Top Ten Places to Film Fall Color in the United States

There are really only a few places in the US where fall colors can be enjoyed at their best, and the following list will help you if you want to see and film some of the most spectacular fall scenery anywhere. The list can also help to save you time and money by not visiting those places that may be somewhat disappointing.

1. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
In addition the the beautiful colors of the trees that line the gorge, the gorge also offers plenty of fascinating geological features. One of the highlights is the many maple trees, which guarantee some great photos, and the entire area is within easy reach of Interstate 84.

2. Washington County, Maine
One advantage of this area is that is within easy reach of many other parts of Maine, and the drive here is worth it during the fall for the vibrant and spectacular reds and oranges of the leaves. In addition to the fall colors, do not miss the chance to sample a local specialty, the delicious blackberry pancakes.

3. Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
This area is well known for its Independence Day celebrations, although it is a pleasure to visit any other time of the year, especially when the leaves show their colors during fall. A boat tour guide can take the most dedicated nature filmmaker out on a trip to ensure that the best shots are not missed.

4. Lake Champlain, Vermont
Vermont is well known for its beautiful fall foliage and this is one of the best places in the north east of the country to enjoy the fall colors. If you are wondering how to film nature at its best, simply set up your camera here and point.

5. Hudson River Valley, New York
Within easy reach of New York City, this area is a great destination for anyone wanting to capture some fall colors at their best.

6. Cypress Valley, Texas
Another great destination for anyone wondering how to film nature. The leaves in the area turns yellow during the fall and offers the opportunity to take some great video footage.

7. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
The trees in this famous park look their best during September, making it a great place for anyone wanting to shoot some great nature footage earlier in the season.

8. Great Smoky Mountains and Asheville, North Carolina
One of the most visited national parks in the country, the Great Smoky Mountains area is wonderful to visit any time, although fall is spectacular. An unforgettable way to see the area and get some great photos is from a hot air balloon ride.

9. Yosemite National Park, California
An experience that anyone living in California should take advantage of, Yosemite is familiar to most of us from film and television images and is a wonderful destination for any serious or amateur nature filmmaker.

10. White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
Another great fall destination for those living in the north east of the country, the White Mountains offer spectacular views as far as the Atlantic on a clear day. A great way to experience the area is by a train ride up to the summit.

Fall is the time that nature comes alive in colors!

Africa 2009: Filming Woes

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Once we had our destination locked, I started bombarding Craig Berger from Oasis Africa about filming in Kruger. The problem I quickly learned was that you can’t shoot from the roof like you can in so many other parts of Africa. Getting out of the vehicle is also strictly prohibited except in a few very isolated spots.

Normally you lay a beanbag or some other support on top of the roof and you have a 360-degree panorama of the surrounding area.

So, I’m going to Africa, I’m taking a brand new camera from Panasonic to get them some good footage and I have to sit inside a van and shoot out of a sliding window. The alarm bells were already going off.

So, I tried to find out what other crews did when filming in a situation like that. Well, there really isn’t much info out there. The information that I could find was all on setups that were on top of the vehicle or in an open vehicle.

My first thought was to order a Molar beanbag support. This beanbag looks like a big molar, hence its name. I picked one up, filled it with birdseed and headed out to do some test shooting on the river near my house. The camera picked up any movement or vibration. This wasn’t going to work.

Craig had made some buckwheat hull bag supports that fit over the windowsill. He said that they would absorb a lot of vibration. We also brought along a Cinnesaddle which is basically a beanbag with a cradle shape so that the camera is supported on both sides which normally works great in situations where you can lock down the camera.

I wanted to try and get some time-lapse sequences inside the camps so I wanted to bring a tripod along for those as well.

The State Department has you so scared that I was afraid to pack my Miller carbon fiber tripod legs in my checked luggage for fear I’d never see the $800 legs again. So what to do?

There are plenty of small lightweight carbon fiber tripods for still cameras. I could easily get one of these and make it sort of work for video, but I wanted something that was more than a one use deal. If I was going to spend several hundred dollars, I wanted a tripod that was more suited for video.

Video tripods have what’s called a bowl that sits between your tripod legs and the head. This allows you to loosen one knob and level the entire tripod head so that you can pan and tilt while keeping the camera level. Think of it as an upside down ball head for still cameras.

I finally found a carbon fiber tripod that had a bowl for video and was small enough to put in my carry on bag. It was half the cost of my Miller sticks but for $400 I could put this in my carry on bag and not have to worry if it was going to show up in Kruger or not.

So, I packed a Bogen 503 fluid head, my Feisol CT-3342 carbon fiber tripod and I was good to go.

We arrived in Kruger early enough that we can go out on an afternoon game drive.

We just met Craig, piled everything in the van and we’re off to go film already.

Usually I like to get to know an area a bit so I can get a vibe for how I want to shoot. Not here.

We stopped long enough to check into our lodging, unload everything, heat up some Chakalaka and we were out the door.

Craig has some fantastic buckwheat husk bags that are attached to a metal frame work that fit over the windowsill. For still photography they are fantastic. Plus they make a great arm support when you’re travelling down the road looking for wildlife.

The problem with shooting video is that you have to take this 14 pound camera and BALANCE it on the beanbag. If you let go, the camera tumbles to the ground, game over.

So after a couple days of shooting I had to come up with something else. The footage was ok in many instances but it looked handheld instead of supported.

We tried just about everything we could think of but it was Angi who suggested I sit in the middle seat, flip up the seat closest to the door and wedge my tripod inside and shoot out the window.

So, I scrambled in the van, set up the tripod, mounted the camera and pointed it at some impalas that were grazing on the far side of the camp.

Well what do ya know, as long as I didn’t move inside the van, I was able to get fairly steady footage. As long as we didn’t move around too much it worked out great.

I did the same thing once we moved over to the other van but with its stiffer suspension, even breathing would rock the camera.

So why not go back in Craig’s van? In hind sight I probably should have. But I thought if no one moved, we could make this other van work. We wanted to be able to use Craig as a forward scout. Craig had a pair of radios so we could stay in contact with each other. So if I was filming some impala, Craig could go up ahead and say “Hey, there’s some lions up here.” And off we’d go.

It was a great system because I could stay with a subject and not worry that I was missing something just around the bend. Because of Craig’s forward scouting, I was able to get some fantastic shots that I would have missed if we had stayed where we were.

After each drive, we had one in the morning and one in the afternoon, we’d return back to camp and I would recharge the batteries and transfer the footage to hard drives.

With two 32 gig P2 cards, I never had to worry about running out of capacity. Although I shot so much, I was worried I was going to run out of portable hard drive space. ☺

I brought along 320 gig Western Digital hard drives to back up the footage after each drive. They’re small, lightweight and reliable. They easily travelled in my carry-on bag.

Africa 2009: The Safari Begins

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I had done a lot of research on Safari companies in preparation for the trip. A lot of web surfing, a lot of emails. One company really stood out of the crowd to me and that was Craig Berger’s Oasis Africa.

Craig is Oasis Africa. So you’re not dealing with a company that has a lot of overhead which keeps prices reasonable.

You really can’t compare Oasis Africa’s prices with other companies because, most often, you get more by hiring Craig.

Not only will Craig help you plan your Safari, he’s also your guide while you’re there. So there’s no miscommunication because you deal only with Craig. He sends out emails not only on what to pack, what to wear but also sends a detailed series of questions about your likes and dislikes so he can plan based on YOUR desires and not some canned tour where you have to conform to their schedule.

I would not hesitate to recommend Oasis Africa to anyone. If you book a Safari with Craig, tell him I sent you. Maybe he’ll whip up a batch of his famous Chakalaka for you. Yes. Chakalaka is really a dish and it’s AWESOME! Just a side note, if you bring home some Chakalaka spice, make sure you use it sparingly and not a whole box of spice at once! 🙂

Kevin & Angi with the HPX-300 Follow Me on Pinterest
Now that Panasonic has held their press conference I can let you in on what part of our mission was. You see, Panasonic is introducing a new camera this year. It’s the HPX-300. It’s a fantastic camera. When they unveil these new cameras, people want to see what they can do. What better way to do that then put one in the hands of a wildlife cinematographer and send him off to Africa and see what he can do with it.

So, that’s what happened. Panasonic shipped the camera to me to give me a few days to familiarize myself with it before we left. Now, this camera is a full size professional camera, you know the kind you see sitting on the shoulders of news cameramen etc. So it was no easy task to get the camera, lens and batteries all in one carry-on bag that would fit in the overhead bin of a small regional jet. Thankfully I had picked up a ThinkTank Airport Acceleration bag.

It’s different than the Lowe Trekker series bags I have for my still cameras in that it’s not rounded near the top so it has a larger useable area inside to pack the big HPX-300 in. I wanted to get the roller but was concerned that if they weighed the bag with the 300 inside along with the lens and batteries, it would be over the allowed weight. So I went with the backpack.

Another nice thing about it is that it comes with a case for my laptop which can slide inside the front pocket of the pack so I could carry everything in one bag and take out the laptop when I needed to squeeze the pack into the overhead of the regional jets.

Ok, so back to the Safari.

Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport by Angi Railsback Follow Me on Pinterest

Since Iowa weather is so unpredictable, we decided to fly out a few days early to make sure we didn’t encounter any weather delays or cancellations. Iowa weather can turn on a dime and it’s not uncommon for flights to be cancelled because of a winter storm.

Because we came in early, Craig was busy picking up provisions for the tour and prepping his vehicle for the brutal assault on dirt roads. We were met at the airport by his friend Achim who operates Thokozani Lodge

Achim and his wife Monika make you feel like your a part of their family with their generous hospitality. We would be staying with them later during our trip but for now waiting on the patio and enjoyed the silence and incredible beauty of their gardens.

Craig arrived shortly fully provisioned and ready to go into the park. The Safari wasn’t going to officially start for a few days but it was nice to get into the park and do some scouting and see what the filming situations would be like.

As soon as we entered the park we were greeted by a herd of impala. Of course we were all excited. I mean here is a herd of impala that until this moment we had only seen on Animal Planet or in zoos. Craig said that impalas were the parks “fast food” and that there are thousands upon thousands born every year. He said you’ll see them everywhere and eventually not even slow down when you see a huge herd. How can that be? I mean these are impala!!! But he was right, within a few days we would pass by herd after herd and not even bother to turn on the camera. 🙂

Something that I thought was interesting is Craig explained that impala are pretty smart compared to our whitetail deer back home. On about any road in Iowa, you’ll find deer dead on the side of the road, the victim of a collision with a vehicle. But here, the impala were smart enough not to get in the way. Even though we drove past hundreds on the side of the road, none would jump in front of us or crossed well before they would have met with our bumper.

Of course the park is full of predators that would make an easy meal out of a road killed impala, in all the miles we covered, I never did see sign of any animal that had been hit by a vehicle.

We drove to our first camp, Pretoriuskop. It’s the oldest rest camp in Kruger and has a large population of white rhino in the area.

The lodging was very nice. Certainly not what I was expecting. Craig had arranged for us to have a guest house. So we had a three bedroom two bath cottage with kitchen and living/dining room. All the bedrooms had air conditioning. Durning the day we would open our bedroom doors to cool off the main area of the house. This would be enough to keep the entire house cool all day and night.

We unloaded all our gear, rested a bit then headed out on our first game drive.

It turned out that it was a good thing we arrived early. Trying to shoot out of a window with a 14 pound camera sitting on a bean bag proved almost impossible.

In the next installment of Africa 2009, I’ll cover the problems we had and ultimately what we had to do in order to solve them and get some good footage.

Africa 2009: Flying the Friendly Skies

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After months of planning and waiting, the morning of January 22nd was finally here. The flight wasn’t until 12:45 so there was plenty of time to check for last minute items to pack and have a bite to eat.

The flight to Minneapolis was pretty much how it always is. A 40 minute flight with some stale pretzels and a can of diet pepsi. It’s standard fare on all domestic flights.

Once in Minneapolis, there wasn’t a lot of time to relax before the next flight. I had a carnet I needed signed off on for the video gear I was taking. A carnet is sort of like a passport but in this case for video gear. It shows that the equipment I was taking to Africa originated from the US so when I returned there would be no question about having to pay import taxes etc.

There was only 50 minutes before the next flight and I had to find the customs office to get the carnet signed before we left for Amsterdam. For whatever reason they won’t tell you where the customs office is in the Minneapolis airport online. You have to ask once you get there. Lucky for us, the flight attendant knew where it was and gave us directions to its location before we even touched down.

Once we touched down, it was a mad dash to the customs office only to find out that they had to find an agent who could fill out the paperwork. They said if no one shows up in ten minutes to ring the bell again and they would go out again and try to find someone who could sign off on the paperwork. Shouldn’t any customs agent know how to fill out the paperwork?

Finally a customs agent showed up and quickly filled out the proper paperwork. I explained that I had never used a carnet before and he went through the whole procedure for me on what they would do once we landed in Africa and what they would do once we got back. So nice to run into people that take the time to explain things like that. You know they must hear the same questions day after day but this guy was great.

The gate for the flight to Amsterdam was just a few gates from the customs office so we made it with ease. The flight to Minneapolis was on NorthWest but now we would be flying their on one of their partner airlines KLM. The flight to Amsterdam would be a long one about nine hours and fifteen minutes. We flew out on a Airbus 330 which was awesome. A lot more leg room for my 6’6″ frame and video on demand screens with every seat.

So, we settled in for the long flight but the cabin crew had other plans.

It’s been many years since I last flew an international flight. I was blown away by the level of service which is commonplace for European flights.

We hadn’t even reached cruising altitude when the cabin crew came through with snacks, soda, water, juices, beer and wine. Yep, beer and wine. Best thing was it was all free! 🙂

On domestic flights you can get that stuff but they charge you. It was kind of funny that domestic flight beverage carts are loaded with soda, water and juice with a few cans of beer and bottles of wine. It was just the opposite on this Amsterdam flight. A few cans of soda, bottles of water and containers of juice. The bulk of the cart was weighted down with wine and beer. And it was flowing freely. I felt like I was at some kind of frat party with the amount of beer and wine being passed around.

But, the real shocker was the food served on the flight. That’s right, FOOD! No, stale pretzels or peanuts but a full meal with real silverware! Certainly this must be how royalty flies! And it was decent food too. I had the chicken teriyaki with a warm roll, salad, desert etc. It really hit the spot. The crew also came through with hot towels to refresh yourself from time to time. Then more snacks, ice cream, chips and more wine and beer. Then more food and then more soda, wine and beer.

Finally we touched down in Amsterdam a little tired but certainly not hungry. 🙂

We had a couple hours for our layover so we relaxed and people watched.

The security procedures in Amsterdam is unlike any I’ve experienced. In most airports you enter the secured area after having your carry-ons x-rayed and passing through the metal detector. You can then go anywhere in the secured area and board a plane at any gate without having to do anything else.

Since we came into Amsterdam I don’t know if there is any security procedures to get to the gate area or not. I would think there would be. But what surprised me was that you had to do it all over again at the gate to get on your plane.

They rope off the area in front of the gate and about two hours before your flight they start checking passports and putting your carry-on through x-ray and walking you through metal detectors all over again. Then you sit in the little room with about three hundred other people and wait another hour before you can board your plane. Lucky for me they x-rayed the bag with all the camera gear and were satisfied so I didn’t have to pull everything out for them to search the bag. So finally two hours after we went through the second security screening, we were headed to Africa!

The KLM flight to Africa was more of the same. Lots of food, wine and beer. Just stellar service. I’m not sure how the cabin crew could make it all look so easy. Once again, two good full meals, plenty of snacks and great ice cream to boot! 🙂

This was the longest flight of the trip so far. Over ten hours. It was on an older 747-400 so the seats were closer together and not as comfortable as the Airbus 330. But every couple hours I got up and walked around the plane to stretch out and keep the blood flowing.

Finally after more than ten hours in the air, we touched down in Johannesburg, South Africa at 10:50 PM

It was quite a shock after leaving sub-zero temperatures to find yourself in eighty degree weather.

Going through South African customs to get an entry visa was smooth as silk. You get in line, show them your passport and they stamp you and you’re on your way.

Then it was a quick trip to the Road Lodge for a few hours of sleep.

About six hours later, we were up getting ready to head back to the airport to catch a South African Air flight to Nelspruit Kruger Mpumalanga Airport. Once again the flight was less than an hour but we had a great bag lunch with desert to boot.

What was even better was that there was only seven of us on the entire plane. So, I grabbed an exit row and stretched out for the final flight.

Less than an hour later we touched down and the safari was about to begin.