How do nature documentaries avoid disrupting the animals?


How do nature documentaries avoid disrupting the animals?

In: Other

Ecology. They are invaders there to witness the life and growth. It’s commonplace for people that have telescopes in crowded cities, window watching. It’s not acceptable, but it’s tolerable. But when that same person starts going into people’s houses, it’s no longer tolerable.

Nature was there first, humans are tolerated and not always accepted.

You try to be unobtrusive when you’re filming, and you can use concealed cameras, but sometimes they just have to go in and shoot for days, or weeks.

The first several days, the animals are noticing you’re there, and they’re weirded out and you get bizarre footage of animals staring at you. But if you’re in the same spot day after day and you never bother them, eventually they decide you’re not interesting and they get back to normal behavior, and now you can get footage that’s actually a decent representation of the animals.

A variety of ways and sometimes not at all. Extremely long zoom lenses can allow crews to film from a considerable distance. Automated cameras can be placed in carefully selected locations and record without anyone being near and so on.

Animals are largely very predictable. They’re habitual, we know what they want and need. So rather than running around trying to catch them on camera. We can set up and watch places like watering holes, popular trails, resting places and so on.

But it’s also important to understand that wildlife documentaries are highly edited. They’re edited to give an accurate picture of reality but the way they do that is very manufactured.

For instance, when lions hunt, most of their hunts end in failure. And the hunts that do succeed can cross a lot of distance very quickly as the animals run and chase. That makes it very difficult to film from start to finish.

So when you see a lion hunt in a documentary, you might be looking at footage from dozens of different hunts all edited into a single running scene. It’s an accurate depiction of a hunt but it’s not like you can tell that the lioness that leaves the resting place isn’t the same one that runs after the zebra or brings it down.

In a similar vein, many shots of small subjects like two insects mating, are often filmed in entirely artificial settings. Often the documentary makers build tables covered in plants in a greenhouse studio setting and then introduce the insects hoping they’ll do what they do. The insects still show their natural behaviour because they really don’t have the ability to differentiate between an artificial set and their natural environment.

And sometimes the animals do get disturbed and that’s likely footage you can’t use.

[For example, here’s a polar bear examining a plexiglass camera position.]( The camera position was set up to watch a seal breathing hole that bears use to hunt. But this one was more interested in the cameraman.

[Here’s a fun article about a cameraman who specializes in filming insect behaviour in artificial sets for documentaries.](

They use telescopic lenses, so they can film from far away.

If they are showing you up close action it is probably staged.

I did a snake-handling course a while back and the guy said one of his biggest incomes was doing nature documentaries.

He had a huge collection of poisons snakes to milk for the production of anti-venom.
He explained how he would let the snake slither through a pipe so the head came out the other end so they could stage the snakes’ movement for documentaries. Just move the pipe around and keep the dangerous end away from people.

It then all comes down to angles and editing.

We have a lion park just around the corner from us with some almost tame lions. Only killed a few tourists who they didn’t know. These big cats have also been hired out to shoot documentaries. They will drive them to a location that looks good and put down a horse carcase film the lions eating it.

Then again mounted cameras, clearly placed cameras, clever editing and camera angles you have some footage of lions on a kill.

Not all documentaries are shot like this but if it is close up overly likely they are using captive animals who are used to being handled. As stated elsewhere, animals also have routines that are easy to follow.

In the national parks here in South Africa, the game rangers also know how to track and locate animals. They do this for a living, it can take them a few hours to track down a target.

As the animals become used to vehicles they no longer take notice and it becomes easier to use vehicle-mounted cameras to film them.

I have been on game drives where I could reach out with my hand and touch rhino, elephant. and other antelope. We were that close. These animals are so conditioned to the vehicles the game rangers use its easy to drive right into the middle of the herd. Yet if you climb out of the vehicle or move too much the animals become disturbed. They can become aggressive and attack. We have been chased by lion, rhino, elephant and buffelo before.

It is easy to get really good shots if you film in situations like this. Not hard at all.

They don’t entirely. They get footage of behaviors, but animals often know they are there. But animals still need to eat and hunt and do the things they do despite humans being there. Like others have said, telephoto lenses help, and acclimation (animals getting used to people) helps. But ultimately wildlife documentaries usually cobble together a lot of footage, then come up with a narrative that is almost entirely fictional (often) and tell a amazing story, despite the fact that events did not take place in that order.

Some nature camera operators go out of their way to mess with the animal(s) in question in order to obtain ‘the perfect shot’. Ants and other insects come to mind.