Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Project camera trapping in Greenland

The latest issue of the nature photo magazine Natur&Foto brought an article of me on camera trapping in Greenland.

Here it is in an English version with a few additional images that did not make it into the printed version:

In Northeast Greeland, Danish and Norwegian trappers caught and shot arctic foxes and other animals like polar bears, wolves and muskoxen from 1908-1960. Since 2011, animals have again been caught at Zackenberg Research Station but now with camera traps. Camera traps enables close perspective on even potentially dangerous animals without disturbing. I see it as an opportunity at achieving images otherwise impossible or extremely demanding. Camera trapping requires a lot of both creative and technical thoughts and skills. A good portion of luck is needed too, but that goes for most kind of nature photography, I guess.

▲ The animal in its environment
In 2011 I had bought an IR sensor and had plans on making a camera trap. As this musk ox bull and a few other started to hang out at this green lush vegetation in a little temporary pond, I was eager to capture it with a trap. I used an otherwise retired camera and chose a fish-eye lens to capture a lot of the mountains in the background and at the same time picture the animal relatively close. It was my first serious attempt with a camera trap and I was really happy with getting a result not only I was well satisfied with. The image got a nice placement in the mammal category in the Nordic Nature Photo Competition 2012 and the Greenlandic Postal Service chose to release a postal stamp with it in 2013.
Nikon D200, Nikkor 10.5/2.8, f/11, 1/400s, 200 ISO, Trailmaster TM-550 sensor.

▲ Musk ox carcass and ravens
Even as dead, muskoxen can be interesting subjects. I had seen this muskox bull alive a few days before relatively close to the research station, before I suddenly saw a few ravens flying over it and landing on it. The fresh carcass attracted ravens and arctic foxes and was an obvious place to set up a camera trap. This time it was a bit longer from the station, so I chose a lens with a protective filter as I could not save the equipment  fast in case of bad weather. The ravens flew off as soon as I was near but soon got used to the trap.
Nikon D300, Nikkor 50/1.4, f/4, 1/1250s, 200 ISO, Trailmaster TM-550 sensor.

▲ Flying Raven at the carcass
I was happy with the background the mountains on Clavering Island made up, but it was not really possible to see that it was a dead musk ox from this angle. I could have turned the carcass but I have strong pinciples in my nature photograpy on not staging anything, so I left it as it was.
Nikon D300, Nikkor 10.5/2.8, f/11, 1/640s, 200 ISO, Trailmaster TM-550 sensor.

▲ Arctic foxes at the carcass
Rather than turning the carcass, I tried alyternative angles. It was exiting to follow the slow break down of the carcass and I got some good images both with and without camera trap, as the foxes gradually got used to my prescence. As it was later in the season with less light, I chose to sacrifice my primary but less noisy camera for trap duty.
Nikon D700, Nikkor 17-35/2.8, 19mm, f/11, 13s, 3200 ISO, Trailmaster TM-550 sensor

▲ Curious
In 2012, I had brought with me a photo robot - a radio controlled mobile camera platform with wireless transmission of the vievfinder image meant for close-up images of muskoxen using wide angle lenses. The animals were afraid of it though, so I never did more than a single test run. In stead, the camera trap got on duty again. This time I had made a protective box and set it up in a fen area with lots of muskoxen. It was good to have the protective box, for several times the little tripod was turned over, when I went out to swap memory cards and batteries.
Nikon D700, Nikkor 17-35/2.8, 17mm, f/11, 1/500s, 800 ISO, Trailmaster TM-550 sensor.

▲ Musk oxen on the tundra
It was not my intention to attract the animals, as I would rather have images of animals as unaffected as possible. They are curious however it seems. This image was released as a postcard with the postal stamp in 2013.
Nikon D700, Nikkor AF-S 17-35/2.8, 17mm, f/11, 1/15s, 3200 ISO, Trailmaster TM-550 sensor

▲ Surprised arctic hare
The trap was set up near the river where I had seen many fox tracks from the patrol route of an arctic fox. The fox stayed away but this hare came by. I have a whole series where it hardly moves so I guess it freezes in surprise by the sound of the camera shutter.
Nikon D700, Nikkor 17-35/2.8, 19mm, 1/160s, f/11, 200 ISO,  Trailmaster TM-550 sensor.

▲ Inside the musk ox carcass
I had long imagined to place a camera trap inside a carcass as the foxes often start eating from within. In 2014, I got the chance as a fresh carcass was found near the research station. I cut a hole opposite the entrance made naturally by the foxes where I could fit a protective box with a spare domeport to fit a fish-eye lens. I also just got space for a wirelessly controlled flash in its own waterproof box in the cavity. The first images got spoiled as the focus had displaced. The carcass was really dry and no longer interesting, so all summer went and it was fall before a fox again put its head inside.
Nikon D300, Nikkor 10/2.8, f/18, 1/125s, 200 ISO, SB-800 Flash, PocketWizard Plus III tranceivers, Snapshot Sniper II sensor.

For camera trapping you need a sensor and release mechanism. I have until now used passive infrared sensors (PIR) which react to motion. You can also use so-called active sensors where a beam of light needs to be broken or even booby trap devices as strings or pressure sensitive switches. They enable more control of when the images are released but there is a risk that no images are taken. I personally do not use any form of attractants besides what is naturally available such as a carcass as I do not want to stage anything. Some animals can be attracted to the camera itself, however. External flashes are often used but I have not used them much in Northeast Greenland where the midnight sun shines more than 3 months every summer. It can be a good idea with a box to protect the camera against weather and not least the animals. The camera, I mostly set to aperture priority with auto ISO to cater for the widest range of lighting. A low solid tripod or homemade platform with a thread for a tripod head with quick release can be practical

Read more about DIY camera traps on the net forum: www.camtrapper.com  

At www.camtraptions.com/category/interviews/ you can find interviews with some of the worlds' best camera trappers.