Animals don't always behave naturally when humans are around. Some run away, some capitalize on our presence and some just try to eat us. Photographers and filmmakers have long worked around this problem with patience, camouflage and telephoto lenses, but they increasingly have a much better option: small, high-definition spy cameras, some of which are uncannily disguised as real animals.
A new mini-documentary by Getty Images offers a fascinating look at this shift. BBC filmmaker John Downer explains how tiny HD cameras are opening new doors in wildlife photography — and how his team is opening them even wider with modified spy cams that can infiltrate nature like never before.
"All the time new cameras are coming onto the market, and they're getting smaller and they're getting easier to adapt and use and glue into devices," Downer says. "So now, with the recent spy creatures, we can actually have cameras in their eyes."
Downer's work was widely hailed in the recent "Earthflight" series, which used a variety of inventive techniques like filming bird flocks from gliders and drones, attaching lightweight cameras onto the backs of trained birds and even deploying a robotic spy named "Vulturecam."
The Hollywood-grade "spy creatures" have only grown from there, yielding a menagerie of high-quality wildlife snoops ranging from rocks that spy on tigers and polar bears to a realistic-looking, camera-eyed sea turtle (pictured), tuna and even a penguin. These let filmmakers capture unprecedented glimpses of wild animals with their guard down.
Even if we can't all have our own turtle spies, Downer points out that advances in camera technology extend far beyond the BBC. GoPros, camera phones and other innovations are enabling a new era of crowd-sourced wildlife photography, he says, which in turn raises the bar for people like him.
"There is this leveling out of the playing field between the professionals and the amateurs, where it's now about the vision — there is so much technology of high quality that is available," Downer says. "And I think that's an exciting development in the whole area. Things we could only dream of, or were hugely expensive to make, are now in the hands of the consumer."
Related wildlife photography stories on MNN:
- Marmot photobombs time-lapse video, licks camera
- Zoologist with a GoPro gets cuddled by lions
- Falcon steals camera, films video of penguin colony