Trail cameras can stay in the wild for weeks, taking lots of pictures and video. You need to know how to get better trail camera photos (and video) or this will be wasted time.
That amounts to being a lot of time and investment for you. The last thing you want is to open the files and find dark, skewed photographs!
You don’t have a time-machine to recover lost opportunities, so read these tips instead. A few basic rules of good photography can stop failures from happening again.
Game cameras are one of a hunter’s best aids. Because you can hide them easily, they also serve as security cameras for some people. This article focuses on their usefulness to hunters and wildlife enthusiasts.
You Can Do Wonders With Trail Cameras
With a trail camera, a hunter has the equivalent of a spy in the forest. At all times and in any weather, it watches when he or she can’t. Cameras let you track animal or bird movement patterns so you can pinpoint them better.
Trail cameras can show where a mature buck’s home range is, and times of movement. Yet pictures themselves can be beautiful and fascinating: you can indulge your favorite hobby. Equipped with a camera, you can actually discover new and fascinating insights into animals’ behavior.
All of this is possible – but only if you follow some good photography practice. We are going to deal with some basic advice so you can set up properly. Things you might not have known, or didn’t realize were so important…
Essential Tips for Capturing Good Trail Camera Pictures
None of this advice is difficult to practice, and it’s definitely worth the effort. Each tip will help you not to mess up the quality of your photos. Even if you think your pictures are good, read the following – they could be better!
The Angle of Your Camera
This is undoubtedly the most important thing about setting up a camera. Making the difference between seeing just the deer’s feet, the sky, or the whole animal… Mount the camera about four feet from the ground: neither too low, nor too high.
The height depends on your interest: lower if that’s turkeys, higher if it’s the distance. Once you have the camera well mounted, the angle will be more or less right. Be careful to point the camera at exactly what you want to take photos of.
What Do You Want to Focus On?
If you wanted to monitor moving deer, point the camera up or down the trail. If it’s at right angles, you miss many triggers as they approach or leave. Pictures taken this way show you more information and can look more interesting.
A place where deer come for minerals needs a camera focus at the lower center. Set like this, you can capture them coming and going from different directions. Just think about the kind of movement you want to photograph.
Test Your Settings
When you have the camera set up and you’ve guessed the angle, test it. Take some pictures by walking in front of the camera, where the animals will pass. Look at them using your card reader or computer – and save yourself from wasting time. It’s obvious that if you aren’t in the frame, the angle isn’t right.
Contrast is Important
Contrast is the amount of light coming into the picture compared to the background. When too low, you get a dark photograph in which you can’t see anything. If it’s too high, everything will be light, without a proper focus – like mist.
Getting Contrast Right
The most straightforward method is to set up trail cameras in shaded areas. In woodland you will get filtered light all day, so you can capture good pictures. Open fields will work when there is cloud-cover, but bright sun often causes overexposure.
Other things to watch out for are moving shadows of clouds, or from trees. These sharp contrasts can trigger cameras, causing even hundreds of unnecessary photo captures!
What if I Want to Photograph an Open Area?
An example would be a food plot: there are ways to get around the problem. Direct sunshine from the south (in the Northern Hemisphere), and from overhead, causes glare. Fix cameras facing north instead, to get more contrast and fewer scattered reflections.
Alternatively, point trail cameras facing either east or west. Just be aware that morning or evening images, respectively, will be hazy or lack color.
What About Color?
Some pictures might look fantastic at first; then you see the color is ‘phony’, unbalanced. One help is to use a good camera – not all models are the same. Following the previous steps with contrast will also help you get better shades of color.
In the old days, painters had to think about what to include in a picture. To have all of a tree in the scene, and keep hills in the background… Professional photography isn’t any different, and it makes the difference between ‘OK ‘and ‘Outstanding’.
Think of a magnificent specimen photographed lurking behind a cluster of tree-trunks. Or the same animal silhouetted against a clear sky, or water. Do you see what I mean, even from a hunter’s perspective?
Choose a view with good, filtered light and an uncluttered background, at a minimum. Don’t focus at overgrown areas, small tree-trunks, very dark or over-bright backgrounds. These are just some examples – just keep the end result in mind.
Digital Memory Cards
The card or ‘chip’ used in a trail camera makes a difference in many ways. Firstly, you might think buying more cheap cards is better than a few expensive ones. Wrong… high-quality chips usually work better, for several reasons.
How Much Memory Do I Need?
We feel like saying, “The more, the merrier” because high-res photos use more memory. 8 GB is the minimum for starting out. Also, the more space the chip has, the longer the camera can be left working.
Other considerations are whether you take video-clips, since video takes up more than photo. Cards with 16 or 32 GB capacity are called for in this case. It also depends on your camera model: some models have to have newer, faster chips.
You need to make sure that the cards you get actually fit in your camera. If they do, a cheap, generic make of card may just cause low-quality pictures.
Other Card-Use Tips
It sounds strange, but don’t delete pictures from the card when it’s in the computer. Rather, copy the whole lot from the chip just as they are. You can delete what you want once they are on the computer-disk.
Otherwise, if there are only a few good photos, just copy those out.
Then, re-format the card in the camera, when you set it up. This erases all old memory and prevents left-over programming from interfering with the performance.
Where Should Trail Cameras Be Placed?
These points we just covered will help you to get the best from your cameras The last tip concerns mounting cameras and choosing both place and position. If there are trees in the area, it’s easy to choose one that is suitable.
Fix the trail camera to the trunk, and maybe tie with a cable and lock. That is, if theft would be likely on public land.
What about places where either the trees aren’t suitable, or there are none? This is an opportunity for you to come up with a clever solution or two.
Camera Mounts and Poles
There are proprietary trail camera supports that you can screw into wood or bark. With one of these, you can use many kinds of branches, or a wooden post. Fix it first, then put the camera on and set the camera’s position and angle.
Open territory with no trees presents a challenge. However, there is a range of ground camera-mounts that you drive into the soil. Once stuck in, the height can be set anywhere from about 20 to 40 inches.
Some of these have mounting for two trail cameras, so you can monitor different directions. A deer might not trigger one camera as it passes, but will trigger the other. This is but one example.
Anyone who thinks about this advice will be able to get more out of trail cameras. Not only prettier pictures, but more facts and better information.
Put them in the right place, point them in the best direction. Use good quality equipment and accessories. It’s simple but there’s a knack to doing it properly!
Paying attention to small details will pay off sooner than you might realize. Take the time and make the effort. Happy hunting!