How to Use a Camera Trap to Photograph Wildlife

Jun 15, 2015

A camera trap is a camera that’s set up to take a picture when triggered by an animal. They’re becoming an increasingly popular method for capturing wildlife, as photographers find the process both thrilling and rewarding when they finally capture an elusive critter. 

Once set up, the traps can be left for days or weeks at a time, depending on the battery life of your camera. The longer you leave it, the better your chances of returning to find that some critter has made an appearance. 

You can purchase pre-built camera traps or try your hand at making your own camera trap house with this handy guide. Make sure that your camera trap house is well put together to protect your camera from the elements and any animals that may try to get their paws, claws, teeth or beaks into it. 

Setting Up Your Camera Trap

The success of your trap depends on setting it up in the right location. You have to predict where your subject will be in order for it to trigger your trap. 

A walk through the forest can reveal to you where your subject makes regular trails. When you spot thin lines of compressed blades of grass, you can carefully follow them to your target’s location. Once you do, whether it’s a den, burrow, or another habitat, you can look along the trail for places that bottleneck, or areas that your animal will have to pass through that are particularly narrow. That is where you should set up your trap.

Setting Up a Trigger

Once you have your location, you need a way of setting off the camera. There are two ways to do this, either by using a passive infrared (PIR) motion sensor or an active infrared (AIR) sensors. 

PIR is basically like a patio light sensor; something passes in its field, and it fires. It’s very simple and easy to set up. 

AIR is a beam that transmits from an emitter to a receiver. It is triggered when an animal breaks the beam, making it more precise as well as more complicated to employ. It is also expensive. 

Lighting Your Camera Trap

It would be a shame to go to such lengths and not be able to see your subject. In a perfect world, you will find a way to light your shot, without looking as though you have lit your shot. You can use a TTL cord to set up one or more off-camera flashes. Getting the flash away from the camera will help reduce red-eye and create more natural-looking shadows. Placing the flash at a 45 degree angle from the lens is a good starting point.

Patience is a Virtue

Camera-trap photography requires an immense amount of patience. Once you have your trap set, it is best not to disturb it. The more you adjust your trap, the more likely your subject is to detect your presence and avoid the area altogether. 

Even if you do everything right, you still may come back to find nothing worthy of note on your camera. Don’t give up! Once you do finally get that perfect shot, it will all be worth it. 

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