When it comes to wildlife photography, getting too close can often be dangerous – or at the very least, not very productive. That’s where trail cameras come in – trail cameras are specifically designed for wildlife photography, and offer a number of advantages over regular cameras.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how to use a trail camera like a normal camera, why you should use a trail camera instead of a regular camera, and how to set up your trail cam for the best results.
How to use a trail camera like a normal camera
Using a trail cam is similar to using a normal camera in many ways. For example, you’ll need to make sure that your battery is fully charged before taking any photos – though the camera will power down automatically after it has captured an image, so this shouldn’t be an issue. You’ll also want to take note of the memory card’s capacity – 30 images is typical for most common models, but check your specific model’s documentation for more information.
Why should you use a trail camera instead of a regular camera?
There are several reasons why you should opt for using a trail camera instead of using a dedicated digital still or video camera:
- Trail cameras are specifically designed for wildlife photography
- They are small, camouflaged, and simple to operate
- They typically offer various burst modes for taking multiple images at a time
- Some trail cams have motion sensors which will automatically trigger the camera when an animal walks in front of it
- Trail cameras often have excellent battery life – some can go on taking photos for weeks without requiring a recharge or replacement
How to set up your trail cam for the best results
There are many different types of wildlife photo gear available today. Although all cameras have some basic functions in common, each type of camera has its own strengths and weaknesses compared with other types of equipment.
In this section we’ll take a look at some steps you should consider while setting up your trail cam:
- Camouflage your camera
- Position the camera carefully to ensure you capture the desired subjects’ behavior
- Use a locking cable to secure your camera – similar to car alarms, these cables allow you to lock your equipment in place so that it cannot be stolen or tampered with. This is particularly important if you plan on leaving your camera unattended for long periods of time
- Avoid using multiple cameras at once – while this can improve your chances of capturing good photos and videos (see our article on wildlife photography tips), it also decreases the chance that any one animal will visit more than once, which reduces the chance that you’ll get an image of them.
The exception here would be if you’re trying to photograph different age groups or genders of a given species – for example, a black bear mother with her cubs.
The pros and cons of using a regular camera versus using a trail cam
Many people who are interested in getting started with wildlife photography wonder whether or not to use their own digital still or video cameras, or if they should opt instead for going with dedicated equipment such as a trail camera.
There are many benefits to either choice:
– A standard camera will allow you to capture high quality images which will be good enough for professional photographers – but the cost can add up quickly compared with purchasing dedicated equipment
– Dedicated equipment typically has better battery life, but it can require time-consuming downloads to view your images. This can be especially frustrating when you’re on a photo shoot in the middle of nowhere with no way to get your photos off of the camera
– Trail cameras are incredibly popular among wildlife photographers – thus there are tons of resources available online if you run into any issues or have questions about how they work
– Dedicated trail cameras often have excellent motion sensors which can trigger the camera quickly while reducing power consumption
– Many dedicated trail cams are small and lightweight, allowing you to easily carry them on long treks through the wilderness without weighing yourself down, while some high end models even offer video recording functionality
Trail cameras are incredibly useful tools when it comes to wildlife photography – but they do have their downsides compared with standard digital still or video cameras:
– Dedicated trail cams require some time investment in order to get great results (whereas oftentimes you can pick up any camera and quickly take high quality photos)
– Trail cams typically don’t allow manual exposure/focus controls unless your model offers this functionality; instead, they rely on completely automatic exposure settings which can reduce quality if the lighting changes quickly (for example, if a cloud passes overhead)
– Trail cams typically have poorer image quality compared with a dedicated digital camera – however, some models do come close to producing professional grade photos and videos
What types of animals will your trail cam capture?
Many people who are just getting started using trail cameras would like to get better images of specific animals. For example, you might be hoping for clear photos of bears on your property so that you can figure out which garbage bins they’re raiding at night.
To get these kinds of shots, there are two factors which will impact your success:
1) The “footprint” of your camera (in other words, how well it’s able to trigger on the presence of an animal which is passing by)
2) How likely that animal is to stroll by near enough for your camera to capture a good image. For example:
- A deer passing through dense brush will be less likely to set off a trail cam than if that same deer is walking in an open field
- A bear walking at night or early in the morning will be less likely arrive close enough to your trail cam for you to get a good image than if they are walking during the day
On top of this, there are some animals which are very difficult or nearly impossible to photograph with any kind of reliability. For example:
- Bats and some other nocturnal creatures can be nearly impossible to capture with any kind of regularity – regardless of which camera you use or where you place it
- Some animals, such as insects, move too quickly to trigger any kind of trail cam – regardless of how well set up your device is
In order to get the most out of a trail cam, make sure that they’re appropriate for trying to capture images of the types of animals that you’re interested in photographing.
Continuous vs. Motion Triggering Trail cams typically come with one of two triggering modes: continuous mode or motion mode. A few models offer both options, but most only allow for one type at a time.
- In continuous mode, your camera will take photos of whatever passes near it – regardless of whether or not the image is interesting. This makes for a large number of underwhelming images which can be more trouble to review than their worth
- In motion triggering mode, the camera only takes photos when an animal moves into its effective range. This reduces the number of “dull” images that you’ll have to sort through, but also means that there are far fewer total images available for you to examine
Continuous mode typically offers better battery life at the cost make sure that this is something which matters to you before you purchase a trail cam.
At the end of the day, regardless of whether you use a trail cam or not, you’re going to need some kind of camera in order to capture interesting images and videos of animals. At the same time, there are numerous reasons why using a dedicated trail cam might be preferable:
- They can generally be set up and deployed much more quickly than a standard camera
- Trail cams typically have lower operating costs than digital cameras (due to very infrequent battery replacement requirements)
- Trail cams typically allow for simpler/quicker video recording compared with dedicated digital cameras
With that said, keep in mind that each type has their own set of pros and cons. If you do decide purchasing a trail cam, make sure that you do enough research to understand exactly how their functionality will impact your ability photograph the types of animals that you’re interested in!
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