I have to admit that time is my personal enemy when it comes to nature photography. It’s definitely a genre that can’t be hurried. However, as a working professional and father of 4 active kids, time is a significantly limiting factor for me – especially when adding travel time to various sites (I suspect also this is the case for many wildlife enthusiasts). What to do? Well, if you can’t always go to the wildlife, you can try to bring the wildlife to you. Hence the old-faithful backyard bird-feeders that help attract some feathered friends to within the range of our dwelling. Yes, winter bird-feeders do help indeed and IMO are perfectly symbiotic. Birds get fed and we get our pics. I’m not going to get into the ethics of feeding animals here – a subject that would certainly merit a dedicated post. While I am not OK with baiting species at any cost to get a photo, I am morally at ease with winter bird-feeders.
If you’re willing to sit outside in a hide and monitor your feeders… no problem. You can enjoy your warm cup of coffee and enjoy the wilderness of your garden while you await your less-then-willing subjects. However, the real problem where I live is the wariness of the birds. In our region of rural Switzerland, you can’t come within 50 meters of most passerine and raptor species without them taking flight… not to be seen again for hours. Seriously… I’m being conservative when I say 50 meters. Raptors sitting on perches 150 meters from my house immediately take flight as soon as one steps outside or simply opens a window to poke a lens through … always. Woodpeckers and passerine birds are not much better and can make photographing them quite a challenge.
Enter the remote camera – friend of the wildlife observer since their existence. Even better …. remote, mirrorless cameras – silent, discreet, small, low-power … almost perfect.
What I’ve been using lately with my garden BirdCam experiments is a GoPro with a 64 GB micro SD card on continuous interval shooting. This is the setup I’ve been using to get closer to backyard visitors, especially for unsupervised shooting. Basically, I set up the camera to take an image every 2 or 5 seconds, purging/deleting the empty frames in post-processing, while keeping any decent shots which have captured any visits from our feathered friends. As a plus, you can access and control the camera wirelessly with the dedicated GoPro App on a smartphone (even from the comfort of a nearby, indoor, room).
The static image quality of the GoPro and results have been been pretty good – not DSLR-quality “good” – but considering the time savings and the ability to get close to birds, it’s certainly an acceptable solution. As most GoPro users will attest, there is no RAW format available on the cameras and capture is limited to 8-bit JPEG-compressed images. However, by using the “ProTunes” feature on some GoPro models, one can tweak the image engine so that one can capture a relatively “uncooked” jpeg that retains a fairly decent amount of flexibility in post processing. Also – And this is a big one – no shutter or mirror slap noises to scare away subjects after a frame or two.
Judge for yourself – I’ll be adding images from my various birdcams to this page on a regular basis.