Small Cameras, Big Stories


Exciting developments in camera technology have leveled out the playing field between professional and amateur wildlife filmmakers. How do photographers and filmmakers “animal-proof” a camera, and how can your footage stand out from the crowd? (BBC)

Check this collection to learn about animal-proofing a camera, and how some young engineers and filmmakers rose to the challenge!

Discussion Ideas


  • What are some difficulties you might encounter in attempting to “animal-proof” a camera? Cue to about 5:27 in the video below to see how one student approached these difficulties—to produce a camera that was not just animal-proof, but sibling-proof!
  • Some difficulties in animal-proofing a camera might be:
    • accounting for the size of the animal you’re filming—as enormous as an elephant or as tiny as a termite.
    • accounting for the behavior of the animal you’re filming—the curiosity of a chimpanzee or the aggression of an alligator.
    • accounting for an animal’s harsh environment—the freezing temperature of a penguin’s Antarctic home, or the crushing pressure of deep-sea ocean vents, where animals like tube worms live.
    • for animal-cam technology such as Crittercam, engineers must also account for placement on the animal’s body (so the camera doesn’t disrupt the animal’s behavior), the adhesive used (so it doesn’t irritate the animal’s skin and will safely detach), and how engineers will retrieve the camera once it has detached from the animal. Read about the challenges faced by Crittercam engineers here!


  •  The BBC filmmakers “disguised” cameras to film animals—as rocks to film tigers and ice floes to film polar bears. They also used “spy creatures”—cameras disguised as other animals—to film groups of animals such as dolphins and penguins. How would you disguise a camera to film inquisitive animals such as sea otters? crows? meerkats? sharks?


  • John Downer, the BBC filmmaker, says that we are experiencing a “leveling out” in wildlife filmmaking. What does he mean by this?
    • High-quality cameras are no longer limited to well-funded professionals. Technology is widely available to both professionals and passionate amateurs. “It’s all about the vision,” Downer says, not the technology. He encourages filmmakers and photographers to focus on research and storytelling, not the latest camera equipment.
    • Dereck Joubert, one of National Geographic’s most successful wildlife filmmakers, agrees with Downer. “Technology changes! It’s so much more important to understand the natural world,” he says. Dereck encourages students to study diverse topics in biology—Earth science, zoology, ecology—instead of focusing on the latest camera or filmmaking technology. Read more about the Jouberts here! 

Thanks to Nick, one of our favorite economists, for the heads-up on this current-event connection!

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