Wildlife photographers will risk life and limb to get the perfect close-up, but a few ingenious hacks can make the process easier.
Shutterbug Will Burrard-Lucas and his brother Matthew rigged up a four-wheel-drive, remote-control buggy called BeetleCam that has a DSLR camera mounted on top. Almost Wall-E like in its appearance, the BeetleCam can click photos of African wildlife from a ground-level perspective.
“We like to get really close to the animals with a wide-angle lens,” Will Burrard-Lucas told Wired.com. “That’s the photo we really enjoy getting.”
Conventional photographers use either a telephoto lens or camera traps — stationary cameras triggered to click when an animal breaks an invisible infra-read beam — to get close-ups of wild animals. But while telephoto lenses zoom in on the animal, they cut out the beautiful landscape, while camera traps require a great degree of patience and more than a fair share of luck.
A remote-controlled buggy with a wide-angle lens could offer a new perspective, says Burrard-Lucas.
“We can find the animals and use BeetleCam to approach it and we wouldn’t have to fear for our lives,” he says.
To build the BeetleCam, the Burrard-Lucas brothers used a remote-controlled robot chassis. They reinforced the chassis and replaced the wheels with bigger, sturdier versions, then added a tripod plate. Software tweaks ensured that the camera, a Canon EOS 400D, would interface with the same controller used to drive the buggy.
They also put together a split ETTL off-camera flash cord that would allow the camera to control the output of the two flashes on board the BeetleCam. To have the camera take an exposure, they use the remote control to activate a relay switch that tells the camera to fire.
BeetleCam’s biggest challenge has been getting over the uneven terrain in Tanzania’s national parks with a heavy camera, lens and flashes on its back. But the buggy did pretty well, says Burrard-Lucas, capsizing completely only about twice. The duo are always about 50 meters (approximately 165 feet) away in a land rover trying to make sure that the BeetleCam’s view is obstructed by the grass or flipped over. They have chronicled their adventures with the BeetleCam on their blog.
Once on the ground, Burrard-Lucas says Beetlecam offered some interesting lessons. Elephants, for instance, turned out to be very tricky to photograph using the buggy because they are wary of unfamiliar objects and have extremely sensitive hearing. But putting the BeetleCam in front of the animals and letting them walk up to it worked well.
Lions were tricker. On the BeetleCam’s second day in the jungle, the device was mauled, smashed and carried off into the bush by a pack.
“We were extremely lucky to retrieve an intact memory card from the mangled Canon 400D body,” says Burrard-Lucas.
The photos from the card survived the wrath of the lions and a few pieces of string and wood later, the BeetleCam was on the ground once more.
This summer, BeetleCam will be back in action in Kenya, says Burrard-Lucas, but with a less expensive camera. “We will use a Canon 500 or 500 D,” says Burrard-Lucas. “We don’t want the camera smashed again.”
Check out some of the photos shot by the BeetleCam:
More photos from the BeetleCam.
Source: Gadget Lab