Wildlife photojournalist Tim Laman recently embarked on a trip to Indonesia to catalog the courtship rituals of the Red Bird-of-Paradise for the BBC Natural History Unit's upcoming 4K series, Planet Earth II. Capturing images of these elusive birds proved to be a challenge—not only because of their remote habitat in the upper canopies of the rainforest, but also due to their animated display behaviors. Tim has traditionally shot on a DSLR, but decided to bring a RED EPIC on this shoot so that he could capture both high-quality stills and motion images.
Today, Tim takes over RED's Instagram account to provide insights into the work that went in to capturing these vibrant animals throughout his month-long shoot and to tease the breathtaking images that will appear later this year in Planet Earth II. RED had the opportunity to speak with Tim about his experience moving from a traditional DSLR camera to RED's Digital Stills and Motion (DSMC) camera system, and how the EPIC provides multiple benefits over a traditional stills camera.
"First is pre-record. I love this feature. It's always hard to anticipate just when a bird will arrive at a perch, or if it's sitting there for a long time, when it will suddenly start its display. Using 4 sec pre-record running constantly, I never missed the start of the action. Another big advantage for wildlife filming is the ability to shoot high-speed. The birds-of-paradise we were filming often moved fast as they dashed up and down their display branches, flipped upside down, and flew back and forth between perches...Shooting at 60 or 75 fps and playing back at 25 [BBC uses PAL frame rates] slows the birds down to human speed and you really just go "wow" when you watch it. A third thing that I really appreciated was the focusing aids in the viewfinder - something not found on DSLRs. With the big telephoto lenses I use, I needed to use manual focus, and enabling the FOCUS tool to enhance edge contrast really helped me nail the focus on some tricky fast action."
When asked whether he experienced any distinct differences shooting on the EPIC, Tim brought up the RED DRAGON sensor's capture capabilities and how it excelled in various lighting conditions.
"The high dynamic range really surprised me. A couple times, dappled sunlight came through the foliage and hit the birds, and I thought the highlights would blow out. But they held, and after processing the shots, looked spectacular. In a situation where I would have usually been hoping for less contrast in the forest lighting, I stopped worrying about it."
Tim's journey to Indonesia with the EPIC has not only changed his perspective of the camera, but also how he sets up his shot—knowing that he'll get the perfect shot every time.
"Still images are still very important to me. I now think of the EPIC as a still camera that shoots 20 MP files at 60 or even 75 fps at amazing quality. If I can compose each shot thinking of it as a beautiful series of still images as the action unfolds, then I know I will have both stills I'm happy with, and spectacular motion pictures."
Be sure to check out RED's Instagram account to get a behind the scenes look at the Red Birds-of-Paradise shoot for Planet Earth II, and visit TimLaman.com to see more of Tim's work and conversation efforts.