Will Burrard-Lucas is a talented wildlife photographer whose work I've been following ever since he announced his BeetleCam, a heavy-duty remote-controlled device that will carry a camera into a pride of lions — and survive long enough to bring back the photos. He has used the device to get up-close photos of a wide variety of animal species, and the images he has created are at turns intimidating and intriguing.
His latest project is a flying remote-control copter capable of carrying everything from a GoPro to a full-sized DLSR camera that will bring the user a bird's-eye view of the world, and yet is quiet enough to get close to wildlife from above. The footage can be spectacular, as this demo video shows:
MNN: When did you come up with the BeetleCopter idea? What was the catalyst for it?
Will Burrard-Lucas: I had wanted to create a remote flying version BeetleCam for three or four years now. I built my first remote copter almost three years ago, but I found it was too unreliable for use in the field. Then I moved to Africa for a year and I put the project on the back burner. When I returned to the U.K. in August, I found technology in the field had progressed a great deal. I saw that these devices could now be made reliable enough for prolonged use in remote settings.
How long did it take to create it?
I have actually built several different copters since August. I am almost always working on a new and improved version! Filming wildlife in remote locations presents some unique challenges (for example the copter has to be as quiet as possible) so I am always evolving the device as I improve various aspects.
What's your view on the importance of remote devices for capturing intimate portraits of wildlife?
Photographing wildlife is a challenge because often it is very hard to get close to your subjects. Remote cameras give us a way to get cameras closer to animals with less disturbance. As a result these cameras are being used more and more by wildlife photographers and filmmakers.
What is one of your most memorable experiences using a remote device to capture images of wildlife?
The early days of BeetleCam in 2009 were very exciting! Very few people were using remote cameras in those days, so it was all quite new. I had no idea how the animals would react to the camera. The first time I used BeetleCam on a lion, it picked it up and ran off with it! That was pretty memorable I suppose! Fortunately I got it back and the resulting photos were everything I had hoped for.
What was it like using the BeetleCopter for the first time capturing footage of wildlife? What reactions did you see from the animals you were filming?
As before, I didn’t really know what to expect or how the animals would react. I started off far away from the animals and gradually got closer as I worked out their comfort zones. Different species reacted differently. Some animals like the hyena and giraffes were very relaxed. Others got spooked by the noise, so I had to keep further away. The copter is much quieter than a full-size helicopter, so even with skittish animals, I was able to get much closer than would otherwise be possible.
How you see high-tech remote cameras affecting the future of wildlife photography and videography?
Most wildlife is photographed or filmed with a telephoto lens from far away. This results in a narrow field of view and shallow depth of field. Getting closer to the subject and using a wide-angle lens gives a completely different result … you are able to connect more with the subject and get a better sense of the animal in its environment.
Can you hint more about what products Camtraptions will be launching later? Anything else in the works?
I am currently developing a range of camera trap products. These are stationary cameras that are automatically triggered when an animal passes in front of them. They can be left for long periods of time and are the only practical method for photographing shy and nocturnal creatures. I have been developing and testing prototypes of these for more than a year.
To find out more about Burrard-Lucas and his Camtraptions, visit his website, which shows off the features of the BeetleCam and the BeetleCopter. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter for photos from the field and updates on his devices.
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