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How to Program a Trail Camera: 12 Factors for Great Wildlife Photos

Wildlife Photography

While the choice of trail camera matters, it’s all for nothing if you don’t actually record great footage. Here’s how to program a trail camera – including in-camera settings, mounting tips, and common mistakes.

When installing and setting up a trail camera the most important things to keep in mind are what sensitivity settings best fit the environment, how to best position the camera, the frequency of photo bursts, and being mindful of settings and features that disrupt the environment.

how to program a trail camera

Trail cameras (also known as camera traps or remote cameras) are set up to capture photos and videos of local wildlife. This type of camera can be mounted and left to record and take photographs without a person there to manually operate it.

When trying to capture wildlife photos with a trail camera, it is important to know the proper set up needed for the specific environment you are working in.

In this article we will discuss the different settings, proper placement, common mistakes, and the use of flash. 

4 In-Camera Settings for Trail Cameras

Unlike traditional DSLR cameras, trail cameras have relatively fewer and simpler settings to work with. Nonetheless, many of these cameras will have a number of features and settings to choose between and choosing the correct ones for the given environment is crucial for achieving well-produced pictures.

Trail cameras operate automatically according to the settings given by the person setting up the camera. Once these settings have been decided upon, the camera can be left in its position or mount and will take photographs on its own according to these settings.

According to Buck Score, the important settings that a person needs to adjust according to their needs are the camera mode, burst number, interval, and sensitivity. Programming the trail camera correctly can be the difference between high quality wildlife photography and missed or blurred opportunities. 

1. Camera Mode

Camera mode is essentially the choice of how the user wants the camera to take pictures. Common modes include burst photos, video, single-photo, and time-lapse.

Which mode a user selects depends on their goals. Some people choose to bait, meaning they place food near the camera to bring in animals. In this case, single-photo may work best.

Burst photos will capture several back to back photographs, making this mode better for non-baited photography. 

2. Burst Number

Burst number is the amount of photos taken back to back during a burst. This will allow for several shots of the same animal(s), giving ample opportunity for a good quality photograph.

If the trail camera is set up in an area that animals frequently run through, having a high burst number can be beneficial. However, keep in mind, the more photos in each burst the more memory that will be used.

The specific options you can chose will depend on your actual trail camera model. Here are some of our favorite trail cameras

3. Interval

Interval is the time between each single photograph or burst. Choosing a good interval is important, as it can help to preserve the battery for longer and keep the camera from ending up with hundreds of shots of the same exact animal.

Likewise, if the user does want a lot of shots of one particular animal, a small interval time can be set. 

4. Sensitivity

Sensitivity is the camera’s reactivity to motion, and heat detection if the camera is infrared. Higher sensitivity settings will react to even small movements, causing the camera to take a photograph.

You should do test runs with a trail camera to determine what sensitivity works best in the chosen environment. 

program trail camera

Camera Set-Up and Placement: 4 Factors

When positioning and installing a trail camera there are several factors to keep in mind including mounting, height of the camera, focus range, and the amount of sunlight in the frame.

1. Trail Camera Mounting

It is important to choose a location where the camera can be securely mounted without risk of it being knocked over or falling off. Many people choose to mount their cameras to trees.

In this instance, it is important to take test shots from the mount’s position. This is to ensure the angle of the tree or other various mounts does not cause the camera to face the ground or face too far upwards.

Make sure to mount the trail camera as level as possible. 

how to program trail cameras

2. Camera Height

When choosing the height to place the camera at, the user should consider which animals they are trying to capture.

The camera should be place at around eye level of the desired animal so as to capture the entire head and face, as well as the majority or all of the body. Thus, for taller animals like deer, the camera should be higher. 

3. Focus Range

It is also critical important to keep the camera’s focus in mind.

Most trail cameras will come with a fixed focus and aperture. This often means that changing the camera’s range of focus will need to be done manually either by adjusting the camera beforehand or positioning it so that wildlife will be within its range of focus.

According to an article published on Springer Link:

“In order to shift the depth of field to closer distances in a fixed-focus lens, one needs to increase the distance between lens and sensor and thereby the focal length.”

4. Lighting / Sunlight

Sunlight is the next important consideration to keep in mind. It is better to place a trail camera in a more shaded area out of direct sunlight.

This is because if it is directly facing the sun the photos will have a glare, and if the sun is directly behind the camera may be falsely triggered to take photographs due to moving light and shadows thanks to the sun moving throughout the day. 

Setup a Full Camera Survey of an Area

Here’s a good breakdown of how to setup your camera and camera placement.

 

4 Common Mistakes to Avoid

The most common mistakes that occur with trail cameras include not accounting for weather conditions, not using a big enough memory card, not considering the effects of smell, and hiding your trail camera too well.

Each of these mistakes will affect the image quality and success of the camera.

1. Weather

As far as weather is concerned, trail cameras are designed to be durable and water-proof. However, trail cameras set up in very cold conditions are likely to experience much faster battery drainage.

If this is not accounted for during set-up, the user could end up with a dead camera rather than good wildlife photos.

Snow drifts and rising river banks can also affect image quality. It could even bury/submerge your camera if you don’t take these factors into account.

2. Memory Card Size

Likewise, memory cards should be big enough to handle several photo bursts throughout many hours.

Too small of a memory card will result in the camera filling the memory too quickly thanks to bursts.

I recommend buying the largest memory card that your trail card can handle. Otherwise, you might be disappointed. 

3. Smell

Additionally, users should keep in mind that animals have keen senses of smell, and the camera will hold the person’s smell if it is not cleaned after being set up.

The camera should be handled in scent-proof gloves and wiped down once set up so as not to alert or alarm the wildlife. 

4. Hiding Your Trail Camera Too Well

While it’s important to hide your camera (to prevent theft and get the best shots), it’s possible to hide it too well.

  • Affect footage: Using too much foliage or cover might actually prevent you from getting a good shot. 
  • Difficulty finding camera: And if you don’t take a GPS point, it’s also possible that you could hide it from yourself and might have a difficult time finding it again. 
trail camera placement

A Flash Shows Off Who Is On the Trails at Night

The use of flash will come into play the most at night. Most trail cameras nowadays are designed for both day and nighttime photography. They will also often have the choice between regular flash and infrared flash.

Infrared flash is good for not alerting the wildlife to the camera and consequently scaring them off. However infrared flash will result in black and white photographs.

This means that the user may get many nighttime pictures thanks to the infrared capabilities, but these photos will be black and white.

Of course, this is often preferable as normal flash may end up just scaring the wildlife off and result in blurry photos.

No Glow vs Low Glow vs Red Glow: Compared

Here’s how each of these flash types compare.

 

trail camera settings

How Will You Program Your Trail Camera?

The best thing to do when setting up a trail camera is to take several test shots to determine if the positioning, settings, flash, and other features will take photographs at the level of quality the user desires.

Always keep in mind that the camera should be discrete and scent-less so as not to alert or scare of the animals.

Have a question about programing your trail camera? Or maybe a tips to share? Join me below!

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Hi, I'm the Author!

Bryan Haines is co-editor of ClickLikeThis: GoPro tutorial blog. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of GringosAbroad (Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with ClickLikeThis.

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