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The place I’ve called home along the coast of California for more than two decades is surrounded by thousands of acres of protected wild land. A mosaic of forest and chaparral, it supports a great variety of wildlife, but many of the animals are shy and don’t often allow me to get close enough for intimate imagery. So for a number of years now, I’ve used camera traps to obtain a different point of view than what’s achievable when I’m behind the lens myself.
When I scout for places to deploy a camera trap, I look for scenic locations where the terrain forces animals into a predictable pattern of movement. One of my favorite spots is a secluded game trail that leads out of a rugged canyon next to where I live. A gnarly oak tree festooned with lichen provides a magnificent backdrop along a narrow stretch in the trail.
My system consists of a DSLR camera with a wide-angle zoom lens and several strobes, all protected by weatherproof boxes. The camera itself is adapted for infrared image capture and is triggered by a sensor that responds to motion. Setting up the system involves a lot of uncertainties because I never know who may pass by and when. To play it safe I choose a high ISO rating so that I can apply a small aperture, which yields a better depth of field. The strobes are set in manual mode, and the output levels are determined after careful calibration.
Camera traps don’t yield the emotional gratification that comes from working with wildlife eye-to-eye, and they’re finicky devices to deal with. But once in a while, the efforts pay off. One sweet summer day my camera captured a precious scene of a bobcat mother and her kitten, casually strolling by, a private passage unaffected by the presence of a photographer.