Camera operation in the field

Camera placement
The placement of the camera trap might be the most important consideration of all, maybe more so than which camera to use. It is fairly easy to affix any camera to a picket on the ground and to monitor a cleared area such as a track, however, we are working with small, inconspicuous, tree dwelling, nocturnal animals and that is a completely different ball game.

For best results monitoring small animals, a camera distance of only 2 to 3 metres with no interruptions of the view is advisable. Unfortunately trees tend to be in the wrong distance, they grow with a leaning that is undesirable for the intended positioning, they are thin and sway in the wind or they have nobs at exactly the height where the camera needs to be affixed. 

To get the angle right between the tree and the camera we either used a wedge or a monopod. The adavantage of the latter is that the head can be adjusted so that the camera points in the desired direction. This however decreases the sturdiness of the positioning and for instance an animal climbing over the camera can easily alter the angle. Heavier cameras are particularly hard to fix in a constant position. As we are dealing with tree dwellers, cameras also need to be fixed relatively high up and equipment such as a ladder is necessary for any intervention.
It usually takes a lot of manipulation if one has to use what is naturally available.

Movement of foliage and swaying of a thin tree can trigger very high numbers of photos without the target animal anywhere near or far.
Branches and foliage obscure the view and will at times make identification of the object in the photo close to impossible.

For 24-hour monitoring cameras should not face the sun. False triggers can be plentiful in the morning when the sun rises and starts to warm sunspots and vegetation. Shade which occurs both during sunlight and moonlight can affect the shutter speed of the camera and slow shutter speed might lead to blurring.

Viewers to perfect the position of the camera trap are mostly inside the camera casing and a lot of ‘test photos’ are needed to check the positioning – and a laptop or appropriately equipped mobile phone to check the contents of the SD card. This can be quite awkward and time consuming.
Only one of the models we use has an external viewer (Bushnell NatureView) and only Reconyx has a so-called walk-test function that helps positioning.
A laser pointer from a stationary store can be used to work out a rough estimation of where the camera trap is pointing, but some trial and error will still be necessary to determine the relationship between the detection zone and where the laser is pointing

Use of tripods 
Posts or tripods will allow more precise, repeatable placements of the camera trap. Shop-bought tripods can be used but as they need to be very sturdy and high, they would be extremely expensive (up to $500 for one expandable to 3m) Unfortunately sturdy gear used in road survey work which would satisfy most of our needs have no fixture to attach a camera.

Reconyx has a threat for a tripod at the back of the camera which makes it necessary to use brackets that can swivel 90 degrees. Brackets available on the market that could be affixed to a piece of wood and then strapped to a tree or tripod are either too flimsy to hold the heavy camera securely in place – the camera might soon take photos of the floor - or they are expensive (approx. $60).

The use of tripods reduces the risk of damage to trees in conservation areas – if you have enough space and an even ground to place them well. Kangaroos or wandering cows (!) can however easily send them flying.

Label 1
tripod own design
Label 2
tripod E


Camera fastenings
Most cameras come with belts or straps to affix the camera to a stake, pole, tripod, tree or whatever is chosen.
Bushnell cameras have fabric belts – some with, some without clips – but all are awkward to use. If the trunk is large it is hard to tighten the belt enough or to fasten the clip – particularly by a person standing on a high ladder on uneven ground. If the tree or tripod is thin, the camera tends to slip.
With time and moisture, belts loosen and after some time in the bush they are rotten and break. Softer straps or belts allow too much movement when changing SD cards and the angle of the camera might inadvertently be changed. Small changes of the positon can lead to fairly different fields of view. 
In strong winds long straps can also be blown in front of the camera and trigger lots of photos with only the strap on them.

Elastic straps (shop bought) give a tighter fit and can be used for instance for Lt Acorn cameras as there are holes to hook them in. They are however often too tight and hard to fit to the camera and not practical for use with Bushnell or Reconyx.

Reconyx comes with a bungee cord which is not tight at all. If you unhook the cord by accident the heavy (and expensive) camera falls.

Some people suggest wiring the camera to the tree which would certainly give a fairly tight fit, but the tree could be damaged and every wire-loop in the habitat of a ringtail is a risk factor for injuries (e.g. caught tails, ripped off claws). 

The always practical cable ties are less aggressive but also only a clumsy solution as several are often needed to fit around a large tree which takes away a lot of the smoothness of the material and again adds a risk factor for the animals. They also are too soft for exact positioning and often need to be cut off when changing camera settings high up in the tree.

Theft deterrents
Security enclosures are available for most brands of cameras but if a heavy steal security enclosure has to be ordered from the US, postage might be more expensive than the enclosure itself. Fitting the enclosure to a tree is just as awkward as fitting a camera. 
Cables and locks custom-made for most cameras are available but add significantly to the costs while a cheap chain and lock (thin bicycle chain, luggage chain) probably have the same deterrent effect when it comes to ‘thieves of opportunity’. If someone is committed to stealing the camera, they will and if they really cannot, they might destroy the equipment. A large professional research project is however far more likely to attract professional thieves than a few cheaper models.
If tripods or pickets are used, locking the camera to them is completely inefficient as thieves would just steal the whole fixture.

camera problems