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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

Capturing The Action

The Story Behind the Calendar Photo

Over the next few months we will be sharing stories by the photographers themselves on how the outstanding images that grace this year’s 2017 calendar were captured. Purchase a calendar and follow along with each  behind-the-scenes look at how hard working photographers get those breath taking images! If you want to learn more about each photographer there will be contact information at the end of each posting. Enjoy! Read the rest of this article…

  • December 16th, 2016

The Story Behind the Cover

Over the next few months we will be sharing stories by the photographers themselves on how the outstanding images that grace this year’s 2017 calendar were captured. Purchase a calendar and follow along with each  behind-the-scenes look at how hard working photographers get those breath taking images! If you want to learn more about each photographer there will be contact information at the end of each posting. Enjoy!

Ricky Simpson, photographer of the 2017 calendar cover, holds up a press proof of his bald eagle cover at Progress Printing Plus.

Ricky Simpson, photographer of the 2017 calendar cover, holds up a press proof of his bald eagle cover at Progress Printing Plus.

RICKY SIMPSON – Cover of bald eagle photographed on the James River near Richmond on a Discover the James Bald Eagle Tour with Capt Mike Ostrander.  (The following is by Ricky)

After many photography tours with Discover the James, this particular morning proved to be unique. Once we were in the boat Captain Mike Ostrander shared a mystical dream with us that he had the previous night. In his dream he encountered two Bald Eagles that flew up to his boat, wings spread, and took on human form.  As they hovered in the air they spoke with him. When Capt. Mike asked their names the eagles called themselves Lalina and Pierre.

Carol Kushlak, Production Manager of Virginia Wildlife magazine, checks the color of the 2017 calendar cover by Ricky Simpson. Ricky Simpson, calendar cover photographer, is behind her taking pictures of the press. Progress Printing Plus staff Marshall Forbes, Senior Account Executive, and Tom Cruise, in red, the sheetfed pressman, wait for approval on color of cover.

Carol Kushlak, Production Manager of Virginia Wildlife magazine, checks the color of the 2017 calendar cover. Ricky Simpson, calendar cover photographer, is behind her taking pictures of the press. Progress Printing Plus staff Marshall Forbes, Senior Account Executive, and Tom Cruise, in red, the sheetfed pressman, wait for approval on color of cover.

All of us thought it was a pretty cool dream and I really didn’t think any more of it until…I got home and was reviewing the images I shot that morning. When I saw what would eventually become the 2017 Virginia Wildlife cover shot my mind immediately went to Mike’s dream. Naturally, I wanted Mike to see the photograph so I sent him the image and asked if the photo was anything like his dream. His response was “Wow…straight from my dream”.  Little did I know at the time that the image would eventually grace the cover of this year’s calendar. Without Captain Mike’s dream this shot would have been buried with the many hundreds of other “keeper” Bald Eagle images I have stored on hard drives. Some would say coincidence but I say divine intervention.

I am honored and very thankful that this image was selected. A big thank you to Lynda Richardson and all the staff at Virginia Wildlife for a great magazine and a calendar that exhibits the beautiful wildlife and scenery we are blessed with in Virginia.

Camera, lens and settings: Nikon D3S body – Nikon 400 2.8 lens with 1.4X tele-converter, Shutter speed 1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 400. I used a monopod for support. For those just beginning the adventure of photographing wildlife and nature, I would say be patient, shoot many images and strive for shots that exhibit behavior without disturbing the subject. Also, invest in good glass. High quality lenses hold their value much better than camera bodies and will give you resale value when you decide to upgrade your lenses.

-Ricky Simpson
www.ssdsigns.com
Follow Ricky on Facebook

Purchase your copy of the 2017 Virginia Wildlife Calendar »

Ricky Simpson laughs as Tom Cruise, sheetfed pressman for Progress Printing Plus, signs his bald eagle cover of the 2017 Virginia Wildlife calendar.

Ricky Simpson laughs as Tom Cruise, sheetfed pressman for Progress Printing Plus, signs his bald eagle cover of the 2017 Virginia Wildlife calendar.

  • August 24th, 2016

The 2016 Virginia Wildlife Photography Showcase

Deadline Extended: Submissions must be postmarked by 5 p.m. on Friday, March 11

The 2016 photography showcase is offered as a way to celebrate the rich heritage of Virginia’s wildlife and natural resources and pay tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Published images from those submitted will appear in the July–August 2016 issue; other entries may appear in accompanying features (as part of the July–August issue) and on our website to promote the mission of the agency and advertise future photography contests.

This year, the best submissions will be published in the following general categories but will not be judged:

  • Historical Hunting & Fishing Photos: submissions that celebrate our past might include fish stocking events, days afield, opening season celebrations, and club events/gatherings
  • Virginia Fauna: submissions of native mammals (game and nongame), birds, insects, reptiles, and amphibians
  • Virginia Landscapes: submissions of native plants, trees, flowers, and especially, scenic landscapes
  • Department Staff: all of the above, submitted by our current and retired staff members. Please identify yourself accordingly!

For complete rules and how to enter, see the Photo Showcase Rules (PDF).

Looking for inspiration? Pick up a copy of the 2015 Virginia Wildlife Photography Showcase today!

Pick up a copy of the Virginia Wildlife Photography Showcase today!
  • December 31st, 2015

The 2015 Safe Boating Photo Contest

SS -_07 28 09_0890Photography enthusiasts who capture safe boating in Virginia with their camera and want to spread the joy of being on Virginia’s waters can submit their photos to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Selected images will be used to promote safe boating.

Contest Dates:
July 15, 2015 – September 8th, 2015.  Prizes awarded by September 15, 2015

Criteria

  • Usefulness in publications (Top photos will be posted to the web site and Facebook page. Entries will also be considered for use in brochures, displays, printed materials, etc.)
  • Composition
  • Clarity
  • Subject content
  • All pictures must show people enjoying boating in a safe manner

Prizes
Three prize categories:

  1. Best boating safety photo overall – $50 Gift Certificate to DGIF’s Online Store
  2. Best boating safety photo featuring kids – $50 Gift Certificate to DGIF’s Online Store
  3. Best boating safety photo featuring your pet – $50 Gift Certificate to DGIF’s Online Store

Entry Guidelines

  • Photos must be taken within Virginia or on Virginia waters.
  • All boating laws must be followed.
  • Photos must have been taken within the past year.
  • Each entry needs to include photographers name, age, address, email address, phone number, title of photo, and location of photo for each submission. Entries must have the required information included in the body of the email or in an attached text file.
  • Up to 10 photos per photographer.
  • Entries that have been visibly or electronically altered are not permitted. Cropping is okay. Please do not add captions or date stamps to a photo.
  • This contest is not open to VDGIF employees’ and sponsors’ immediate family. Immediate family members are defined as children, siblings or others residing in the same household with a VDGIF or sponsor employee.

Legal Stuff

  • By submitting a photo to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), Safe Boating Contest, you give the VDGIF the right to use the photograph for publishing, illustrating, advertising, trade and promotion, or any other use in any medium for any purpose of the VDGIF.
  • By submitting a photo to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), Safe Boating Contest, you release the VDGIF from any claims and demands arising out of the use of the photographs.

Submission
Send entries (one per email) to: BoaterED@dgif.virginia.gov  with required information and a subject line of: Photo Challenge.

  • July 15th, 2015