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  • Writer's pictureXochitl Clare

Camera Traps Show the World Wildlife Up-Close

The Science & Art of Intimacy in Enviro-Documentary


Ever wonder how BBC, PBS, National Geography big-box environmental documentaries capture wildlife up close? Camera Traps! The Art & Science of Camera Trapping supports both long-term research and the cinematic nature moments we live for.

Article by Xochitl Clare | Photo by by Sue Palminteri, Mongabay News
“What is a camera trap?”: A digital camera connected to an sensor which can “see” warm objects or is motion triggered to capture things that are moving, like animals.

The Science: Camera trapping is an effective non-invasive method for collecting data on wildlife species to address ecological questions on migration, climate change, and human use of remote areas. Without the power restrictions, these cameras can produce video round the clock, recording large amounts of data & photos of animal behavior at a low-cost (Learn more about how National Parks utilize camera trap data here ).

Photos by by Mongabay News, Ryan Valdez/NPCA


The Art: Setting up a camera trap is more difficult than one might think. You might just set one off yourself in the process! After hours of hiking and backpacking into a remote location, you might return to your cameras months later to find that your camera was set off by another animal (or human) you weren't intending to capture.


This viral Tweet by wildlife photographer Jeff Wirth has made the hall of fame of #CameraTrap gold!


Scientists, photographers & filmmakers work together to plan the optimal locations for cameras to be set ensuring they capture wildlife in their best and most informative angles. Camera trappers can be seen acting out mountain lion walking paths on all fours before setting camera traps to ensure cameras are set properly for potential lighting, background, close-ups, & wide- shots of their wildlife stars.


The Impact: “People protect what they love…the first step in loving something is to be made aware of it.” This is exactly what intimate shots collected via the art & science of camera trapping does. If you were someone like me who did not have access to wild spaces growing up, ‘hidden camera’ moments in wild settings in enviro-films were my gateway to unlocking my passion for conservation


Learn more about photography & film as a tool for conservation here !


Researchers setting Camera Traps in Udzungwa National Park ( © BENJAMIN DRUMMOND)

As a Science Communicator who spends most of her time as on-screen talent in front of the camera--It was amazing learning more about the behind-the-scenes aspects of capturing these special moments.


Check out this Instagram Reel featuring this Sci-Stories experience here!




Special thanks to Joey Szalkiewicz for hosting a workshop on Camera Traps for the UCSB Coastal Media Film Program (2022) and sharing his work with our students.

Since childhood—Joey Szalkiewicz has had a passion for adventure and wildlife filmmaking. To date, Joey has climbed four of the "Seven Summits" (Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Aconcagua, and Denali) and has worked in some of the world's most inhospitable environments. Now, Joey works in wildlife film having captured Mountain Lions in Arizona, Great White Sharks at Guadalupe Island in Mexico, and Orcas in Skjervøy, Norway managing Filament Media, an outdoor production company.

Follow Joey Szalkiewicz:


JOEY SZALKIEWICZ, Director of the documentary short film SONDER, talked with Malachi & Makayla, SBIFF (March 2, 2022):


About the author: Xochitl Clare will be receiving her Ph.D. in Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara (23'). Her current research covers eco-physiology and global change biology. Xochitl is also passionate about multi-media science communication.


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