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Get the Picture: Effectively Use your Trail Camera to Capture the Best Wildlife Photos

It seems like most hunters have trail cameras set-up on their private property or leased hunting property to see the wildlife activity in the area. While it is exciting to check the cameras to see what footage has been captured, the results can be mixed.

Here are a few tips to help ensure you get the best photos and videos from your trail cameras.

Setting up a Trail Camera

Setting your camera high on a tree at a downward angle will give you a different perspective for your photos and will also make mature deer less nervous when the camera goes off.

When setting up a trail camera, you need to think about how and where to face the camera. Sunlight can be the biggest problem when trying to capture high-quality photos. Positioning the camera to face north will help, but that’s not always an option depending on what you are trying to monitor. If the camera is facing east or west, see if it’s possible for the camera to be shaded by overhanging branches. If you do that, make sure the branches are clear of the lens and sensor so it doesn’t trigger the camera to take a photo when the wind blows the branches or leaves.

When setting up a trail camera, you’ll also want to consider what you are trying to capture photos of—deer, turkey, predators, or other game—then set the camera height accordingly.

For deer and bear, set them a little lower than waist high—for turkey, around knee high. The right height will allow you to get the whole animal in the photos verses just part of them. You can set cameras high on a tree and face it at a downward angle to get a different perspective for you photos, too. This will also avoid making mature deer nervous when the camera goes off.

If you want to get interesting and unusual photos, set-up a camera on a logging road or game trail where deer or turkey like to walk to get a close up photo or video.

Good places to set-up cameras are on game trails that take wildlife to a food source and over food sources, like crop fields, oak ridges when there is hard-mast from trees, food plots, fruit trees, or other natural browse.

If the food source is a large area, you should consider using several cameras to monitor them or you will miss a lot of activity. It’s surprising what two cameras will capture verses one in the same area. I have checked my cameras in the same small food plot and would have deer on one and not the other. Plus, this will give you the opportunity to set one camera on photo mode and the other on video mode.

Checking a Trail Camera

To determine how often you should check your cameras, you need to consider the time of the year—cold weather drains batteries faster than warm weather. You’ll also need to think about how accessible the camera is without disturbing the area with a lot of human scent. If you are monitoring crop fields or food plots,  you’ll want the camera to be on the edges of these locations so they are easier to check more frequently.

If the camera is tucked back in the woods, I would recommend checking them every couple of weeks so there is less human scent disturbing the area. This is where the cell cameras really show their worth because they are designed to send the photos to your cell phone as well as be saved to memory card. This feature will allow you to see what is going on at all times with no disturbance to the area where your camera is set up.

Archiving Footage

Setting up a good archiving system is necessary for the photos and video clips that are saved. Otherwise, you will have a difficult time trying to find a particular photo you might need to use for monitoring particular animals, for a social media post, or a photo contest. Plus, it’s fun to look back over several years of photos to see all of the wildlife that has been captured.

It’s ideal to have extra memory cards for your cameras, and mark what camera they are for so you are able to keep the correct memory cards with the right cameras. It’s also a good idea to have batteries with you when checking cameras. It’s never fun to see that a camera needs new batteries when you don’t have any with you.



Conclusion

These are just some of the basic tips for trail camera usage. As time goes on, you will learn how to get the best photos or video by just looking at the images you are capturing and making adjustments to your camera position to improve your images.

This is a great reason to spend more time in the outdoors all year long, and it gives you something to share with friends and family!

Don’t forget: You can enter your trail camera photos to the Virginia Wildlife Photo Showcase!

  • January 8th, 2019

Get Started Photographing Birds!

Birds are probably the most photographed of all wildlife. They bedazzle us with their colors, songs and curious behaviors. We see and hear them everywhere throughout the year. No wonder they are a favorite subject for photography.

Photo by Lynda Richardson.

Photographing birds can be as easy or hard as you want to make it. Most folks gravitate to super telephoto lenses but you can, with a little extra work, capture photographs with shorter lenses using remotely triggered cameras.

The easiest way to start is in your own backyard. By planting bird-friendly plants that produce berries, nectar, and draw insects, and putting up feeders, you will attract resident and seasonal birds to you! If you have to wait until spring to plant, don’t despair. Bird feeders will work now.

When you pick a feeder location, consider several things. First, figure out which direction you will be shooting from: an open window in your home or a blind placed in the yard? From where you are shooting what does the background look like? Will this background be “clean” or distracting in the photographs? If distracting, try a more shallow depth-of-field, move the feeder, change your angle of shooting, or put something in the back- ground that will clean things up.

How will you light the subject? If using available light consider the direction of the sun when placing a feeder. Normally, you want light coming from over your shoulders and shining on your subject. In other cases you might want the light from behind your subject, using a flash to fill in so the subject doesn’t go too dark. Using flashes triggered remotely is a possibility as well.

Now consider the height of your bird feeder. I prefer it set at eye level from where I’m shooting. You can capture more intimate portraits when looking directly at a bird rather than from underneath.

Despite being hungry birds need to feel safe when coming to a feeder. Are there shrubs and trees nearby for them to perch in? Be aware that sneaky raptors make it a habit to hang out around feeders to dine on unsuspecting birds. Yes, this could provide a great action shot, but birds will feel safer given an escape route.

Give the birds some time to find your feeder. Study which species come in to feed, when, and what they do while feeding. What direction do they fly in and then leave? Do they eat on the feeder or fly off to eat, and if so, where do they go? By studying the bird’s habits you learn to anticipate their actions; this will help you decide when to shoot to capture the images you want.

Most people capture tight, full body or head shots, but there is more to birds than that! Consider behavioral shots to include feeding, drinking, bathing, breeding, singing, perching, defending territory, fighting, nest-building, and feeding young. One cool trick is to make your own tree branch. I use a light stand and clamp a beautiful branch to it, with or without leaves. Placing it near the feeder allows birds to “stage” nearby and provides a natural looking perch.

It’s time to start shooting! A few shots on the feeder might be okay but here is your chance to practice photographing birds actually flying! Read up on how to capture moving subjects with your camera. I like to set my Canon EOS 7D Mark II on Al Servo to allow continuous AF tracking, high- speed continuous burst mode, AF Point Expansion (9 focus points), and Tracking and Focus Sensitivity set to Case 3, lens AF set to ON and Mode 1. Combined with high shutter speeds, these settings should be a ticket to success with birds on the move. It takes a lot of patience and practice but don’t give up. Try other settings to see what works best for you. Sometimes the settings are right but your timing is off, so carefully evaluate what you are doing.

Birds are delightful subjects, offering many creative challenges to the photographer. By starting in your own backyard, you too can enjoy photographing them! Happy Shooting!

  • December 18th, 2018