Local Nature

August 2, 2020.

On June 15 the borders opened and traveling to and from Belgium was possible again. New Covid-19 cases did not increase, staying stable at about 90 per day.

Then, and in my humble opinion a huge mistake, on July 1st, we could see 15 people and change our bubble every week. Two weeks later new Covid-19 infections started increasing again. It went up like crazy.
Today we are at almost 500 new cases per day.

In the Province of Antwerp protection masks are obligated wherever you go, backed up with 250 € fines.
So even in the woods, all alone, I’m wearing a protection mask. Foresters can also write fines.

So, during my 2-week holiday I stayed mostly at home with a trip to the nearby woods of woodlands to film.

Back to work tomorrow. Well, working from home that is.

Stay safe, friends!

The documentary and the photos

I finished my nature documentary. It was a self-imposed assignment as I want to use my photo exhibition in the visitor’s center of De Averegten as a starting point for a new direction in documentary filmmaking.

The exhibition started on March 2 and runs till May 5.
Past Monday, March 9, a full-page interview with yours truly appeared in one of our bigger newspapers.

Two days later I delivered my almost 7’ film at the visitor’s center.
“Use this moment, old man”, my youngest (20) daughter told me. “This is a great opportunity for you, pops, to build on.”
The last night the Belgian Government decided, finally and in fact they should have done this at least a week ago, to shut down a lot of happenings and other stuff to prevent Covid-19 to do further damage. A very correct decision.

My photo exhibition

So my photo exhibition will be closed until at least Easter.
Fortunately, we live in an era of social networks, so I set up a site with the photos and my film is on YouTube, IGTV, and Vimeo.
Links at the end of this article.
So why the documentary?
At the end of the seventies, I graduated with a photography degree. Then I did an entrance exam for the RITCS, a well-known art school where I wanted to study cinematography. They accepted me. I dropped out of school 8 or 9 months later and went to work in a photography finishing center. For my mother, a widow, the cost was too high.

At that time I was also a member of our local film club and the only young man midst, in my eyes at that time, elderly men. I did some Super 8 but got frustrated because I didn’t have much money to spend. And the company where I was working was struggling and I made long hours.

Looking back it seems like quite a list of lame excuses. Maybe they were. Most of all, certainly in that period of my life, I missed my father, his support and approbation. He passed away a few years earlier, in 1972. I was 13, my father 64.

Now that I am nearing the end of my professional career, I’m looking for ways to use the sea of time I’ll have in a few years from now in a productive, creative, and meaningful way.
So, a year or two ago I picked up filming again.
We live in a time where so much is possible. Technology, social platforms, etc…

The few people whose opinion is important to me told me they love my photography but think I’m doing a better job filming. I like to believe them and yes, I do enjoy the narrative of film more than the narrative of (a) photograph(s).

What did I learn about making my nature documentary?
First I feel very comfortable filming and I have the impression the way I tell the story comes naturally. I didn’t really think about establishing shots for example, but almost every new important chunk of the documentary has the necessary establishing shots.
Albeit I understand how the combination of shutter speed (shutter angle in film lingo) and frame rate affects motion blur I don’t master this technique well enough yet.

In order to get a normal, filmic looking motion blur, the shutter angle should be 180°. This means that the shutter speed should be double the frame rate. When one films at 24 frames per second, the shutter speed should be 1/48th for that natural-looking motion blur.
I use a variable ND-filer to achieve this, but I is something I don’t master yet. Also, I’m pretty sure the ND-filter I own leaves a color shade when closed too much.

Working with the gimbal, the slider, and the fluid head on my tripod works well. No issues there.
With my Lumix GX-80/85 ,I use the Cinelike-D flat profile. The GoPro is set to Protune and my Xiaomi Pocophone f1 uses Log v2 in Filmic Pro.

Editing is done with Davinci Resolve 16.x and over time I’ve become familiar with the software.

I kind of make my own music using Magix Music Maker.
What I really overlooked was the quantity of footage that is needed to make something interesting.

My documentary is a little over 6’ long. When you take into account that one scene takes about 4 seconds one needs, technically, 90 perfect clips. To tell the story, to keep people interested, I was glad I had about 240 clips available to play with.

I love problem-solving. Like filming the isopods or the underwater scenes. A terrarium and an aquarium made this possible. But isopods don’t show up when you are ready to film them. Then thinking how to shoot footage in the field leading to the “studio” scenes, was also fun.
My daughter didn’t like the idea of having this aquarium or terrarium in the house.

I am quite happy with the result. Maybe the music is a little too dramatic. The film to fast, to slow. I have no idea how viewers perceive the documentary.
I am open to your thoughts, tips, and constructive criticism.

Underwater – my nature documentary – teaser

There are a few ponds in De Averechten, the provincial domain where I am making my first nature documentary. Obviously, I am including them in my documentary. This is kind of a challenge though.

I am too late to film damselflies and dragonflies. No tadpoles, frogs, toads, et al either. Once again, too late in the year.
There are no special waterbirds to be found except for an occasional heron or a lost duck. Furthermore, the water is murky and brownish because of an iron holding underground.

Even with abundant life in these ponds, I’m not sure my GoPro would have captured much in these dark waters.

Time for a plan B.

Zapping around Youtube led me to Life In Jars? an entertaining and interesting channel about closed ecosystems.

So I went out and bought a small aquarium, making sure the glass had no faults. Then I went to one of the ponds, collected some soil and water plants and filled a few bottles with water. Back home I filled the aquarium and waited for a day or two so the water became as clear as possible. I added a small piece of a branch to create some interest and maybe attract some small water creatures.

It was incredible to see how the water was swarming with like a zillion small dots.
Filming wasn’t easy. I need a lot of light, be careful of reflections in the glass and the shallow depth of field does not make it easy to capture these quick-moving life.

A New project

It is a coincidence, I’m sure. Yet it is not the first time that I experienced how, when something bad happens, the universe comforts with a positive experience. And vice versa. After 8 years the love of my life, for reasons she only knows, called it a day.
Yep, I was devastated, asking myself a zillion questions I know I’ll never find an answer for.
I guess that’s life.
A few days ago, I received a comment on one of my Instagram posts asking me to contact the writer.

It came from the Averegten Provincial Domain. It covers about 100 hectares of wood, 3 signposted hiking and bicycle paths and several small hiking paths. There is a botanic garden with indigenous wild plants, playing woods, a beehive hall and they offer several nature education activities.

So, I replied, got some extra feedback and this Wednesday afternoon I went to the visitor center of the domain and was received by a very nice woman. They offered me a photo exhibition. Nothing special, no official opening but all expenses paid. They just want to dress up the visitor center every two months.

I said no to the next open window. That would be in one month.
After an almost 3-year break I only recently started doing nature photography again. With new material and lenses, offering completely new possibilities. Also, I am not the same person as I was 3 years ago.
I want this opportunity very much, the publicity would be quite useful, but I want to give them the best I can, and I want to create new work.
But even more important, I want to make a short nature documentary movie. Maybe 15 to 20 minutes.
It is something I can show alongside my photographs. They have like a big screen.

In fact, I want to show what I am able of doing in video.

There you have it. I’ll be delivering 40 photographs and a short movie half February 2020. The exposition starts on March 1, 2020 and ends April 30th, 2020.

At this moment I have nothing to show but I need a real challenge.

The basic scenario, to be deepened, of course is a triptych.
Dying (Autumn)
Death (Winter)
Conception (Spring)

I’m open to suggestions though.

Imagine being in the woods, in a nice spot and filming snow at 240 images per second and slowing them down like 10 times to a normal frame-rate of 24 images per second. Super slow motion.

Or a storm, hail hitting small and fragile mushrooms.

Oh boy, I’m going to have a ball with this project.

Averegten visitor center