Introduction to Filming Wildlife in Thailand
Thailand is a beautiful country to visit and filming wildlife in Thailand can produce beautiful results. However, before packing up your gear and heading overseas, do a little preparation work to be sure you are going about your pursuit legally and safely. The first question to ask yourself is how you plan to use the footage you shoot. If you are using it for commercial purposes, even if you are doing work on spec, you may need to consult the Thai Embassy to secure a special visa.
Thailand’s many national parks are often amenable to wildlife thriving and various animals can be seen. Some, such as Khao Yai National Park, even have salt licks, which can attract animals and provide a good location for capturing them with your video camera.
Which Camera to Bring
Cameras and camcorders are constantly evolving, so instead of referring to specific models, I will list the top four most important features to consider.
- Portability. You will be toting your equipment everywhere you go. Make sure your camera is not more of a burden than you can shoulder.
- Quality. Be sure the camera you take with you is adequate for the needs of your footage. For example, if you are recording movies for your own memories or to share online, a $50 video camera from the drug store may be adequate. However, that camera is not likely to be good enough to produce a professional-grade movie.
- Ease of Use. You want to be able to use the camera, obviously. If you are not good with technical gadgets, get a simpler point-and-shoot video camera. In short, when it's time to get the footage you want, you want the camera to work; you don't want to have to figure out everything at that moment.
- Consumables. If you are using digital video tape, you have one more thing to carry and keep track of. You might get the best quality image on tape, but you also have to carry all those tapes around. That's too much overhead for my taste. I prefer my consumables to include mainly batteries and memory cards.
Lighting and Weather
When you are out in the field and shooting wildlife, you are on their schedule. Whether it is bright or cloudy, they are out when they are out and you have to adapt your shooting techniques to fit their needs. However, there are some things you can do to make filming wildlife in Thailand an easier endeavor.
- Use an umbrella. Umbrellas are good both in the rain and in the heat of the day. Figure a way to cover yourself and your equipment, should you come upon a rain storm.
- Buy or make a waterproof housing for your camera. The professional-grade underwater housings might be overkill but they will work. At one place I worked we would simply rig a gallon-size plastic bag over the camera, allowing the lens to poke though the opening.
- Use an extra light source. Many cameras have optional external lights sold as accessories.
- Bounce light with a reflector. You may or may not be able to do this effectively, depending on how far away your wildlife is and how closely you can safely approach it.
Technical Considerations and Shooting Tips
Filming wildlife in Thailand has technical challenges. Most wild animals, not being tame, tend to move around a lot, and quickly. Having a good tripod and head that allows fluid motion is indispensible. In addition, be sure you have a good enough range of focal lengths. Whether you have interchangeable lenses or one lens that can easily let you zoom in on an object far away, having the right lens is incredibly important so you can fill the frame sufficiently with your subject. Be sure to set the white balance on your video camera if you have the option to do so, and reset it throughout the day. Be sure you are shooting at the highest frame rate so you can capture all the action. Most cameras will default to 30 frames per second. That is ideal.
Tips on shooting:
- When shooting and not using your tripod, stand in a steady place, your feet shoulder-width apart. I find that having one foot slightly ahead of the other gives me added stability.
- Keep the camera as close to your body as you can, minimizing hand movements.
- If you need to move, do it slowly, keeping the camera as still as possible.
- If you need to pan, do so slowly and steadily.
- Zoom steadily and slowly.
Steady and slow movements will make the footage look as good as possible. Videos with jerky movements never look good.
Safety When Shooting Wildlife
Wildlife can be a tricky subject to capture on film. Maintaining a safe distance is important. These are not farm animals you will be shooting. They are not tame. Prepare yourself by researching the animals you want to film. If you are filming elephants, for instance, be sure you know their behaviors and how fast they can run. Do a mental calculation to figure how much faster they are than you are and how long it will take you to get inside your vehicle or the closest building. If you want to film tigers, know where to go to find them, but be aware that they live in remote areas that are not always accessible by car, and that the likelihood of surviving a tiger attack is pretty low.
Know the animals you are likely to encounter and how to find and avoid them and what to do in different situations. Many animals may go unnoticed but are out there and you should be aware of them: scorpions, centipedes, spiders, and snakes, among others. You need not fear all of these, just know that they are there and what to do if you encounter them.
Written from author's experience traveling in and photographing and filming wildlife in Thailand.