Typical photo of me in the morning retrieving my motion sensor camera from the backyard. Bushnell Trail Camera, Oakland, CA, 2013.

Hunting Camera + Urban Backyard = An Exciting Way To Explore Nature

This is the third post on unusual cameras that extend the senses. The first two posts explored an underwater camera and a micro lens.

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.

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Often called trail cameras, game cameras, or camera trap cameras, the Bushnell and its competitors are marketed to hunters. They’re also used widely by animal lovers who enjoy photographing wildlife.

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.

The results of my first night with the Bushnell camera
The results of my first night with the Bushnell camera

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.

Orange cat at dawn after a rain
Orange cat tail at dawn after a rain. Bushnell Trail Camera, Oakland, CA, 2012.

Incidental Composition

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.

Cat looking like it's getting hit by lightning. Infrared and close range make the vines in the foreground white hot.
Cat emerging from alley. Bushnell Trail Camera, Oakland, CA, 2012.

I started experimenting with different spots to determine where the most animals would come and what the backgrounds and foregrounds would look like.

Getting Lucky

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.

Animated GIF face off
Animated GIF of two of the neighborhood cats who had this standoff just a few feet from where I slept. Bushnell Trail Camera, Oakland, CA, 2012.

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.

Animated GIF demonstrating a 2012 lenticular print I made titled "Kitty 3 with Rat". Bushnell Trail Camera. Oakland, CA, 2012.
Animated GIF of a cat and rat from my Bushnell Trail Camera. Oakland, CA, 2012.

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.

Getting Unlucky

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 have never seen a skunk in or near my yard. Bushnell Trail Camera, Oakland, CA, 2012.

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.

Bat in flight, Russia, 2011.  Photo by the Wildlife Conservation Society of Russia.

Looking through totally fantastic images online from motion sensor cameras in all different locations makes it easy to picture how animals are constantly out there living their lives without us.

Two rabbits at sunset, England, 2011. Photo by NatureSpy.org

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.

All photos by Emily Wick unless otherwise noted. Read more about my collection of extra-sensory cameras in my underwater camera and micro lens posts.

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