Being a student in the Codger’s Camera Trapping Class

Camera Trap Set under Rock Overhang - Copyright: Chris Wemmer

Camera Trap Set under Rock Overhang – Copyright: Chris Wemmer

Those of you interested in camera traps all have visited or should immediately go to Coder’s Camera Trapping Blog which is written by Chris Wemmer, better known as the Codger or simply Codg. Every year Codg teaches a workshop at the San Francisco State University Sierra Nevada Field Campus about everything having to do about camera trapping wildlife including the history of camera trapping, camera trap sets (what they are and what makes a good set a good set), using attractants, doing biological surveys using camera traps, building your own homebrews, and he even discusses animal psychology in regards to camera traps. How cool is that ?!?!

If you have the smallest interest in using camera traps to photograph wildlife you simply need to take this class!

Besides an immense amount of useful camera trapping knowledge, this workshop taught me some very very important lessons including:

– I need to become a far better naturalist. This is the key to all nature photography success. Chris was a Smithsonian scientist for decades, leading many exciting adventures, but most importantly he was and most definitely still is one of the most knowledgeable naturalists I have ever met. (He would never admit this of course, but trust me, its amazing all the things he knows!)

– I need to experiment more. Placing the camera in ‘obscure’ places seemed to become the theme for our workshop and it was really exciting to do so. Not only are the perspectives unique but the potential for interesting pictures is also quite high.

– oh yeah, the final lesson is to not use credit cards (still good on that account). That’s right you will not only get camera trap lessons but life lessons!

The whole experience is a blast. We had a great group of people participating in the class, people coming from all parts of life including Carl, a photographer who’s career spanned taking picture in the Vietnam War to being the director of photography at the Smithsonian (his Smithsonian photography focused on natural history as well as cultural images). Lissa, is a graduate student at SFSU using camera traps for her thesis (crazy cool, I know), and Audrey who recently graduated from SFSU is getting a lot of field and lab experience before applying to grad schools (her main interest are Coyotes so if you hear of any cool studies with these canines please let me know and I’ll pass it on to her). We even had people from past years show up, including Bill, Sean, and Ken (Ken writes another great blog, which you also need to check out), so you can see that once you take the class you are hooked!

Here are some pictures from the workshop taken by the other participants during the short span of the week we were in the Sierras. To see the images the cameras took that we placed there you will need to check Codger’s blog in about a month (I personally can’t wait!)

The Camera Trapping Gang - Copyright: Chris Wemmer

The Camera Trapping Gang – Copyright: Chris Wemmer

Codg showing us how to make a make-shift post for your camera trap - Copyright: Lissa

Codg showing us how to make a make-shift post for your camera trap – Copyright: Lissa

Ken making set in tree trunk, Carl is enjoying the view :) - Copyright: Lissa

Ken making set in tree trunk, Carl is enjoying the view 🙂 – Copyright: Lissa

The crazy 'obscure views' we hope to get in a month - Copyright: Lissa, a self portrait here

The crazy ‘obscure views’ we hope to get in a month – Copyright: Lissa, a self portrait here

Checking Camera Trap Images back at the Campus - Copyright: Lissa

Checking Camera Trap Images back at the Campus – Copyright: Lissa

Fred - Codg's awesome dog - Copyright: Chris Wemmer

Fred – Codg’s awesome dog – Copyright: Chris Wemmer

Enough said, time for you to head over the Codg’s blog and get fascinatingly lost in camera trapping stories. Thanks to all for making the whole week a blast!

Is it possible to combine adventuring with photography?

Simply put, yes!

Most of us outdoorsy people like to get in a little bit of adrenaline here or there. This is easy for wildlife photography since the adrenaline starts kicking in every time you get close to a wild animal, but when adventuring is the first reason for the trip, is it still possible to combine it with photography?

I am no expert on hardcore adventuring but I definitely enjoy strenuous trips hiking, biking, kayaking, and what ever else my friends or I can think of. Since these trips are generally always focused on an outside location I always get the urge to bring the camera just in case an animal shows up or a landscape screams to be photographed. To make these trips a success it is extremely important to make conscious decisions about what gear you bring. If you have too much you get slowed down and start seriously worrying about your gear getting damaged, if you have too little you may not get a shot. (let’s just say I struggle with this a lot). To help you make better decisions check out Jeff Bartlett’s Blog, who writes extensively on the subject of adventure photography (I will need to follow his advice more) and packing for a trip.

Just to give you some examples of small adventures that have provided for excellent photographic opportunities.

Kayaking in Elkhorn Slough – Equipment Brought: Canon 30D, 100-400mm Lens

I somehow always make funny faces when doing self portraits...

I somehow always make funny faces when doing self portraits…

Taken from kayak, still better picture than anything I have taken from land

Taken from kayak, still better picture than anything I have taken from land

Riding Bycicle Across the US with Best Friends – Equipment Brought: Canon 5D, 24-70mm, 100-400mm, 580Ex Flash, Graduated Neutral Density Filters

Bicycle Route Across the US

Bicycle Route Across the US

All the camera gear is in the back in one pannier

All the camera gear is in the back in one pannier

Lily Pads on Lake in Pennsylvania

Lily Pads on Lake in Pennsylvania

Great Horn Owl Roadkill, this was one of the most 'intact' dead animals we saw

Great Horn Owl Roadkill, this was one of the most ‘intact’ dead animals we saw

Coniferous Forest Panning Shot

Coniferous Forest Panning Shot

Reeds reflected in water, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Reeds reflected in water, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Grand Tetons at Sunrise, Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

Grand Tetons at Sunrise, Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

So the lesson I have learned is to not choose but to smartly combine photography with outdoor adventures!

Utilizing your Local Botanical Garden or Arboretum

Botanical Gardens and Arboretums are amazing places to not only visit but also to photograph. It is always fascinating to me to see plants from all around the world in such a small area. How amazing is it to wander from South Africa to Australia in just a few yards. From Proteas to Pincushions. It doesn’t even matter at what time of year you go, something will be in bloom.

Living in Santa Cruz provides the amazing opportunity of visiting the UCSC Arboretum, a deeply under-appreciated place. It contains the largest concentration of southern hemisphere plants in the northern hemisphere. When I photograph in these floral collections I tend to shoot in a macro-style, concentrating on single plants, often on single flowers. This is mainly to eliminate distracting backgrounds and since the plants are not in their native habitat showing the landscape in the background is not beneficial most times.

Here are a few examples of the types of pictures I am talking about:

Pincushion (Leucospermum sp), UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California

Pincushion (Leucospermum sp), UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California

Pincushion (Leucospermum sp), UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California

Pincushion (Leucospermum sp), UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California

Pincushion (Leucospermum sp), UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California

Pincushion (Leucospermum sp), UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California

Still unknown plant to me...., UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California

Still unknown plant to me…., UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California

Spiral Aloe (Aloe polyphylla), UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California

Spiral Aloe (Aloe polyphylla), UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California

Then you always have the option of getting more abstract pictures. This is the advantage of plants over animals, they don’t move too far. The picture below was taken at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. I loved how the light was coming through the fern fronds. I first took images that were in focus but I really liked the shape of the leaves so I decided to manually put them out of focus, having nothing in the image be sharp. It’s different, but I like it.

Fern fronds out of focus, Berkeley Botanical Garden, Berkeley, California

Fern fronds out of focus, Berkeley Botanical Garden, Berkeley, California

Finally, all the plants attract wildlife as well, so keep an eye out for movement. Hummingbirds are frequent visitors to gardens so they are attracted to these ‘super gardens’ in even higher numbers. This male Allen’s Hummingbird was photographed in Santa Cruz. He would continuously land on this perch and then chase off any other males intruding into his space. Every time he was off chasing a rival I crept closer, stopping when he would arrive back at his perch. I wanted to still include some of the amazingly colorful background created by all the plants so I stopped when I was about 10 feet away. It is one of my earliest photographs, but I still love it.

Allen's Hummingbird calling, UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California

Allen’s Hummingbird calling, UCSC Arboretum, Santa Cruz, California

So go out and find your local botanical paradise, you will be amazed by what you find!

SLR Camera Trap Photography

Photographing wildlife with a SLR camera trap seems easy in concept. Place a camera trap in the wilderness, let it sit there, and have it take amazing pictures while you rest at home. This isn’t quite the case. One of the hardest parts about camera trap photography is getting your set-up to work like you want it to. The camera and flashes have to be ready to take a picture at moments notice, but need to also conserve batteries enough to last for an extended period of time. And then everything has to be safe in a serious down drench. Finally the biggest challenge of all is that you can’t buy professional camera traps at a store, ready to use out of the box. Even national geographic cameras use customized set-ups.

For inspiration, visit two of my favorite blogs. Chris Wemmer’s blog Camera Trap Codger which is not only filled with witty, educational, and fun writing but also accompanied by great camera trap images; as well as Jake Kirkland and Christian’s Camera Trapping Campus blog, filled with great stories and it hits close to home for me since I also got my degree from UCSC. All of them ‘hack’ much of their equipment to function for the camera trapping needs!

Once you have the equipment figured out the really fun part starts. Its time to hit the field to select your location for your camera trap. Natural game paths are always a perfect option, they provide ample chances for wildlife to walk by. During set-up, take the appropriate time since there can’t be any quick adjustments made once the camera is in place. Using yourself always works:

Myself, getting some test shots in - reminder, comb your hair next time...

Myself, getting some test shots in – reminder, comb your hair next time…

After you are done setting up you want to leave it be, it will take a while for your smell to be masked by nature’s more natural smells and some time for the animals to get used to the new objects in their environment (don’t think they don’t know its there).

After some time you will get your first shots. In the beginning most likely just your neighbors pet:

Neighbors dog checking out the camera

Neighbors dog checking out the camera

Maybe even some behavioral images:

Mule deer buck licking front leg

Mule deer buck licking front leg

Of course many times you will get another curious human:

This one is having quite a lot of fun!

This one is having quite a lot of fun!

In the end though, when you get a shot like this, you are quite the happy camper:

Juvenile Mountain Lion at Night

Juvenile Mountain Lion at Night

When ever you go to check the camera and replace batteries its like Christmas. You don’t know what you will get except a bunch of happy surprises. Camera trapping is a great way to get an intimate view into the lives of animals you may hardly see. It is something I very much cherish.