Updated: Jun 11, 2020
I have always been captivated by backlit photos. The sun or artificial light outlining an animal’s fur is beautiful to me. It’s so simple yet only tells part of the story and leaves just enough missing for your imagination to run wild. Over the years, I’ve seen various photographers capture stunning backlit and rim lit shots using remote camera setups. What better time to try than during quarantine.
I’ll admit, my original plan for this photo was for a fox, not a raccoon. I’m still trying for that fox photo but the local raccoons have been a lot of fun and far more cooperative. The image I had in my head was a raccoon walking through the grass with only the outline of its fur and tips of the grass illuminated. I knew I had to place my flashes either directly behind the raccoon and hope that its body hid the flash. Alternatively, I could place two of them on either side and out of the cameras view or I could find a ledge for the raccoon to walk on and place a flash directly below and out of sight. Ultimately, through some trial and error, I decided placing two flashes on either side facing the camera would be the best method.
The next step entailed scouting for the perfect location. Similar to all my camera trapping setups, I spent way more time than I originally thought finding “the spot”. I eventually found a flat area along a tennis court where I could place the camera. The ground in front was slightly sloping so it did a good job of concealing the flashes placed out of camera view. However, the main issue was getting the tips of grass to illuminate how I imagined them. I decided the best way to achieve this was to dig out a two-foot-long by three-inch section of grass and place it two feet in front of the camera. It seems like suburban raccoons are always getting into trouble, so I knew I could lure them anywhere I had the camera. The raccoons would hopefully walk behind the grass with the flashes illuminating the outline of their fur. After testing out the idea with a stuffed animal I knew it was game time.
For the next two weeks, just as the sun would set, I’d take a strip of deli turkey and rub the scent all over the grass. I knew the scent alone would attract the raccoons and hopefully have them linger at the site long enough for a good photo. The first week was mostly trial and error. I didn’t have any issues with the raccoons visiting the setup but getting them to be in the right position proved to be difficult. Some nights they would knock the camera over and other nights I’d have a million photos of them in the wrong position. Finally, after two weeks of trying I had a raccoon pose exactly the way I wanted. It was one of the younger ones who I guessed was about a year old. It stayed at the setup for a few minutes, giving me a handful of photos I was really happy with. Hope you enjoy them!
Camera trapping can be addictive, frustrating, exciting, and depressing all at the same time. My biggest tip of advice would be to practice at home under a variety of situations and setups. See what the photos look like during the day and then again at night without changing settings. Practice putting your flashes in various locations and at various intensities. The fun part about it is there are an endless amount of possibilities. You are creating the photo that you have in your head. You need to know your gear though. You won’t be there to make any last-minute adjustments. Once you walk away you better be comfortable with the setup. I’ve spent hours in dark basements testing out what photos look like each time I change a specific setting.
Respect the wildlife. No matter how well your setup is concealed, the animals will always know it’s there. Their sense of smell is hard for us to comprehend. Don’t block the only route to food or safety they have.
Make sure all batteries are charged.
Put your camera on its “silent” setting. The shutter click often spooks wildlife.
Make sure everything is waterproofed. Just because the weatherman says there's no rain in the forecast doesn’t mean a freak downpour won’t happen. Walking up to your expensive gear that just got ruined in the rain is not a good feeling.
Don’t get disheartened. Keep trying until you get the result you’ve been looking for. It will likely take a long time.
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T5i
Lens: Canon 18-55 f/3.5-5.6
Remote Trigger: Camtraptions
Flashes: Nikon SB28 (2)
Tripod & Grips: Various grips from Amazon
Waterproof Housing: Modified Pelican Case