One of the best ways to observe nature is by being very still for a very long time: it allows a better chance at seeing wild or feral animals, and it focuses awareness on how things move or change, like clouds or trails of ants. Sitting still for hours on end is hard to do. Enter the Bushnell Trophy Cam Essential Trail Camera. It sits for you and uses a motion sensor to photograph anything that moves.
The Bushnell Trophy Cam
I’ve always been interested in infrared cameras because they can sense light beyond the visible spectrum. While looking for color infrared digital cameras, I came across the Bushnell 6MP Trophy Cam. It’s a motion-activated weatherproof camera that has infrared night vision. In 2011, my Dad gave it for me for Christmas.
On Jan. 8, 2012, I put my new camera in my backyard to see what kind of wildlife I was living with. I braced myself for something creepy, like peeping toms or swarms of rats.
Setting Out the Camera for the First Time
The first night, I captured a mystery cat. I was so excited.
A cat may seem ordinary, but I live in a triangle of traffic death with few residences nearby, and I hadn’t ever seen strays on the property.
I started placing the camera out every night. Waking up in the morning immediately became more exciting in anticipation of discovering, before breakfast, what the camera had found.
Pretty much every night, it would photograph a cat. There was an orange one and two distinct greyish tabbies.
The camera doesn’t have a viewfinder, so it’s hard to frame a shot on purpose, and a lot of the results aren’t intentional.
I started experimenting with different spots to determine where the most animals would come and what the backgrounds and foregrounds would look like.
After the initial novelty of learning I shared my home with cats I’d never seen, and of seeing their ghostlike silhouettes in various poses for a few weeks, I finally caught the animals interacting.
The creepiest and best photo the camera took–besides a close-up of a neighbor peeing–depicted a cat coming out of a hole in the building.
This is what cats do all night before jumping on their owners’ beds to snuggle.
I liked these images so much that I made lenticular prints that allowed them to be animated even when on paper.
After a month setting up the camera every night, I had a string of of nights where nothing tripped the sensor. I got discouraged. I started using the camera only occasionally, then rarely.
I still found a few good shots, but it just wasn’t the same.
The Wider World Of Motion Sensor Animal Photography
After my experiments with my Bushnell camera, I occasionally came across similar photos online from similar cameras around the world. Imagine how exciting it would be to capture a jackal facing off with a lion or one anteater riding another in a tree, or getting jaded to baby deer or elephants or clowns.
I grew up reading magazines with stunning animal photos: the kind with the palpable presence of a three thousand dollar tripod and a lens the size of a rocket launcher.
But they never made me feel the way these do: that there’s no one around except (non-human) animals.