July 2018

If you've not read Part 1, it can be found here...

This shot below is another milestone in my garden wildlife photography experience. This spring one of the blue tits that were nesting in the garden fledged early and my other half was able to pick it up and pop it back in the nest, not before we grabbed some quick photographs of it.

The photography adventure

So with it being a given that our garden had such a varied array of wildlife, it made sense to photograph it, properly.

But before I get into the story of this, let me quickly list the kit which I have accumulated in order to make this possible.

- Camtraptions PIR sensor

- Camtraptions wireless triggers

- Camtraptions sensor extension cable

- Camtraptions connecting cables

- Various Joby Gorilla pods

- Scrim netting (to cover camera kit)

- Plastic storage boxes (to protect gear from rain)

- Plastic sealable bags (to protect gear from rain)

Cameras & lenses I've used with this setup (not that it matters what camera you use, but I thought I'd mention it for completeness)

- Canon EOS600D

- Canon EOS70D

- Canon EF S18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens

- Canon EF 50mm f/1.8II lens

You'll note I've gone for older stock kit, mainly down to leaving it out in the garden for hours on end, and the nature of activity around it. I don't want birds pooing and dropping food on my new kit. ;)

Of course when shooting from the house, I'm usually using the Canon 1DX II and the EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens.

One Christmas day I downloaded and read Richard Peters' book, Backgarden Safari, and was inspired.

What followed from this was the purchase of some remote camera kit, that would enable me to experiment with remote photography. I started out with a couple of Camtraptions remote triggers, and modified a plastic crate to house my old Canon EOS600D. I'd put the camera with remote receiver out in the garden, and sit in the dining room overlooking the garden, triggering the camera when a bird came down to the seed I'd placed in front of said camera.

I played around with this setup for a few weeks, and then after growing tired of sitting watching and waiting for activity so I could activate the camera, I took the plunge and brought the Camtraptions PIR sensor.

Over the winter months I played around with various settings and configurations, managing to get some interesting shots and learning all the time.

From small acorns...

As you can see above, the initial set up was very primitive. The camera was placed in a modified plastic box (hole cut in the side so the lens could poke out) with some board to insulate the sound and protect the camera from the cold damp ground.

Ion the first shot, the garden statue was used for focussing - I used to pre-focus the camera and have the lens set to Manual Focus. This limited any noise from the camera as it was activated, while tried to auto focus.

PIR setup

As you can see from the photos above, setting up the original PIR sensor took some work, as it was essentially a circuit board in a small lunch box. 

After adjusting the settings on the board, I needed to build a box around it in order to control the spread on the IR beam.

Essentially I used some spare cardboard to shape around the 'lunch box' and cut a hole in said cardboard where the IR beam came from. I then used a loo roll tube to narrow the beam. The whole build was then covered in camouflage tape and we were good to go.

This was quite easy to do, and I was pleased with the results. 

The last picture in the four above shows the setup on the garden when I came to test it out. The camera was mounted under the tripod in order to get it lower to the ground.

The target was a tray of bird seed.

Of course our first visitor was the garden Robin, and the resulting shot filled me with confidence. Sure I needed to sort out ISO and shutter speed, but this was a start.

Over the winter months I played around with various settings and configurations, managing to get some interesting shots and learning all the time.

As we moved into Spring and following comments from others on the shots I was getting, I started looking at how to control the background to the shots I was getting, after all, having a great composition ruined by a poor background can be a bit annoying.

Eventually the garden was listed by a number of starlings and their young.

I took this opportunity to put the tray of seed in the centre of the garden, and given how brash starlings can be when hungry, I didn't have to worry about having the camera kit too close to the seed. This resulted in some successful shots of young starlings taking the food, but this shot in particular stood out the most.

PIR Upgrade

In amongst all this, Camtraptions upgraded the PIR unit, making it an enclosed case, with the settings easily accessible from the outside of the box. Now one could set the sensitivity, shot frequency, luminosity etc. all from the outside of the unit, rather than take it apart and make these changes to the circuit board directly like on the old unit.

This was now a solid bit of kit.

Rather than buy a new unit, I took the opportunity to have mine upgraded (Camtraptions offered this service - all I had to do was return my original 'lunch box' model, and they would use the circuit board from that to make up the new model. I think it only cost me £50 at the time which was a bargain!), and I think it was one of the best choices I'd made. The unit could now be configured quite quickly, and at least it was properly weatherproof.

Back to it

I tried various set ups around the garden with this configuration, but at this point in time, one of the most successful results came from the camera and sensor not being that far apart.

I set up the seed tray on a old chimney pot, and PIR sensor on an old garden roller. The camera was set up a couple of feet away. The resulting shot of a robin taking seed from the tray proved to me that this 'wireless' set up could work, and would allow me to be more adventurous.

In the photo of this setup, the remote trigger was placed in a sealable plastic bag to prevent it getting wet would we get a shower of rain while the gear was out in the garden. The same was true for the receiver unit on top of the camera. Never underestimate the effectiveness of Ikea sealable food bags!

Kit update

Before going on to much further, it's worth noting that by now my regular kit of choice was:

- Canon EOD600D

- 18-135mm lens

- 50mm lens

- PIR sensor

- Wireless trigger and receiver units

- Various tripods.

- Lots of bird seed!

Camera choice is irrelevant; I chose the 600D because it's an old camera and I'm not too precious about it. Its worth remembering that if you're going to be leaving kit out in the garden all day, it will become messy and be subject to weather changes. Choose something you're not to fussy about if it gets wet/dirty.

As you can see from the photos below (feel free to click on them for a bigger view), once all assembled, this is not a lot of kit, and is small enough to conceal and not be too obtrusive to visiting wildlife. 

Next steps

So now with kit and methods in place, it was time to move forward, but I'll cover this in part 3, still to follow.

In part 3 I'll talk about 'The Rig', long tailed tits and photographing in the snow, and our 'family' of wild rats.

All this in part 3.

Thanks for reading.

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