Camera traps are a great resource to record nature in a non-invasive way. It doesn’t matter if you use them for fun or for research, these automatic cameras can help us learn about certain behaviours that we would not be able to witness otherwise. A year ago I used camera traps for my masters project. It took me a while to set up all my cameras (I had over 20!), and start recording useful data, so here is a list of basic camera trapping tips to remember while setting up your cameras:
Most cameras have two different modes: time lapse or sensor (they can be equipped with an infrared or motion sensor, or use a light beam as a trigger). The time-lapse mode takes pictures or videos every certain amount of time, the motion sensor is activated whenever an animal passes in front of the camera. When recording wildlife it is handier to use this last mode, in order to avoid getting hundreds of pictures everyday. However, there are some downsides to the motion sensor cameras too. If the camera is too sensitive to movement it would be easily activated. This means that the movement of branches and grass in front of the camera could activate a photo. This causes your camera to be constantly working, which will use up all the your batteries and the space on your memory card. In order to avoid all this, check the sensitivity on your camera, and make sure you set it up at a branch free environment. Also check that batteries are full and your memory card is empty.
However, the opposite could happen. Your camera might not be sensitive enough to capture certain animals. This happened to me while I was working with freshwater turtles. We wanted to record the turtles when they get out of the river to nest, but our camera was not able to sense the turtles (of course, the quality of the camera plays a big role). We were forced to change to time-lapse mode. We had the cameras taking pictures every 30 seconds during the whole day; can you imagine how many pictures we got?
One more thing to take into consideration is the location of your camera. You will have no problem if you are setting it in your back yard, however if you want to set it up on a public place, keep in mind that stolen cameras could be a possibility. One trick is to put up a sign over the cameras so people do not feel uncomfortable if they find a hidden camera on their way.
But not only humans can mess up your cameras, some animals LOVE playing with them. They will scratch on them, smell them and they could even break the cameras. My advice: make sure they are tightly and firmly set up and remember to check them as often as possible.
One last note: be aware of the flash and other lights that might disturb animals and influence their behaviour.
There are more things to take in account setting up a camera trap study, but I think these are good basics points to start with. Always take a few trial shoots to check your framing. Turn it on and hope for something interesting to pass by!