Recording Lots of Bird Videos? Here’s What to Do After You Hit Stop

Tara Tanaka, a videographer and judge for the new video category in this year's Audubon Photography Awards, shares her how-to guide for managing video files and key editing tips.
Great Egret. Video: Tara Tanaka

My husband and I live on a 45-acre cypress swamp that we own and manage as a wildlife sanctuary. The wide variety of birds that live and nest there inspired me to take up digiscoping in 2009, and I’ve been capturing, editing, and posting videos ever since. Because I record a high volume of videos, I’ve developed a workflow that has allowed me to efficiently whittle down thousands of hours of video, create multiple backups, and edit many of those videos into little “plays of nature.” It may be more than a casual hobbyist needs, but it offers a roadmap that can be modified to suit your needs and ambitions.  

Download Your Files

If you are going to start building a collection of bird videos, you won’t want to work directly from your memory card—you will first need to download the video files to a separate drive. I’ve used FastStone Image Viewer for years to download both photos and videos. I rename the files as part of the download process with the date, time, file number, and location. If you use a fast memory card like the Angelbird AV Pro SD V90 card and download it to a solid-state drive (SSD)—either internal or external— the download will run up to three times faster than if you use a slower card like a V30, or download to a standard hard disk drive. On trips where I’ve shot for 4 to 5 hours in the morning and then 3 to 4 hours in the evening, this extra speed has come in very handy.

Cull, Trim, and Assign a Descriptive Name

Because you never know what’s going to happen with birds, it’s easy to end up recording a lot more than you’ll want to keep—especially if you’re waiting for days for baby Wood Ducks to jump from their box. So you’ll need a way to quickly trim your original video. The best piece of software I’ve found to accomplish this trimming function is MPEG Streamclip (and it’s free). You can quickly scrub through the video by dragging the cursor, use the “i” and “o” keys to mark your “in” and “out” spots, and saving the portion you want to keep. For each file, I enter a descriptive name before I save it to a folder called “Culled, not yet filed.” I find it much faster to do all of this on a single SSD (the write speeds are much faster). By using MPEG Streamclip there is no rendering or processing done on the clip, it just creates a new copy—a huge time-saver. MPEG Streamclip has limitations—it won’t show you full-resolution video or handle 10-bit files—but the ability to cull hundreds of files outweighs the downsides for me. 

Keep a Master Storage Location and Backups

Now copy the entire folder of culled videos to an external drive that contains master files. I have many terabytes of culled videos, and I’ve found that filing them by year and then by species is the most efficient way to store them. I keep an external drive for each year, and then I have three additional backup external drives. (I've had hard drives fail, and it would be devastating for me to lose a year's video, so I am cautious.) One of the most valuable pieces of software I’ve found for efficiently creating backups is WinMerge, which lets you compare files in two folders, and tells you which files are in the “left” folder but not in the “right” and vice-versa. 

Edit Videos With Care 

Editing videos can be more complicated than editing photos, and there are many different editing software options. If you’re excited to create your first video and want something that’s simple and intuitive, a great starting point is free software that may come with your operating system, like Windows Movie Maker or Apple’s iMovie. When you’ve outgrown the features of these programs, you can look at non-linear editors (NLEs) such as Adobe Premiere Pro (subscription required), and Davinci Resolve (free) or Davinci Resolve Studio (a one-time purchase, currently $299). I used Premiere Pro for years, but last year switched to Davinci Resolve Studio. I value the stability of software that only changes when you decide to update it over getting every bell and whistle.

I record almost all of my video at 4K or larger resolution which allows for some cropping without losing too much quality. If you record in HD resolution (1920x1080). your quality will be much better if you don’t crop. If you do any color correction, aim for a natural looking final product —not too saturated.  Finally, watch your finished video from the perspective of someone viewing it on-line: a gorgeous Great Egret in breeding plumage displaying might hold a viewer’s attention for a full minute, but watching a Pelican sitting on a post for the same amount of time will put your viewer to sleep. 

Upload Your Work

YouTube is probably the most popular platform for sharing videos and the place that people are most likely to stumble across your clip. However, you have no control over the order of your videos, and they change their terms on a fairly regular basis. Vimeo is my favorite platform: It’s ad-free and has a nice, professional, customizable look.

Once you’ve posted your clips, you are ready to share them with the world. Working with video can be a little overwhelming at first, but you'll soon find the rewards—such as getting that incredible footage of Roseate Spoonbills feeding or a Crested Caracara preening in gorgeous morning light—more than worth the effort.