JK: What can you tell us about “camera trapping”?
BDT: For years, I’ve been using camera trapping to photograph hard-to-locate animals. I place a DSLR camera in a protective box in a location where my subject might be traveling, then use a motion detector to trigger the camera when the animal gets in the focus area. Where possible, I also use flashes to make an exposure if the subject visits at night. It’s not very difficult, but it’s time-consuming and requires a little luck — or maybe a lot of luck.
JK: What are the challenges of photographing Mexican wolves, as you did for this month’s story?
BDT: Because I was working with an endangered species, there were, understandably, a lot of restrictions. The primary one was to avoid disturbing the wolves, which meant not using flashes. Because wolves are almost completely nocturnal, getting a daylight image was a real crapshoot. Another hurdle was getting a good exposure in varying lighting conditions.
JK: How did this photo come together?
BDT: While my cameras were set up, I managed to get images on two occasions. Once, a wolf came in at daybreak, but it was a little too far out and I would have had to crop it too much. Then, I got a series of photos of what appeared to be a wolf following a black bear at about 8 a.m. The lighting wasn’t particularly good, but this image does tell a story. The wolf was in close proximity to a large bear, but the bear wasn’t chasing it. Bears do sometimes steal food from wolves, and wolves, especially lone ones, are reluctant to tussle with bears. So, what was this wolf doing?
JK: From a photographic standpoint, what’s the lesson here?
BDT: Given that I couldn’t make nighttime images and that the chances of photographing a wolf in daylight were slim, I could have just said, “To heck with this” and not set my cameras. But I wanted to do my best to make images that would show the full nature of the wolf reintroduction effort.
JK: Are you still trying to make photos of wolves via camera trapping?
BDT: No, I finally had to remove my cameras — because Arizona Highways needed my images, but also because the darn bears kept doing their best to destroy my setups. Bears are very curious by nature, and they seem to really like messing up my gear.
Do you have a question about photography? Email it to [email protected], and our photo editor, Jeff Kida, will try to answer it in a future issue.