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The Life of a Tasmanian Devil - the process and great progress.

Over the past 2 years I've been working part-time on a project photographing Tasmanian devils as a photo story collection. My idea was to document wild devils in their natural habitat, going about their lives. It was a huge learning curve figuring out exactly how to go about this, I spoke to an old friend who is a zooloist and he said I would need camera traps.

Right. Camera traps, hmmm. Off I go to see my ole pal GOOGLE!

So, here is a quick description of these things. There are generally 2 types of camera traps, a very simple one piece unit (see below), then there's a very complex million part unit (see below again). The camera I ordered straight away was a basic box you can screw to a tree and it simply monitors anything happening in front with no real control other than video clip length, trigger sensitivity and frame rate for still images. It's infra-red with invisible light so the animals just go about their life without being very disturbed, they seem to know the camera is there but are just curious and sniff and chew it. Perfect for finding active devil habitat but that's about all. The drawback is the image quality, it stinks and is definitely not publishable.

After some more searching I came across the work of several National Geographic photographers, Steve Winter, Joel Sartore and Michael "Nick" Nichols. The guys use camera traps on assignment when shooting stories on elusive wildlife and also for a very unique perspective. Their camera trap work is stunning and has pushed the technique a long way over the years from early pioneers such as George Shiras iii who worked with camera traps in the late 1800's into the mid 1900's. Winter, Sartore and Nichols use DSLR camera traps which are a whole new level of investment and technical bits and pieces, nuts, bolts and cables... I studied the absolute crap out of their work - the behind the scenes videos, listened to podcasts over and over which gave me hints of what gear they were using and what I needed to build one of these DSLR camera traps. It soon turned into an expensive buying process... But worth every dollar.

Below you will see a small but important portion of the gear I accumulated while shooting my Tasmanian devil photo story. For me, this gear is a solid investment, the techniques and skills I've gained are invaluable and no doubt will be used in future natural history assignments.

A Bushnell Trail cam, the one piece camera trap unit - very handy, the video quality is ok but still pictures are very average. Below is a collection of clips from this beaten up beast.

A Bushnell Trail cam, the one piece camera trap unit - very handy, the video quality is ok but still pictures are very average. Below is a collection of clips from this beaten up beast.

Some examples of that buying process I mentioned... a 1000D and a 20D were the work horses. Camera bodies are mounted in home built weather-proof housing to protect from the crazy Tasmanian seasons and also disguise them slightly.

Some examples of that buying process I mentioned... a 1000D and a 20D were the work horses. Camera bodies are mounted in home built weather-proof housing to protect from the crazy Tasmanian seasons and also disguise them slightly.

Canon camera bodies and Nikon flashes are the secret to an efficient working camera trap system. I bought every Nikon SB28 I found online over several months. These are placed in custom built tubes and mounted with small ball heads for perfect adjustment and lighting. When the camera traps are set up they resemble a hidden outdoor studio using all the same lighting techniques.

Canon camera bodies and Nikon flashes are the secret to an efficient working camera trap system. I bought every Nikon SB28 I found online over several months. These are placed in custom built tubes and mounted with small ball heads for perfect adjustment and lighting. When the camera traps are set up they resemble a hidden outdoor studio using all the same lighting techniques.

The Canon camera to Nikon flash system is no good unless you have this pile of wild cables.

The Canon camera to Nikon flash system is no good unless you have this pile of wild cables.

One of my goals from this project was to submit a photo story proposal featuring a diverse collection of Tasmanian devil images to a high end natural history magazine and have it published. During the time working on this project I contacted several magazines, Australian and International to let them know about my work, showed them samples and kept them up to date on the progress of it. There were several magazines who showed some interest but some had recently published stories on the Tasmanian devil and had to let it go. One of my shots of a Tasmanian devil climbing a tree was commended in the 2013 BBC Camera trap competition, (SEE HERE) this led to conversations between the BBC Wildlife picture editor and I. Eventually I pitched my story to them and they accepted. Over the next few months we emailed back and forth working out which shots to use and making sure out captions matched. I saw multiple proofs and it was looking good, it was finalized and below is a shot of the magazine cover and opening spread.

I'm very proud of this work and I hope you enjoy it, please feel free to share! HH.

All flash power settings need to be dialled in manually, here is some guy metering the lights in the deep jungle at night. After camera trapping for a while you end up with a LOT of pictures of yourself.

All flash power settings need to be dialled in manually, here is some guy metering the lights in the deep jungle at night. After camera trapping for a while you end up with a LOT of pictures of yourself.

 I placed a DSLR camera trap near a swan carcass which looked to be the previous evenings meal knowing the chance of a devil passing by the next night is very high. Here a lone, almost completely black devil snoops around the area covered by feathers. Photographed in Narawntapu National Park in North-West Tasmania. Not baited.
Tasmanian devil.

Tasmanian devil.

BBC Wildlife spring issue, 5 page Tasmanian devil feature.

BBC Wildlife spring issue, 5 page Tasmanian devil feature.

BBC Wildlife magazine is available here in Tasmania but unfortunately it might take another month or two to reach the news stands.  BBC Wildlife magazine is available as digital also SEE HERE.