I first developed a passion for wildlife as a young child when my father’s job took our family to Tanzania for 3 years. My earliest memories are of being on safari. Fast-forward 15 years and I bought my first digital camera while at university. I initially got it just to document the trips I took during my long university holidays but I soon found I was hooked on photography. Fast-forward another 8 years or so and I was ready to take the leap to become a full-time wildlife photographer.
In order to get noticed in the competitive field of wildlife photography, I found I had to take images that would capture peoples’ attention
In order to get noticed in the competitive field of wildlife photography, I found I had to take images that would capture peoples’ attention – high impact images that were fresh and original. To this end I had been looking for ways to achieve a fresh perspective in my photography. What I really wanted was to get a unique close-up wide-angle perspective of potentially dangerous animals in Africa. I decided that the best way to achieve this would be to build a remote-control camera buggy.
Having studied physics at university, I was able to easily teach myself the electronics that was needed to build such a device from scratch. After a couple of months of development the device was ready, I called it “BeetleCam”.
In August 2009 I took BeetleCam to Tanzania for the first time. It was quite a risk I was taking – I had no idea if the buggy would be destroyed by the animals as soon as they noticed it or if they would avoid it and render the whole venture a waste of time and money. However, in order to capture something different, these are the sorts of risks that need to be taken.
It turned out to be a trip of mixed fortunes; I got the images I had been hoping for of lions, elephants and buffaloes but I had a camera destroyed in an encounter with a lioness. However, the photos were a huge hit and were published far and wide.
I knew there was still a lot more I could do with BeetleCam so I went on to develop a tougher version which I used to photograph more lions as well as elusive creatures such as leopards and African wild dogs. I now also sell BeetleCams to other photographers around the world through my company Camtraptions.
From Stills To Film
Although BeetleCam was primarily about capturing still images, video has always played a very important role in telling the story of the project. I tried to film behind the scenes footage whenever possible and the latest BeetleCam model can record stills and video at the same time. I often edit the video footage into short teaser video, which can easily be watched and shared online. You can see some examples on my YouTube channel.
Last year I embarked on a new chapter of the BeetleCam project with an aerial version dubbed “BeetleCopter”. I had watched with interest as remote-control copter technology rapidly progressed and I was keen to experiment with a drone in Africa. Right away I realized that most remote-control copters were far to noisy to be used to film wildlife without disturbing them so I started designing my own drones that were as quiet as possible. This has been an ongoing project, which I have been making good progress with.
In November 2013 I took my BeetleCopter to Tanzania. Once again I was heading into the unknown as I had no idea how practical it would be to use one of these things in the wilds of Africa.
The results from these early trials completely exceeded my expectations. A relatively small remote-control copter can fly much closer to animals without causing the disturbance of a full-size helicopter. This makes it possible to use a wide-angle lens which gives a much more immersive type of footage than typical aerial video shot from further away. The result is that it almost feels as if you are floating over the African savannah.
For the Eden Shorts film contest, your video is limited to just 1 minute in length. That is very short so you will need to plan your short film carefully. Try to work out the key message or point that you want to convey. Start with an introduction that establishes the context of the video. If you can tell a story through your film then that will help keep the viewer interested.
A good film should capture peoples’ attention. To do this you need to try and show something different, unusual or surprising. Maybe you can film a commonly viewed object from a new perspective or perhaps you can show something that people are unlikely to have seen before. The main thing here is to be imaginative – try to think outside the box!
The main thing here is to be imaginative – try to think outside the box!
High-quality footage will help your film make an impact. Shoot in good light if you can. Use a tripod to stabilize your camera. If you have a newish DSLR then you should be able to shoot excellent footage with that. Even smaller cameras such as GoPros can achieve fantastic results. Don’t forget that sound is also important so try to keep the quality of your audio as high as possible (using an external microphone rather than the inbuilt one on your camera often makes a big difference here).
Once you have shot your video footage then you need to edit it. Your computer probably comes with some basic video-editing software such as iMovie on a Mac or Windows Video Maker. Splice clips together in the software in order to tell your story. Adding a musical overlay - tracks are available to download from Eden Shorts - often helps convey a mood or emotion.
I hope you find these brief tips useful. I look forward to browsing through your entries. Good luck and remember to think outside the box!