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
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 Lynxmotion robot chassis
and a Hitech 6-channel radio control. They reinforced the chassis and
replaced the wheels with bigger, sturdier versions, then added a tripod
plate. Two 7.2 Volts Ni-MH 2800mAh battery pack also from Lynxmotion
offers day-longer power to the device. 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 unobstructed by the grass or flipped
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
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.