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Get Ready to Remote, Part 2: Advanced Camera Traps

There are places that can be too difficult to stay with a camera and shoot, there are events that are too dangerous to be around when they occur, and there are animals that are too shy of humans to ever get near to photograph. This is when photographers turn to using Photo or Camera Traps, a way to capture these types of images or video from a distance by remote control.  

In part 1 of this series, I covered the fundamentals of creating a simple remote camera trap. Now that you have that skill in your proverbial photography toolbox, let’s talk about more advanced setups and how to use the Platypod to support multi-light nighttime photo traps and remote video capture.

Note: If you haven’t read, “Get Ready to Remote, Part 1: Using the Platypod for Simple Camera Traps”, you may want to start there before reading this article.

The Two Light Nighttime Trap

For shy and/or nocturnal animals, the system becomes much more complex, integrating sensors and using flashes as your only light. Generally, you are going to be working in manual mode, and you will need a triggering system that senses when the animal arrives. This is the same type of system often used by researchers on game trails, watering holes, or den/nest sites.

Below is a diagram of how I have set up this type of camera trap in the past.  In this case, the cameras and flashes are just off an active game trail, it showed signs of recent prints and scat.  The exact placement of each element was determined by the layout of the area, taking advantage of natural cover and features to support and conceal the gear.  The type of trigger you use will also vary depending on the situation, usually, I use a motion sensor, but there are lots of options depending on what you hope to photograph.  Once you are set up, this will take a lot of testing and tweaking to get it tuned in, plan for a few late nights and lots of pictures of yourself walking into the trap!

The elements needed for a nighttime photo trap:

  • Platypod Max with ball head attached to hold the camera.
  • Camera using various lens lengths. This will depend on the place and species, I have used everything from my 15-30 lens up to a 70-200.
  • 1-2 Flashes, each mounted on a Platypod Ultra. The first flash will be pointed at the trigger site, so it lights up whatever set off the trap. The second flash is often used to light up the surrounding area and background, so you don’t have just a pitch black scene. This will also help fill in the shadows opposite the first flash so your lighting doesn’t seem too harsh.
  • Remote Trigger, there are various options including motion sensors, beams, pressure pads, etc.

My camera mounted on a Platypod Max, with a motion sensor and an LED video light. This light isn’t to light up my subject, it is to light up the scene. The flash on the left has been “weatherized”, basically using a Foodsaver bag cut and sealed to the right length, and then secured in place. The right flash has a softbox on it, this is used for area lighting. The Storm Jacket is for overnight weather protection, for longer uses I recommend a custom or DIY camera housing.

The Eye in the Sky

I have used this particular setup for capturing photos and/or videos of treetop animals. This works well with larger lenses to capture both stills and videos of shy or hard to reach animals without disturbing them.

The elements needed for a remote treetop camera/video trap:

  • Platypod Max The key to this setup is mounting the Max as high as you can with a clean line of sight, to something which won’t move. For example, I prefer tree trunks over branches, as wind can cause shake in your videos when attached to thinner branches.
  • Camera with 400mm or greater equivalent lens, which includes video capabilities if that is your goal.
  • Lights are optional, this is usually a daylight application, but you may find a flash or continuous video lighting helpful.

The advantage of this setup is it is easy for a single photographer to run multiple cameras. I had one camera trained on the nest for stills about 50 feet away. Below that, I had a camera that was set for video and locked on the nest site. When the chicks became active, or I saw a parent returning to the nest, I used a wireless remote to start the video, and then captured still photos from the second camera, getting the best of both worlds!

 

Hide It

For many of these trap setups, you will want to protect and camouflage your gear. Many animals, predators, in particular, are curious and will investigate anything new in their territory. This is actually an evolutionary response, as curious creatures find new food sources! However, in their investigations, they may cause damage to your gear, imagine a family of raccoons deciding to take apart your camera trap just to see if there is food inside. One thing I have found works well for my backyard camera traps is using wire “tomato cages” to provide a simple cover for the camera and act as a base for camouflaging it. You can buy these in most garden centers at your local home improvement stores, usually for only a few dollars a piece. These provide a simple, inexpensive structure you can wrap in camo material or stack natural materials against to hide your setup. This same cage helps afford a little protection from animals walking into it. Generally, deer don’t just walk into a “tree”, even a fake one like this. Its wire construction can also be bent or cut to allow your lens to see through without obstruction.  

Gear

Like this article? Follow this link to read more of my photo tips and techniques. Jason’s Articles at Photofocus

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