do a fair amount of grouse videography (a sampling of which can be seen at: Sharp-tailed Grouse Stock Video Footage). (I was even out looking at birds today, but without the equipment.) With that video camera/lens you're unlikely to be filling the frame with the bird. However, a mistake that many people make (including myself on occassion) is to get too tight and then when 2 males suddenly fight they jump out of the frame and the videographer misses the action, so having a wider shot often pays off. Having plenty of memory cards/tape is also a plus because you'll want the camera running as much as possible. I personally don't like standard blinds because they force you to shoot down at the birds; I have a blind that I lay prone in so I get shots from the bird's point of view, which I prefer. I'm not sure how much exposure control you have with that camera, but I would generally go with as high a shutter speed as possible and try to keep the lens wide open. It brings out the bird more (especially if you're shooting from ground level) and it will lessen the motion blur when they are dancing. As for the frame rate, well that's totally up to you and your ultimate goal with the video.

The bottom line is that you'll have a blast. Good luck.
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Old April 8th, 2009, 05:00 PM   #3
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Thanks Dan. Your footage is great.

What was the focal length (35mm equiv) for the closeups?

The HF100 is just a consumer level camera. I do have the option of putting it in shutter priority, so I'll try that.
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Old April 8th, 2009, 08:25 PM   #4
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re: suggestions for newbie

"We'll be shooting out of a blind with 6 other photog/birders..."

To me, that's OK if you are just doing still photography. But if you are shooting video, and you say you have purchased shotgun mics, be aware that your sound will be terribly contaminated with shutter clicks. They are a real distraction once you are back home and try to edit and lay in ambient sound and bird calls.

Grouse make this really nice booming sound while they strut around that carries quite far in the silence of the early morning and your audio track will go: thump click thump click click click thump... I have had many audio takes ruined by being too close to still photographers.

Since you will arrive at the blind in total darkness (I presume), take a couple of minutes and put your mic on the longest mic cord you can muster and put it out in front of the blind as far away as the mic cable allows. You can reel it in when you leave. Also by laying the mic on the ground inside a small bush or clump of grass you will minimize wind noise and rumble. See if you can get a 30 ft XLR cable.

Just something to think about.

Check out my website for some good sound and footage with Lesser Prairie Chickens.
url=http://www.digitalvisionsvideo.com
click on "other birds and wildlife"

Good Luck
Matt
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Old April 8th, 2009, 08:54 PM   #5
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Kin - The video was taken with a variety of cameras (e.g., Sony FX1, FX7) so it varies. I believe the FX1 is 12x and FX7 is 20x if that helps you (I'm sure a Google search will get you the focal lengths). But having said that I believe that a few of the closeups were actually taken with the Sony HC3 consumer camcorder (which I think is 10x)! For example, the closeup of the 2 grouse seated facing each other was taken with that unit.

How I did it was I dug a shallow hole in the middle of the lek and placed the HC3 in it on top of a motorized pan head. I then had cables going back to my blind that controlled the pan head, the Rec button, and gave me the video signal so I could see what the camera was seeing. I wanted to get a "worm's-eye-view" of the birds but still have a fairly wide angle. I believe it worked out pretty well.

I concur with Matt that if you want good audio get the mic outside of the blind (even if you're the only one in the blind the wind can still be a factor). Of course the important thing is that you have fun. Good luck.
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Old April 8th, 2009, 09:42 PM   #6
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Thanks Matt and Dan.

I'm tempted to put my Edirol R09 on the ground about 100ft away from the blind on my way in, and just let it record for an hour or so.

As for the shutter clicks... quite a few of those will likely be from me :)

The FX7 is 748mm equiv at the long end, and the HF100 is 515mm equiv at the long end, and I have good 1.5x adapter, so I should be okay.
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Old April 9th, 2009, 09:03 AM   #7
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As I read it here you were asking about 24p, 30p, and 60 I and upping your shutter speed comparitevely with Video to Still Photography but did not get a straight answer. I will lend some of my findings as I made the same jump, Bird Photography to Bird Videography.

Yes, the shutter speeds needed in both still imaging and video are similar. I use as fast a shutter speed as the conditions allow. I find that with all birds, even with grouse, faster is better if possible 1/250 on up to even 1/1000 gets a clean and tack sharp result when I shoot in 60I. It will greatly depend on the given lighting and conditions. Both low light and slow shutter will result in soft images much the same as with Still Photography. If you are in low light or Grey conditions of course you will have to settle for much slower shutter speeds. Everything I shoot is outdoors and moving so I use 60I all the time and it seems to yield great results when paired with as fast a shutter as I can get away with.

Good luck on your outing!
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Old April 9th, 2009, 12:54 PM   #8
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Thanks Tim. Are you more video now than stills, vice-versa, or 50/50?
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Old April 9th, 2009, 07:32 PM   #9
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Good evening,


I video sharp tailed grouse on the lek every spring. Just spent 3.5 hours out this morning.

I arrived on the lek at 4:30 am. Could hear first grouse by 5:00. they start dancing, actually at this time of year it is all cocks vying for dominancy, hens will move in in a week or so, perhaps sooner further south.
I start shooting as soon as I can get images, but to be honest, the best video will be once the sun is up. for early I actually prefer my Sd camera to the Hd.

For audio, I place the mic low to the ground outside and in front of the blind. If you have a prevailing wind then set the mic facing the grouse lek, but on the leeward side of the blind, that will help alot. If it has a bass rolloff filter use it.

If someone is shooting off an slr beside you and your mic is on the inside you will hear all the shutter noise!!!

Generally speaking it is always best to have the blind on the south side of the Lek if you have a choice.

You will likly be shooting slower shutter speeds to start. this is alright as the grouse do the work in cycles and will settle down for awhile and you can get some good individual non battle oriented footage at this time.

Be patient, they will be active several sessions over a couple hours.

don't get over excited and pan around to a different active group squaring off. Keep a group that is closest and stay with them and get the entire thing. the more you move around it seems the more you miss.

Remeber to turn your gain down once you have enough light!!!!!

Shutter speeds. I like to shoot around 1/100 as to me this gives me the image that seems to be more like what I actually perceive.

any specific questions just ask.
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Old April 9th, 2009, 10:06 PM   #10
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Thanks Dale, that's valuable info.

I'm off tomorrow morning. Thanks to everyone for their time and guidance.

Hopefully I'll have something worth showing to bring home :)
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Old April 13th, 2009, 10:12 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kin Lau View Post
Thanks Tim. Are you more video now than stills, vice-versa, or 50/50?
About 50/50 Kin
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Old April 13th, 2009, 04:54 PM   #12
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Dan,
Your footage is spectacular especially the ground level shots where the birds look like dinosaurs stalking the plains. Would you mind sharing a couple of practical points? Did you buy a "lie-on-the-ground " blind, or is it homemade? I find it very hard to pan smoothly with a tripod lying supine without a blind. How do you do it with one? Finally, how late in the season can you shoot before the grass is too high?
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Old April 13th, 2009, 10:22 PM   #13
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Steve - Thanks for the kind feedback. I ended up making my own "lie-on-the-ground" blind (couldn't find any commercial ones good for video work). I've tested a couple of designs and my preferred blind is made of a PVC pipe frame (can't remember the diameter right off). It's probably about 20" high, 3' wide, and 7' long. One drawback of PVC is that it bends so I've added two 2' vertical pieces at the midpoint of the long axis for more support. I have played with conduit as well but couldn't find connector pieces that work as well as PVC. My wife was kind enough to sew the fabric. For windy days and/or more permanent use I have a blind of the same dimensions made of pegboard and a wood frame, but its a heavy bugger.

For a ground-level tripod I cut a triangular piece of shelving board and I ran a 3/8" diameter bolt up through the middle that connects to a Manfrotto 501 head. On each corner of the board is a long bolt facing downward (i.e, the other direction) so the whole unit gets pushed into the earth (which is usually nice and soft at "dancing" time). In other words, the board acts as my tripod "legs." (A ball level would be a good enhancement, but haven't got around to it yet.)

As for the grass and the seasonality, it doesn't seem to be a big issue in my part of the world (western South Dakota). As you allude to, the best leks for video work are well grazed by bison, elk, or cows; I find that they stay that way (low vegetation height) until the dancing season is essentially over. However, some leks will have comparatively tall residual vegetation from the previous year; they don't even look like good leks to me but the birds apparently think otherwise. Thanks again.
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Old April 15th, 2009, 07:54 PM   #14
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Dan,


I enjoyed your grouse footage. I get my low profile footage on a lek that is on a hill and I set my blind down the hill a ways. I thought about the ground thing and have not gone that route because i thought I would have a lack of mobility with the camera.
Obviously I need to give your method a shot. sharp tails are my absolute favorite bird here in southern Sask.

I look forward to hear how Kin made out on his trip!!

We have not had very good opportuniteies yet this year and my favorite lek the grouse moved 100 yards west and there are cow paddies every where ruining the footage for me!! I will get to my hill lek in a week, still snow in the draws and it wasw sleeting all day today too!! I posted a link on the uwol list, nothing great, just my first spring shoot.
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Old April 15th, 2009, 10:00 PM   #15
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I'm back.

The lek was further away this year and the grass was tall, so the video is only so-so.

The experience itself, tho was great. I've learned alot, and hope to try for it again.
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