On The Trail in Elk Island

Moose Eating

It’s alot of work researching a documentary, especially as there’s always a few ideas being fleshed out at the same time. One never knows if someone else is planning the same thing or if it’s just to costly, or even possible. It’s been said to prepare for any story you must call all your references or notable voices, hopefully authoratitive to add strength to your story or script, heck anyone. I know from personal experience outside of film-making that cold-calling works! Part of this planning includes actually shooting with new gear and situations.

 It’s very difficult deciding on any technology. Recently an opportunity came up to purchase a used Canon XL-H1 kit with warranty. This camera will add a whole new dimension to our New Media projects which previously have been on Digi-8 and DV from rented Canon XL’s and Sony PD150’s. I needed a small project to get used to exploring and working with the gear in the field. Incidentally, the most exciting outdoor product I have seen comes from Brunton which also makes fantastic binoculars. Their solar panels and batteries are ideal for staying off the grid for an extended amount of time. I wonder though about the reliability. Would they let me test one or two in the Sahara I wonder?

Lone Moose

Do you remember the Hinterland Who’s Who series? I honestly don’t know anyone who hasn’t but you can see them here. I thought a 1 minute short on one or more of the mammals in Elk Island would be the perfect opportunity to get things going.

 As there’s alot of things you need to know before you run around in the prairies or Rockies in the winter I had to prepare my equipment as well as refresh old skills such as using a compass and maps. I hope to write a post in the future on how to make custom Garmin maps. I’ve had to delve into GIS systems before as a software developer so when I needed to find maps for Egypt I found the list quite short. So I created my own topographic maps as tests for a number of reasons.

Wood Bison

The first thing I noticed in the field is I need snowshoes! Not just for myself but for my tripod as well. I continue to see more wildlife than people whenever I hike the trail system at Elk Island. I definitely have to change my behavior though as every little noise I make travels very far. Moose 300 meter away look up at me the second a swoosh of clothing or click of equipment. Shhhhh! I’m eating! They say with their faces. Note to self, be quiet.


Invariably, the first few times we use something we don’t know where everything is. The hardest thing with this camera is focus. Focusing precisely with the viewfinder is difficult at first but the Zoom (Not a lens zoom) and highlight feature’s assist in that task. But the zoom alone seems to work after a few times of learning how the viewfinder is representing information.

The other difficult thing is gauging exposure without an external monitor of some kind. Trusting your instinct on photographic principals as aperature and shutter speed leaves only the creative decisions left. It is extremely difficult to judge blacks and whites in the winter for example using the viewfinder but after a few days of shooting with any new gear we gain more confidence with it. After viewing the footage on an HD TV, I felt much better about my first days efforts but much of it was by way of experimentation. The second day left more to learn on that front. The temperature was -5C to -10C and I had the camera bare and mounted on the tripod once it came out which I was worried about but it appears needlessly so.

Here is a Windows Media (WMV) HD clip of the Moose above. I didn’t change any of the gamma settings just the exposure and left knee etc. all at defaults for at first. Great some footage caught. Good thing I’m trying these out now you see, as HDV editing is very different from regular editing as the footage is MPEG and comes in the flavor of I-frame and P-frame. Without getting technical I-frame is what we want for many, many reasons.


In three days I managed to see not only Elk, Plain Bison and Moose, but two Coyote’s entering the park from the north. But how I wished that we didn’t need to create a fenced park to begin with. Watching the Coyote’s above entering the park it was easy to see how they had difficulty navigating the terrain due to the deep snow and their legs sink in just like mine. I wonder if they want to try a set of snowshoes sometime. Joking aside, I see know how as trails take people into the woods it also makes it easier for predators to enter an area that they normally would not be able to.

 Preparing that simple video took some effort as I imagined. I appears that the footage has to be transcoded to on I-frame format to export to a Quicktime Reference file. For a 23 minute or 120 minute production that could be a problem when it comes time to make the entire sequence available to other programs.

This is the kind of thing that savvy people would say, “Isn’t there a button you could push?”


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