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 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 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.