Category Archives: video

Videos of small creatures with a compact camera

At the beginning of summer, 2017, I bought a little Panasonc LUMIX DMC-LX9 compact digital camera. This model has a flip-up LCD screen and enables extreme closeups with a large aperture and a wide-angle view. I have using it mostly for general photography, especially while cycling. As I had hoped when I bought it, works very well for closeup shots of small creatures.

Caterpillar in Hayashi

Closeup of a caterpillar on a sidewalk along a country road in Hayashi, Ritto City (map). Video was shot just before sunset on 6 July 2017. Music: “Before Dawn” by Jason Shaw at AudionatiX Music License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-A) 3.0

Inchworm along a forest road

Closeup of an inchworm at a bridge on a forest forest road in Bodaiji, Konan City, Shiga Prefecture, Japan (map). Video was shot while mountain biking on 15 July 2017.

Shield bug (stinkbug)

Finally, an unpublished clip of a shield bug (カメムシ, 亀虫) at Kashiho Shrine (上葦穂神社) in Kojibukuro, Konan City (map). I discovered the shrine while I was cycling. As was leaving, I noticed this bug in the grass beside the parking lot. I followed it until it flew away. Later I trimmed heavily to remove most of the scene that was out of focus.

Technical notes

This little camera seems to work very well for closeup video of small creatures. To do extreme closeups I zoom out to the widest angle (30mm full-frame equivalent). Depending on the background, I set the aperture somewhere between f5.6 and f1.4. For small insects I must get very close. In fact, the inchworm in the video above actually hit the lens! This camera will not work well with small creatures that are shy. For shy creatures such as butterflies we can get better results with a close focus telephoto lens on a mirrorless or DSLR camera.

I have not done any color grading because I like the natural colors of the raw clips from the camera. I do all post-processing with free/libre and open-source software (FLOSS) on a Fedora GNU/Linux workstation. I trim some clips with FFmpeg and edit with Kdenlive. I use the video editor to trim and join clips and to add titles and sound (music for the caterpillar video).

This little camera has features that I have not yet exploited. I have been shooting full HD (1920×1080) in aperture priority mode and continuous focus tracking. In the future I may shoot 4K video and try various settings; however, my present point-and-shoot style seems to work well. I have to hold the camera very close the the ground, which become difficult, so I may add a bracket or a cage to hold the camera. For more sophisticated editing and color grading I can use professional software such as Da Vinci Resolve by Blackmagic Design.

Turtle Doves (キジバト) in Hatonomori Park

On May 28, 2017, a couple of Oriental turtle-doves (キジバト) were mating in Hatonomori Park in Moriyama City (滋賀県 守山市 鳩の森公園).

Earlier a solitary turtle-dove was high in a tree, calling to its mate.

Oriental turtle-dove (キジバト) at Hatonomori Park in Moriyama City (滋賀県 守山市 鳩の森公園)

As I was looking for small birds, my wife saw the two turtle-doves and called me. I saw them mating, but I was not able to get a clear view.

Oriental turtle-doves (キジバト) mating at Hatonomori Park in Moriyama City (滋賀県 守山市 鳩の森公園)

By the time I found a place to take photos and video clips, the turtle-doves were taking turns grooming each other.

Oriental turtle-doves (キジバト) at Hatonomori Park in Moriyama City (滋賀県 守山市 鳩の森公園)

Oriental turtle-doves (キジバト) at Hatonomori Park in Moriyama City (滋賀県 守山市 鳩の森公園)

While I was moving to another position, the two birds separated and then flew away.

The two turtle-doves appeared together for only a few minutes, but I was moved by their mutual affection as I watched them through the viewfinder.

Notes

Video was shot handheld with an Olympus OM-D EM-5 Mk II camera and 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens with a 1.4x teleconverter.

Music in the video is from “Love Story” (piano) by Sławomir Zając, chafer on SoundCloud (https://soundcloud.com/chafer).

Post-processing was done with Kdenlive running on Fedora Workstation, a GNU/Linux operating system.

Coots – オオバン

On December 29, 2016, several coots (オオバン) were feeding on moss at the base of a flood control dam on Yasugawa about five kilometers upstream from Lake Biwa. Here in Shiga Prefecture, Japan, I often see coots in still water and slow streams, but I’ve never seen them eating so actively. I happened to be carrying a tripod, so I made a short video.

The pool and nearby running water below the dam make this an interesting location. In late spring and summer many people gather to fish there. Cormorants, egrets, and herons hunt nearby, and Japanese kites circle overhead, sometimes swooping down to pluck fish from the river.

Music

“Running Water” by Jason Shaw at AudionatiX (http://audionautix.com/). License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-By) 3.0.

Technical notes

Hardware

I shot the opening and closing scenes with an Olympus OM-D EM-5 camera and two lenses: Olympus 17mm f1.8 and Panasonic/Leica 25mm f1.4. For medium, closeup, and extreme closeup shots I used an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II camera and a Panasonic 100-400mm zoom lens.

I used the camera’s optical teleconverter for extreme closeups. At 800mm (400mm x 2) with a micro four-thirds system the 35mm equivalent focal length is 1600mm, which requires a steady tripod. I used a Manfrotto 055XPRO4 tripod and an MVH502AH fluid head. That seems like a lot of tripod for a micro four-thirds system, but it’s great for long lenses. The four-section model is easy to carry. I attach it to my Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L AW, a small backpack that holds two cameras, several lenses, a small audio recorder, etc. Recently I’ve been concentrating on still photography with a handheld camera, so I rarely use a tripod. This experience with the coots reminded me that I should carry a tripod more often.

Video post-processing software

I process media on a Lenovo ThinkStation S20 that runs Fedora GNU/Linux. For this video I first extracted clips from the raw files with FFmpeg. I wrote a shell script to automate processing by reading a data file that specifies how to make each clip.

Video editing was done with Pitivi version 0.97.1. Pitivi has become quite useful and much more stable than the editor I had been using; however, I had to experiment with rendering to get decent output. I used MP4 (x264enc) with a fixed bitrate of 8192K (default is 2048K), and I turned the speed/quality setting OFF (default is medium). Using a good fixed bitrate worked, but I’m not sure why or if my solution is best. Hopefully, future versions of Pitivi will make it easier to produce high-quality output.

Before uploading to YouTube I transcoded the video to Web-optimized M4V with HandBrake. The only trouble I had was that I could not change the title, which was derived from from the filename, and I was not able to edit metadata. (Perhaps it was due to my lack of knowledge.) Before uploading I edited the title and other metadata with the VideoLAN VLC media player.

Yasugawa and Mikamiyama from  the fish ladder along the dam in Moriyama

Yasugawa and Mikamiyama from the fish ladder along the dam in Moriyama

Swallows Nesting in Ritto City

Barn swallows (ツバメ, 燕) repairing an old nest that was last used in 2014. Morning sunlight strongly backlit the scene, so I used small LED lights to bring out the colors of the birds. Some people are surprised that barn swallows have such beautiful blue heads.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

My timing was lucky. The birds had been visiting the nest for nearly a week, but they did all of their repair work on a sunny Saturday morning (April 9, 2016) when I was home. When it was used in 2014, the construction was very smooth, but this time the outer surface near the top is pretty rough.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

All scenes were shot handheld in a stairwell with an Olympus MD-D EM-5 Mk. II camera and a 40-150mm f2.8 Pro lens. I did not use any special video settings. I simply pressed the video record button instead of the shutter button. The birds were at the nest only for short periods, so continuous video would have been very difficult without a tripod. I was able to capture a few scenes by starting to record as one of the birds swooped into the car port. In this kind of situation it is easier to shoot still photographs. I shot in bursts at 5 frames per second.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Music credit

“Winter Chimes” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).

Production notes

Post-processing was done with digiKam for still photographs and OpenShot for video. I adjusted the length of the movie by a few seconds in order to match the music.

Eastern spot-billed duck close-up facing right, right eye near center.

Oyamakawa in Autumn – 秋の大山川

In November, 2015, I took video clips and photographs of wildlife from along the left bank of a small river, Oyamakawa (大山川), in Omifuji, Yasu City, a short bike ride from my home (map).

Video clips were shot with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk. II camera. I used three Olympus lenses: a 17mm f1.8 for panoramas and old 200mm f4 and 300mm f4.5 Zuiko manual focus lenses for wildlife scenes. Music is from “Perspectives” by Kevin MacLeod (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license).

Postproduction was done with Audacity (audio), FFmpeg (video clip trimming), OpenShot (video editing), and digiKam (still photo editing) on a Lenovo ThinkStation S20 computer running the Fedora Workstation operating system.

Oyamakawa (大山川) is a small, gentle creek that flows from the hills above Bodaiji into Yasugawa just upstream from the Japan Route 8 bridge, Yasugawa Ohashi. The lower part of the creek in Omifuji, Yasu City, is full of vegetation that supports wildlife. The river seems tiny in its deep channel with high concrete banks for flood control.

Oyamakawa (大山川)

Oyamakawa (大山川)

Oyamakawa (大山川)

Usually the mouth of the river is even smaller than we can see in this photo (below), which was taken across the north fork of Yasugawa just after quite a lot of rain. The mountain in the background is Mikamiyama (三上山).

Autumn colors at Yasugawa

The video shows the most common birds there in November, but some appear more in still photos. For example, one grey wagtail (キセキレイ) is very photogenic at the river, but I have seen the bird there only a few times. Usually I see it at a distance, flitting about in bushes across the stream.

Grey wagtail (キセキレイ)

Grey wagtail (キセキレイ)

Grey wagtail (キセキレイ)

Great egrets were very common in early November, but I saw very few after the middle of the month.

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Common kingfishers (川蝉) live at the river in at least two locations. At one of their favorite hunting places two older men have planted tree branches as perches for them in the riverbed. About once a week one of the men comes to take photos. Both men have the same routine. They dress in camouflage, sit patiently in folding chairs, and take photos with Olympus cameras attached to small telescopes. I don’t have such patience, but I was able to take a few photos of birds on their perches.

Common kingfisher (川蝉, カワセミ)

Common kingfisher (川蝉, カワセミ)

Common kingfisher (川蝉, カワセミ)

Another kingfisher hunts upstream and often perches on the concrete bank or on rocks in shallow water.

Common kingfisher (川蝉, カワセミ)

Some creatures don’t appear in the movie. For example, quite a few huge joro spiders had webs between trees early in the month.

Jorō Spider (Nephila clavata, ジョロウグモ)

Japanese black kites (トビ) sometimes flew overhead.

Japanese black kite (トビ)

Small birds appeared in trees and bushes, but I had better luck getting photos of them at other locations. For example, in October a Siberian stonechat (ノビタキ) was at the mouth of the river.

Siberian stonechat (ノビタキ)

A bull-headed shrike (モズ) was upstream in Sakura Ryokuchi Park.

Bull-headed shrike (モズ)

Pheasants, turtle doves, and numerous smaller birds live in the bushes near the mouth of the river.

Oyamakawa (大山川).

The Ritto ground gold course, which we can see on the other side of Yasugawa, is just a short walk from my house. It’s great to have so much vegetation and wildlife so close to home.