Updated: Jun 11, 2020
I thought it would be fun to share a little background on how I “Got the Shot” for certain photos. Most of them involve a creative element or extra effort. Almost all were taken with my remote DSLR camera trap setup as I often spend weeks to months trying to capture an idea in my head. First up is a project that I called Operation Fox Hole.
Quarantining on the outskirts of suburban Maryland, I spent over a month searching for fox dens. There was an endless amount of suitable habitat so I knew there had to be a couple nearby. Fast forward 30 days and a few hundreds of miles of scouting on my road bike, and I had found a few dens. I was able to confirm they were all in use and received permission to visit the dens which were on private land. I thought I had figured out the hard part, but there was one big issue. Nearly all of the dens were surrounded by thick vegetation and overall offered a very limited window of a well composed photo. I spent countless hours in my camouflaged hide waiting for the kits to walk through that window. However, it never happened and I had strong doubts it ever would. If I couldn’t capture a well composed shot, I figured I’d bring the composition to them.
Ultimately, I decided to make my own fox hole. The goal was to hopefully capture a photo of a fox peering into that hole. But how on earth do I make my own hole? Luckily, I have my Dad to thank for that one. He once made the mistake of buying a dirt-cheap package of clumping cat litter. Once liquid hit the litter it became almost like glue. It was super sticky, felt like clay, and my cat tracked it everywhere around the house. Not a pretty sight but the substance was perfect for creating a hole. After scouring Amazon, I ended up buying a small package of an odorless brand. Odorless was the key as foxes have a very acute sense of smell and likely wouldn’t explore a Febreze scented hole. It was also extremely important that I minimize disturbing the foxes as best as possible. After the cat litter, I proceeded to cut off the back end of a five-gallon bucket. I then lined the bucket with the saturated litter and clumped dirt to the sticky substance. The end result is a pretty good replication of a hole.
Over the next few weeks I slowly started to add the setup to a spot I often saw the foxes playing. It was a dirt mound not far from the den entrance. I choose the specific den because I figured these particular foxes would be least disturbed by my setup. The den was only 20 feet off the sidewalk, near a busy road. There was pretty heavy foot traffic and at night headlights would shine into the den from passing cars. After a week, they didn’t seem to mind my camera there as it captured quite a few shots of them playing and sleeping, so I brought in the hole.
With Operation Fox Hole in place all I had to do was sit back and let my remote camera trigger do the work for me. I decided to wait a few days before checking the setup as I wanted to foxes to get comfortable with the hole. Comfortable they were – When I went to check the results, I found the hole 10 feet away from where I had placed it. There were kit footprints going through the hole and all over the bucket. They had found a new play toy. Unfortunately, not a single photo was salvageable as they knocked the hole off track on day one. I quickly got the setup back together, this time making sure to secure the hole in place with a couple sticks. A few days later I came back to check the results and was met with success! One of the kits had visited the hole numerous times a day. The remote camera trap was able to capture a few photos I was really happy with. Always a good feeling when a plan comes together. Enjoy!
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