It comes as no surprise to photographers that large numbers of images are “stolen” each day on the Internet. Photos are copied and pasted by ordinary folks who don’t know any better. And images are taken and used by people and businesses that know or ought to know that they are violating someone’s copyright. But just how big a problem is this?
Story & photos by Phil Riebel
A favorite hobby on my woodland property.
As a nature photographer I feel very fortunate to own forestland. I regularly visit one of our properties on the border of the Renous River in Northern New Brunswick, about 35 minutes from where I live. This is quite a wild area, dominated by forest with few people.
There are many nature photo opportunities here, including several species of mammals such as Moose, White-tailed Deer, Coyotes, Black Bear, Red Fox, Weasel, and Bobcat, just to name a few. However, because they often avoid humans, it’s a challenge to get good photos of some of these species.
My small trailcam has allowed me to capture some photos and see what is around, but the quality of the photos is not great, especially when compared to a high-resolution DSLR. That’s when I got the idea of building a DSLR camera trap based on discussions with colleagues and a bit of research.
There are great ready-made system available, such as those by Cognisys, but I already had an old DSLR body, lenses and one flash just lying around not being used much and I realized I could make my own camera trap without too much effort. An Internet search for “DSLR Camera Trap” will produce several articles and videos you can review. For example, see this one.
The home-made camera trap
Warning! This camera trap is not bear proof. Although I have several photos of Black Bears, I think I have been lucky that none of them haven taken a swipe at the equipment. The housings keep stuff dry and clean, that’s about it. There are more sophisticated and sturdy camera traps that can be built using hard Pelican cases, but they are also more costly.
Here are the main components I used:
- Canon EOS Rebel XSI (450-D) DSLR with 18-55 mm Canon EFS lens,
- 2 Canon Speedlite 580EX flashes (Nikon SB-28 flashes have been recommended because they hold their charge well, even when sleeping),
- 2 E-TTL cables for Canon about 10-15 feet long (Vello brand),
- Vello Freeware Stryker lightning/motion infra-red sensor + 10-foot cable to connect to remote port on camera,
- 2 battery packs for each Canon flash, each one holding 8 rechargeable AA batteries,
- UV filter 86mm diameter and lens cap for the housing that will hold the camera (doesn’t have to be exactly 86mm – but in that ballpark. A larger diameter is even better),
- Twin flash hot-shoe mount (Andoer brand),
- Two tripod heads,
- Screw and washers to hold camera in place in housing,
- Tupperware / plastic housings for camera, flashes and IR sensor,
- Wooden poles and brackets for flashes,
- Rope, fasteners and bungee cords,
- Wood shimmies,
- Camo paint, and
- 24 AA batteries and 2 AAA batteries – all rechargeable (I recommend Panasonic Eneloop Pro).
Many of the above components are available at Amazon. The cost will vary based on what you need but I consider this a very basic system in terms of sophistication and cost. Depending on what spare equipment you have lying around it can cost anywhere between $400 to over $1,000.
First you need to find housings that will fit the camera, flashes and IR sensor. I purchased plastic containers with lids at a local hardware store and modified them to fit the components and cables. You may have to hunt around to find what fits best. You will need to drill holes for cables and tripod mounts (Photo 5). In my case, I made holes with an old soldering iron because I found that melting the plastic worked better than drilling which cracked the plastic.
The trickiest part is fitting the camera housing with a UV filter. You will need to cut out a round hole and carefully fit the filter. Check out this video to see how. I fixed mine in place with “Shoe Goo” and found that this worked well. While I was working with the filter, I covered the glass with paper (held in place with scotch tape), so that none of the materials I was working with could smear the glass. I also fitted the camera housing with an overhanging second lid (attached with Velcro) to prevent rain and dirt from touching the lens.
For the flash housings, I cut out an area of the container and glued a piece of see-through plastic (from a pop plastic bottle) so that the light from the flash could exit. I also used Shoe-Goo to do this and covered the plastic to avoid smearing some on it. On the DSLR and flash housing I added 2 U-bolts on each side in case I wanted to fasten them to trees. I used a flat piece of aluminum I had laying around to re-enforce the area where the U-bolt was fixed, since the plastic housings are not that solid.
In order to adjust the width and reach of the IR sensor beam I cut a slot in the bottom of the housing so that I can slide the sensor back and worth – sliding it back into the housing helps narrow the beam.
There was quite a bit of trial and error involved, and I did ruin a few containers! My last step was to put a few coats of camo paint on the housings.
See here for photos of the housings and set-up.
Typically, I need to carry this set-up by walking through the woods or snowshoeing, so it has to be portable. In my case, I use a camera bag to fit some of the components, and the rest goes into a cloth bag that I carry or strap on top of my camera bag.
I usually look for animal tracks or trails and areas where the animals may be walking towards the camera trap or passing in front of it. I strap the camera housing to a tree and the two flashes and IR sensor are mounted on my homemade poles and brackets. I drive the poles into the ground ahead of time using the back of an axe. I always carry a small axe to clear branches which I then use for camouflage if needed. I position one flash on each side of the camera and point them at the target area (where the animal will hopefully be!) at about a 45 degree angle.
The next step is adjusting the camera and flashes. Here are some typical settings I would use:
- DSLR: F14 with speed of 1/200 synchronized to flash; ISO 400; Manual focus; Burst mode (or continuous drive).
- Flashes: Manual mode set anywhere from 1/4 to 1/16 power. In the winter, the snow provides a lot of reflection so I can reduce flash power to 1/16.
I set the camera focus manually before securing it in the housing. I always put a bit of tape around the lens so that I don’t accidentally change the focus while handling the camera.
Finally, I set the IR sensor to point at the spot where it will trigger the system. This is probably one of the most critical parts because it will be the first few shots that will be the most important. You don’t want the system firing off while the animal is too far or too close.
One of the disadvantages of this system is that it scares certain species due to the clicking and flash – but some obviously don’t mind, like Raccoons! An insulated housing, like a foam-lined Pelican case, would reduce noise significantly.
Lastly, turn on the camera and sensor, make sure the flashes fire and try to camouflage it as best you can with branches and leaves. To stop the clicking and make adjustments, just turn off the sensor until you are ready to leave the trap.
I find that my batteries can last 2 weeks or more, especially in the spring, summer and fall. In the winter, not so long.
Like anything, there are continual improvements, but to date I have had a few photos I am proud of. In some cases, it may be a common species but I could never approach them to get a similar shot, like the Raven. I would love to get shots more uncommon species like Bobcat, Marten or Fischer. I know they are around…but also very elusive.
For more camera trap and trailcam photos go to: https://philriebel.smugmug.com/Camera-Trap.
Phil Riebel is an environmental consultant and avid nature photographer who lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada where he owns 200 acres of forest on the Cains and Renous Rivers. He spends many hours on his forestland fly fishing, exploring and photographing birds, mammals and nature in general. Some of his photographs can be seen at https://philriebel.smugmug.com. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All of this week’s Weekly Wow! images can be seen in the slideshow on the NANPA homepage at nanpa.org.
The following Showcase images have been selected to appear on the NANPA home page for the week beginning Monday, April 22, 2019. To view all of the top 250 photographs from NANPA’s 2019 Showcase competition, see the photo gallery on the NANPA website. The period for entering your best shots in this year’s Showcase starts in August, so let’s get shooting! Your best shot might be your next one.
Story and photos by Theresa DiMenno
In the natural world, beneath the surface speaks to what is concealed or goes unnoticed. It bestows a sense of wonder, reverence or deep connection. In photography, it refers to moving in closer and being intimate with a scene. Observing a monarch butterfly emerge from a chrysalis is a transformative experience. Watching a bee extract nectar from the wing petal of a bluebonnet is an exquisite example of the interconnectedness of life. Look closely at the veins of a flower petal. Notice the gentle arc of prairie grass swaying in the late afternoon light.
I’ve been aware of the power of nature since I was a three year old, lying on my back in the gravel driveway of our San Antonio home, watching clouds pass across the sun. I knew with certainty when the daylight changed its tone that it would return with a profusion of light sweeping across the landscape. I didn’t know why, I just knew the light would return. I’ve been watching clouds and light ever since those very early beginnings.
Story and photo by Wendy Kaveney
The Giant Saguaro Cactus (Cereus giganteus) is indigenous to the Desert Southwest and blooms in the spring. Saguaro flowers bloom for less than 24 hours, allowing only a little time to be pollinated. During the flower’s short life, it provides food for bees and birds during the day, and for bats during the night. They, in turn, pollinate the flowers.
We continue to see a growing number of high-fidelity art books, photography books, cookbooks, etc., on uncoated papers. While every job is treated with the same care, expertise, and attention to detail, we do know that certain markets/projects and customers have different needs and expectations.
In general, the term “high-fidelity” colour describes a variety of techniques used to make printed pieces look better. If you are willing to spend extra money on special papers and print techniques, we know that your needs, expectations, and requirements are more than just having colour ink on paper.
All of this week’s Weekly Wow! images can be seen in the slideshow on the NANPA homepage at nanpa.org.
The following Showcase images have been selected to appear on the NANPA home page for the week beginning Monday, April 15, 2019. To view all of the top 250 photographs from NANPA’s 2019 Showcase competition, see the photo gallery on the NANPA website. The period for entering your best shots in this year’s Showcase starts in August, so let’s get shooting! Your best shot might be your next one.
Story & photos by Scott Joshua Dere
For 10 years, I have been traveling to Yellowstone National Park to pursue my love for wildlife photography. Every year the park has given me special scenes to photograph and animals to see in their natural environment.
One of the most coveted species to see in this national park are wolves. I have seen them many times in and around the park but usually it’s at great distances, similar to the above photograph, or on a late night drive. However, this year my guide, Christopher Daniel, and I were able to track them closely for 3 days, until we were gifted with a rare close encounter.
Story & photos by F. M. Kearney
If you’ve had your gear packed away since the final vestiges of colorful foliage faded from the landscape last fall, now is the time to dust off the cobwebs. Spring is finally here – bringing an abundance of subject matter. Fresh flowers are popping up everywhere and demanding attention. But, you don’t want to fall into a habit of taking the same types of pictures year after year. A change in perspective is a good way to view an old subject in a new light.
Many photographers tend to shoot from an eye-level perspective. Let’s face it… it’s a comfortable position and the path of least resistance. However, it’s not always the best angle when shooting flowers. To capture more unique compositions, you will need to get on their level – often necessitating getting on your hands and knees (or even lower). Of course, none of us are getting any younger, and if the thought of this conjures up visions to the chiropractor, there are a few things you can do to make your life easier. I always carry a pair of gardening kneepads in my bag. They come with velcro straps, so they’re very easy to put on and take off. They come in very handy when I’m shooting low on rocky surfaces. Not only do they spare my knees, they keep my pants relatively clean and dry in dirty or muddy environments. Other helpful aids are right-angle finders (periscope-like devices that screw onto your viewfinder) and adjustable flip screens. These objects make it easier to view low-angle scenes without having to get too low yourself.
The opening photo of this article is about as low as you can go. I shot it 25 years ago with a film camera and a 16mm fisheye lens. I placed the camera flat on the ground, with the lens pointed skyward, in the middle of a tulip bed. After setting the self-timer, I quickly stepped away. Although I couldn’t see what I was shooting, I wasn’t completely flying blind. I was able to get a fairly good idea of my composition by looking at the reflection on the large lens surface. I didn’t have an autofocus lens back then, but even if I did, I certainly wouldn’t have trusted it in this situation. I used a tape measure to determine the height of the tulips, and then pre-focused the lens.
Low-angle shooting doesn’t need to be that extreme in order to make an impact. Simply shooting at the level of the flowers will make your images stand out, because it’s an angle most people aren’t used to seeing. This angle also makes it easier to include the sun. I shot the two photos above in a field of large-cupped daffodils with a right-angle finder. The inclusion of the sun adds a lot more interest, but it can also raise a few safety concerns. Obviously, this wasn’t a factor in the opening shot because I wasn’t looking through the camera. In this case, I was looking right at the sun, but I was using a 28mm wide angle lens. This kept the sun relatively small in the frame, so I wasn’t too concerned. Nevertheless, I shot the majority of these images with the sun partially hidden behind the flowers (as seen in the shot on the right). That significantly cut down on its intensity and made it much easier to see what was going on in the viewfinder. I did that purely for creative purposes. Had the focal length been longer, I may have done it for safety precautions.
As a former film shooter, I can attest to how difficult it was to shoot high-contrast shots like these years ago. Film just didn’t have the dynamic range (the ability to record details in shadows and highlights) that modern digital cameras have today. High-end models have features that can actually boost the dynamic range to varying degrees. Nikon has Active-D Lighting and Canon has Auto Lighting Optimizer. I shoot with Nikon, so I set the Active-D Lighting to “Extra High.” Although I used a flash to remove the shadows from the flowers in the foreground, the added dynamic range helped to prevent the shadows in the background from blocking up.
Cloudy days can offer many opportunities as well. If you don’t want to include a large expanse of featureless, white sky in the shot, all you need is a longer focal length and a change of composition. I shot the group of triumph tulips below at a low-angle at 200mm – making it easy to exclude the sky.
Although the tulips in the foreground stand out, there’s really nothing unique about the shot. Try to look for something different – something a bit out of the ordinary. Tulips are usually planted in tight clusters. Sometimes, a tight shot of their stems can be just as intriguing as the flowers themselves. Below is an example of what you might find when you shoot slightly under the average level of the group. The shorter tulip surrounded by tall stems creates a much more interesting perspective of the scene.
Shooting flowers in the field is fun, but it can also be very physically tasking. You may find yourself in some pretty uncomfortable and/or unusual positions. Years ago, I had my mother accompany me on one of my flower shoots. At one point, I had to lay flat on the ground to get the shot. She thought it was one of the weirdest and craziest things she had ever seen. For decades afterwards, whenever I told her I was going out to shoot something (no matter what it was or what the season), she would always ask, “Are you gonna lay on the ground with the flowers again?” My mother is no longer here, but that image of me left a lasting impression in her mind. If you take the time and effort to get the shots that many others might deem “too difficult,” the images you create will make a lasting impression as well.
F. M. Kearney began his photography career as a photojournalist for New York City newspapers. His focus soon shifted to capturing the beauty of the natural world. As an award-winning nature photographer, Kearney’s images have been widely published. A slight departure from photography, his recently published horror novel, “They Only Come Out at Night,” about supernatural happenings in the New York City subway (partially inspired by his travels as a photojournalist), is available on Amazon. To see more of Kearney’s work, visit http://www.starlitecollection.com.
Story & photos by Ken Hubbard
Encompassing about 310,000 acres in northwest Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park includes most of the area of Jackson Hole and the Teton Mountain Range. The mountain range got its name from French trappers in the early 19th century, calling them Les Trois tetons. Preservation of the area started in the late 19th century, culminating in the designation of National Park in 1929. The park was named for the tallest peak in the range, Grand Teton, which rises to an elevation of 13,775 feet. With Yellowstone National Park to the north and the John D. Rockefeller Parkway connecting the two, this area is one of the largest mid-latitude temperate ecosystems in the world. Today, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole and the surrounding areas are a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, from skiing to photography.