By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Snapping pictures of elusive wildlife presents challenges for photographers. Whether their subjects are fast, camouflaged, or dangerous, camera crews use clever tricks to get the perfect shot. Camera traps help get the job done.
A rare yellow penguin was photographed recently on South Georgia Island by a cameraman on a photography expedition. King penguins are generally known for their black-and-white bodies, which feature hints of yellow around their necks, giving them a tuxedo-like appearance. The yellow penguin, also a king, may be suffering from a form of albinism. Although it isn’t the first off-color king penguin to be photographed, they are quite rare.
Wildlife photographers are used to facing all kinds of challenges in capturing pictures of elusive subjects. In his video series The National Geographic Guide to Landscape and Wildlife Photography, Tim Laman, contributing photographer for National Geographic magazine, said that tripod tricks and camera traps can make all the difference.
Getting Your Water Legs
Wildlife is notoriously skittish around humans, so sometimes getting a good picture means using the right lens from a distance. Other times, when shooting in a location like a swamp, the photographer may have to stay in a small boat.
“If you’re trying to shoot landscape or you’re trying to shoot animals where you really need a tripod, you can put your tripod outside the boat while you’re still in the boat,” Laman said. “So this is something that you might not think of, but in a place where you can’t get the shot you want by getting out onto the land, this is a trick that I found to be really helpful.
“It is a little bit hard on the tripods, but if you take your tripods apart and clean them afterward, they’ll continue to work fine.”
Another example of this is in the shallows off a beach. Even in waist-deep water, Laman said he can set up his tripod and mount his camera on it, allowing him to get lower shots that are closer to the wildlife—and with beautiful islands in the background.
“They’re going to be a lot less skittish if I’m low and sort of a smaller object sort of just slowly moving toward them across the water as compared to if I was in a boat; trying to approach them in a boat, they’re going to be much more easily spooked,” he said.
Captured in a Trap
Laman said that while working in the Sundarbans, he also did remote control photography using so-called “camera traps.”
“A camera trap is basically just a camera that is set up to be triggered by an infrared beam or an infrared detector that detects an animal moving by,” he said. “In this case, we’re using a passive infrared detector that just sensed any real change in the heat signature in the scene. So if any mammal passed by, it would trigger the camera.”
Laman said he spoke with a local guide who helped him find a game trail with old tiger tracks on it, deep in a mangrove forest, in hopes that the tiger would pass through again. Together, they checked the camera every few days for pictures. They captured photographs of sambar deer, wild pigs, rhesus macaques, and a small leopard, but no tiger.
Laman had to move on, but he made an arrangement with the guide to maintain the camera trap, changing batteries and memory cards whenever needed. After two months, the tiger returned and Laman ended up with exactly one photo of it.
Elusive animals lead to challenging, but rewarding, photography. Whether tracking tigers in Bangladeshi forests or snapping unexpected shots of yellow penguins, wildlife photographers continue to document the creatures that inhabit our world.