Hello Stalkers! Welcome to issue number twenty-four of Stalking Mike Blair Outdoors. As promised, a brand new interview with Mike Blair himself! His last interview focused on how he started in this area and his writing. This interview we focused more on the photography and his process.
SMBO: About how many hours a week do you spend outside?
Blair: On the average day, I spend about 8 hours filming or scouting, broken up into two or three segments. I usually get out first thing in the morning, and then late evening at sundown, when wildlife normally moves best. Noon is the worst time – I usually avoid the hours of 11:00 a.m. till about 3:00 p.m.
SMBO: Can you tell us about some of the equipment you use?
Blair: I shoot a Canon XHA1 camcorder with shotgun mic for my primary stuff. After that, I use a variety of Panasonic small camcorders, particularly the HCV-750. Half the time I look for a ball bat with which to knock this camera out of the state, and the other times I want to buy it an ice cream cone. It’s got lousy manual focus abilities, and no viewfinder, so everything has to be shot via its LCD screen held at arm’s length. I hate that! But on the other hand, it shoots tremendous HD footage and has a magic extra – a slow motion function that I use probably 65 percent of its shooting time. When everything is right, the footage is special. So I keep using (and cussing) the danged thing.
I shoot a Nikon D300 for still photography, employing some highly-expensive, old lenses I bought back in the early 80s. These make excellent wildlife photos. I use a variety of tripods nearly always when shooting stills or video. For “normal” small cameras, my favorite tripod is the Benbo Trekker, which allows shots from any angle from ground level to about six feet high. Few tripods do this
A note: In 35 years as a professional nature photographer, I’ve never especially attempted to use “pro” gear. Most of my cameras are mid-point consumer models, and I get along with them just fine. Subject knowledge always trumps equipment.
SMBO: What equipment do you take every time and what do you take only when expecting to need it?
Blair: My truck is packed with everything from extension poles to duct tape to rope and wire. I carry saws, pruners, tarps, camouflage, tripods, electronic game callers, batteries, and a variety of stuff for all situations in case I need it. So I usually have everything with me, including spare cameras. But on an average, I grab a single camera with extra batteries and head out prospecting. Sometimes I also take a GoPro camera for unusual or underwater shots. If I’m on a shooting trip, I add about four or five more camcorders and their support bags. It gets crowded.
SMBO: What are some unexpected hurdles you’ve faced when outside?
Blair: The most common is a sudden change to nesting or feeding habitat. I’ll find a great setup and plan to come back tomorrow. Then suddenly, the habitat is mowed, the nest has been rifled by a predator, etc. Because of this, I’ve learned to ALWAYS take some insurance shots upon first discovery of a great subject, even in bad lighting. Too often, chances are lost through crazy events before you can get back.
SMBO: How long does it take you to put together one of your video blog clips?
Blair: The clips average about 90 seconds. To write and produce them from edited film takes about 45 minutes.
SMBO: How do you decide where you’re going to go?
Blair: Partly by seasonal timing and knowledge of expected events. For instance, wildflowers bloom in an orderly progression, birds nest at expected times, fawns are dropped at expected times, and so on. So I look for particular subjects at certain times, and I’m always finding new habitats and areas in which to search. The rest is just blowing in the wind.
Blair: Nowadays, mostly the Internet. But I’ve got lots of outdoors reference books I use, and I refer often to my field notes and journal entries to remind me of key things when planning to work on a species.
SMBO: How often do you come across wildlife you are unfamiliar with?
Blair: It’s pretty uncommon to find something I’ve never seen before, since I’ve been outside my whole life. But it happens. Last fall while dove hunting in Barber County, I filmed a Crested Caracara, only the second time this bird has been recorded in Kansas. I’d never seen one, but I knew what it was from bird books. Also, in the insect world, I often see new species I’m not familiar with.
SMBO: Do you have any tips for people who want to find more wildlife while outside?
Blair: The biggest thing? Be out there all the time. But there are some tricks to help view and photograph wildlife. I’ve got a video Udemy course that condenses a lifetime of these for serious enthusiasts. Check it out here at https://www.udemy.com/wildlife-photography-how-to-get-close/
So there you have it Stalkers. Do you have any more questions for Blair? If you’re curious, just ask! Leave your question here or on our Facebook page for us. We’ll add your question to our next exclusive Mike Blair interview!