Never stop because you are afraid - you are never so likely to be wrong.
Photography and Videography
Copyright © 2010-2013 Keith McLain. All rights reserved.
Capturing an image of sasquatch, whether it is a still photo or video footage, is one of the most common goals in sasquatch research. Unfortunately, with the exception of capturing one, it is also the most difficult. Being reclusive, primarily nocturnal, extremely intelligent, and very sensitive to itís environment (my speculations) make the sasquatch very difficult to see and extremely difficult to get a picture of. Given that the odds are against you, it is still well worth the effort. Before embarking on a photo safari, I should give you two words of caution: Controversy and Money. Any photo or film you produce, no matter how clear and detailed, WILL be controversial. Cases in point are the Patterson/Gimlin film of 1967 and the Jacobís Creature pictures of 2008. People will argue about those until the end of time. If you present evidence, be prepared to be scrutinized, marginalized, and ridiculed. Itís the nature of skeptics and competing investigators. It is also in their (anybodyís) nature to want money. Donít expect to make much money from your evidence; itís not going to make you a millionaire. Do expect some people to try to make money off of you and your findings. Now that these warnings are out of the way, I would like to give you an overview of some of the equipment you may choose to use and how to get the best use out of the equipment.
The still camera is going to be the most accessible image capturing device that you the researcher will have available. It is much smaller, less expensive and more portable than the typical video camera. Additionally, batteries tend to last longer so you donít have to be constantly turning it off and on.
This world is evolving into a digital world, with cameras leading the way. It is likely you will choose a digital camera over a 35mm film camera. The benefits of digital over 35mm film are numerous: number of pictures that can be taken, ease of sharing images with your peers, the immediacy of knowing whether you took a good picture or not, the ability for large zoom-ins, and the increased likelihood that a picture will be in focus. The detriments of digital over 35mm film are few but important: the ability to photo shop, noisiness when turning it on, and a longer lag time between turning it on and being ready to take a picture. Photo shopping needs to be expanded on, because at first glance it appears to be a benefit. The problem lies with how other people perceive your photo. Since it has the ability to be photo shopped, many will assume it was. To minimize that issue, it is good to have a film camera back up to your digital camera. Whether you carry it as a back up or another member of the team has it, your team really should have at least one 35mm camera.
With the variety of digital cameras as wide as it is, it is easy to get lost in trying to decide on one to purchase. Keep these features in mind when choosing a digital camera:
Optical zoom vs. digital zoom: As you zoom the camera in on a subject, you start off with optical zoom, which is manipulation of the lens. At some point, usually somewhere between 2X and 12X, the optical zoom maxes out and the digital zoom takes over. Once you reach this point, the quality of the photograph degrades. Choose a digital camera with the highest optical zoom you can. Digital SLR cameras will have changeable lenses (like their 35mm counterparts) and lenses up to 2000mm zoom (almost 40x) are available. Of course, these can be very expensive.
Viewer vs. viewfinder: Most digital SLR cameras have both, so this probably wonít be a huge issue if you have one of those. However, the point-and-shoot digital cameras are moving away from having viewfinders and usually only have viewers now. The viewer is the LCD screen in the back of the camera you can look at and the viewfinder is the window you can look through. Although it looks like just having a viewer is fine, there will be situations that call for the view finder. An example would be a moving subject: with the viewfinder you can keep your focus on the subject and bring the camera to your eye to take a picture, but with the viewer you have to take your focus off the subject to look at your camera. Also, viewers are more difficult in bright light than view finders. Some digital cameras have articulating viewers. This is a great feature as it allows the camera to be held at a multitude of angles while still seeing the viewer - almost like using your camera as a periscope. Some digital cameras that do not have articulating viewers do have modes that help you view it from a sharper angle than normal.
Film Speed : Most digital cameras - both point-and-shoot and SLR - have variable film speeds. The most common are 200, 400, 800, and 1600 ISO. Some cameras will even have 3200 and 6400 ISO. The higher speeds do help you pick up images in lower light, but also increase the graininess of the picture.
F-Stop: This is discussed in more detail in the 35mm section, but does bear mentioning here. Point-and-shoots will have an f-stop range printed on the lens. When comparing a couple cameras, the one with the wider range will be more useful in a wider range of conditions. In the digital SLRs, the range will be printed on each lens. Zoom lenses will have higher f-stop numbers than wide angle lenses. The lower the f-stop number, the better the lens will perform in low light conditions.
Multiple Film Modes: Manufacturers of point-and-shoot digital cameras really do try to make them easy to use for the operator. Most have multiple modes that are adapted to specific scenery...automatic, landscape, portrait, beach, night landscape, night portrait, sports...the list goes on. Experiment with these modes in different light so you can have an idea of what to expect. Priority modes are great to have, although they are not common in the point-and-shoots. Priority mode lets you specify the shutter speed and film speed (and F-stop in digital SLRs). Priority mode may be listed as manual mode in some cameras.
Pixilation: Pretty straight forward; the higher the pixels, the clearer the image. Try to purchase as many pixels as you can afford. At some point the pixilation exceeds what the naked eye can detect - I think itís 10-12 megapixels. Donít feel limited to that - as having more pixels degrades the image at a slower rate when you zoom in on the subject.
Memory: Most digital cameras will have a removable memory chip. Get as many gigabytes as you can. Also, get an extra chip and have it accessible once your first chip approaches full. A 2 gigabyte chip can store hundreds of pictures
Flashes: Although there will be many times you will want to use a flash, make sure it can be disabled, either directly or by changing modes. There will be situations where using a flash is not wanted. Having an external flash, whose orientation can be moved away from the line of sight, can be very helpful.
35 mm Film Cameras
You may decide that spending extra money on a digital camera is unnecessary and that you can use your 35mm SLR camera that youíve had for years. Thatís fine (I carry a Nikon N65 often). Letís go over a few features and options to make sure you are getting the most you can out of it. Much of this will also apply to high-end digital SLR cameras:
Film Speeds: Typical film speeds you will see at the drugstore are 200, 400, and 800; with 200 being the slowest/least sensitive and 800 being the fastest/most sensitive. When given a choice, go with the faster film. It is more sensitive, so it works better with faster shutter speeds for moving subjects and works better in low-light situations. It costs a little more, but is worth the extra couple dollars.
Shutter Speed: There is always a give-and-take with shutter speed. Faster shutter speeds are better for capturing moving subjects without getting movement blur. However, less light gets to the subject. Slower shutter speeds take in more light, but allow for more movement blur. In a low light situation, expect either a blurry image or a dim image.
F-Stop: This describes the size of the shutter aperture. Technically, it is the focal length divided by the aperture diameter. As such, larger apertures have a lower f-stop number. A larger aperture lets in more light, but narrows the field of focus. A smaller aperture yields the reverse. The tradeoff here is just like it is with shutter speed: a brighter subject that is likely out of focus vs. a clearer, dimmer subject. The f-stop range will be printed on the individual lenses. High zoom lenses will typically have smaller apertures (higher f-stop number) and wide angle lenses will have larger apertures. That means wide angle lenses perform better in low light.
Camera Modes: It is likely your film camera will have multiple modes: automatic, landscape, portrait, sports, and manual. Donít use the manual mode unless you preset it and leave it alone: seconds count and you donít want to waste time adjusting the shutter speed or the F-stop. I tend to shy away from using automatic and portrait modes. On the surface, automatic seems like a no-brainer, but if you are in a low-light situation, that flash is going to pop up, scare away the subject, and flood out the picture. Landscape mode does not allow the flash to be used and in most cameras, sports mode does not either. Check the modes on your camera and set it correctly before going out in the field. The different modes will set the shutter speeds and f-Stops differently. Make sure you know what shutter speeds or f-Stops each mode will yield.
Zoom: Some 35mm cameras will have a built in zoom lens and others will have optional telephoto lenses that can be attached. One thing to remember when utilizing the zoom on your camera is that as you zoom in, the aperture decreases. This means that the subject will appear dimmer as you zoom in on it. In low light conditions, this can be an issue. You may have to decrease the shutter speed to make up for the lack of light, but either way, the photo will be degraded. Zoom in as little as possible in low light conditions. 35mm lenses, as well as digital SLR lenses are described in ďmmĒ rather than ĒxĒ and measures the lens focal length rather than increase in size of the picture. Typically a neutral lens (no zoom and no wide angle) is about 50mm. Any less than that is wide angle (28mm being a popular example). Any more than that is a zoom lens. Doubling the focal length to 100 doubles the size of the picture. Quintupling it to 200 would be like having a 4x zoom.
Flashes: This bears repeating. Donít use them in the presence of a sasquatch in a nighttime encounter. He will disappear and you will get no activity for the rest of the night. You might as well go to bed at this point. Unless the sasquatch is less than 10 feet away, he will just be part of the black background anyway.
Specialty Film: There are some specialty films on the market and one does bear mentioning. It is infrared film. It is very expensive and hard to use. You need to load the camera using a camera bag; it is that sensitive to light. Using it correctly, however, will enable you to capture images in no light conditions without a flash. The caveat is that you need an infrared light source. These are easily obtainable. If you like experimenting with your camera, this may be worth trying. Infrared light sources will be covered more in the Filmography/Videography section.
The trail camera is another great tool for the Sasquatch researcher and has gained popularity since the Jacobs Creature photos came out. With a wide variety of trail cameras on the market, it should be easy to find one to suit your needs. Here are some features to look for:
Digital vs. Film: The choice between digital and film is much easier here. Go with the digital trail cameras. As sasquatch inhabit similar habitat as bear, the use of a film trail camera can get your camera mauled by a bear. It happened to me a few years ago and when I called the camera maker to get a replacement lens I was told that bear can smell the silver nitrate in the film and it is common for them to try to get to it. If you are not in bear country, it is not a problem. Digital trail cameras will also store more pictures and the pictures will be download able on your computer.
Infrared Lighting: Get a camera that has this instead of a flash. The infrared mode increases your chances of getting a picture without disturbing the subject. This is true regardless of what the target species is. Once a flash goes off, the wildlife will be disturbed and likely leave the area immediately. As the infrared spectrum is pretty wide, try to choose one that at least has the infrared lights that are not visible to the naked eye. The visible infrared part of the spectrum appears as a feint red.
Video and Multiple Picture Modes: Many cameras can be set to take 5-10 seconds of video footage instead of taking pictures. Itís good to have this option. As far as I know all trail cameras in current production will at least have a multiple picture mode, which is better than solo picture mode. It is likely you will only have one chance to get a picture of the subject; might as well get as many pictures as you can.
Sensitivity and Speed of Operation: This will take some research. You will want a camera with the right sensitivity: that wonít be set off by a chipmunk, but also will be set off by animals smaller than your truck. Additionally, once the camera is triggered, the camera needs to take the picture pretty quickly without making any noise getting geared up. Many cameras have a variable delay that you can set; try to get it to take the picture quickly. It will take some trial and error to get it set right.
Strategies: There is a multitude of strategies to implement when using trail cameras. You can place it on a game trail, in front of a bait station, near a watering hole, or facing your base camp. Try to think like a sasquatch. Sometimes he may want to make life easier for himself by traveling game trails or paths when he can. A sasquatch can be attracted to bait, just like anything else. The bait itself can be difficult to figure out: it could be food related (sweets or meats), curiosity related (shiny objects and strange noises), or it could be species related (pheromones or smells associated with the target species). All animals need water to live, so donít overlook water sources, especially if you have seen tracks or other sign nearby. In many incidences, sasquatch may come close to a base camp just to see what is going on. If this is occurring, you may want to consider placing cameras outside the periphery of the camp - 30-50 yards - facing the camp. Why facing the camp? It will be harder for them to detect the cameraís presence.
Sasquatch is not the only thing you will be carrying that camera around for. Any piece of evidence that you think is sasquatch related is of importance and needs to have its image preserved. Examples could be: foot prints, scat, a bedding area, a killing area, a hair snag, or a stick structure. In each case, pictures should be taken BEFORE disturbing, collecting, or casting anything. When you do take the pictures, ALWAYS have something in the frame to give a reference to the size - a tape measure, a calibrated stick, a coin, a pocketknife, a person, or almost anything. We use (and offer) forensic measurement index cards that are helpful for smaller evidence.
When taking pictures of foot prints, extra special care and preparation needs to be made. Your goal is to show as much detail as possible on a small patch of flat ground. Shadowing and contours need to be shown; and for that reason, do not use a flash. If the sun is over head, you need to shadow the track from it. You will get the best results by providing your own light on the track from a low angle. The lower the angle, the better the shadow. Take multiple pictures with the camera and light source at multiple orientations to each other.
A great way to shadow the track and get the details to show is to shade the track out completely using a method originated by tracker W. Wayne Bare. This can be done with a large cylinder or cone. A cylinder made from a sheet of non-reflective plastic 6ft x 3ft is enough for even the largest tracks - up to about 22Ē. About 2Ē from the bottom of the cylinder, cut a hole just big enough to fit your flashlight of choice. Make the hole in the top of the cone just big enough to fit the lens of your camera. You will end up with some great pictures. Remember: no flash.
The video camera is another great tool whose potential can exceed the still camera; most researchers will eventually start using one. Given the same quality, the evidence that a video provides far exceeds that of a single photograph. It captures the subject in living motion, something a single photograph can not do. It also captures sound. If one picture is worth a thousand words, then one video is worth a thousand pictures. The following are some things to consider when purchasing or using video cameras:
The Recording Media: This can take many forms: VHS, High 8, 16mm, DVD, or digital memory card. The trend is to go with digital, as the cameras tend to be smaller, have better battery life, and the images are easier to share with your peers. That said, there really isnít anything wrong with the other recording medias. Photo shopping is a potential issue as it is with still cameras. It would be good for one member of the team to have a video camera in one of the other recording medias.
Optical Vs Digital Zoom: Most video cameras have both types of zoom these days. As you would do for the still digital camera, pick one with as high an optical zoom as you can. Additionally, when using it, know where the threshold between the 2 zooms is and try not to zoom too far beyond it. When you are filming a subject, donít continuously zoom in and out. Pick a zoom and stick with it for a while, then zoom in or out and stick with that for a while. Itís hard to catch the detail on images that are being actively zoomed in or out.
Stability: Some cameras will have image stabilizers. These may be worth using, but itís far more important to keep the camera as still as possible. To aid in this, rest the camera on something - it can be your hiking stick, a monopod/bipod/tripod, or the side of a tree.
Night Vision: This is going to be the most important feature of your video camera. Make sure it has quality night vision. Typically it will be infrared and the images will have a greenish hue. There will usually be two modes of night vision: regular and super. Super mode adds more light and increases the aperture, which makes for bright images. On the down side, the footage is jumpy, and the battery drain is much faster. Rather than using your video camera in this mode, it is better to use the standard night vision mode and utilize an additional infrared light source. This way, you get the brightness without the jumpiness.
Infrared Booster Lights: An infrared booster is something to consider as a compliment to your video camera, as it can dramatically increase the video cameraís night time performance. It can be purchased as a hand held flashlight-type device or can be a large light that needs a stand. Additionally, Infrared filters can be added to regular lighting to provide the infrared spectrum. These filters can be purchased as well as fashioned out of exposed film or colored plastics. Although using an infrared filter is cheaper than using an infrared light, itís not nearly as efficient. The spectrum ends up being in the visible range and you can not get rid of the red glow (and in many cases, white light leakage) without compromising the range of the light. You will be much happier with a dedicated infrared light. Another benefit of the infrared booster light is that it enhances night vision goggles and monoculars quite well.
Video Surveillance Systems: This type of video camera bears mentioning and is used occasionally. It can be a simple set up purchased from any electronics store. The wireless versions consist of one or two infrared cameras and a receiver. The wired versions consists of the cameras and 50 feet or so of cable. Sometimes they come with a monitoring device. If not, you can connect the cables or the wireless receiver to a TV. A small black and white TV is actually preferable: less power drain and night time images are going to be black and white anyway. (Hopefully you didnít throw away your portable TV when the US went to digital broadcasting in 2009 - they make great monitors). Each individual component needs to be powered with the necessary batteries. Additionally, if you route the cameras through a recorder on the way to the monitor, that recorder needs to have a power source. If you go with a wireless set up, take note of the transmit distance. In the woods you can expect about 1/3 of what is advertised, so donít place the cameras too far away from the receiver. The strategy implemented would be the same as you would for the trail cameras.
As you can see, there is a multitude of tools at your disposal to capture images of sasquatch, any combination of which should prove effective. Before you start outfitting for your photo safari, you need to reflect on what your most important goal is while in the field. If it is to capture and present images of sasquatch, then by all means start loading up your truck with camera gear. However, if you goal is to have interaction with sasquatch, then you may want to hold back on carrying all that gear into the field. Carrying camera equipment with you everywhere can be a burden and you may find yourself tinkering with the equipment when you should be watching the environment. Also wielding hard and reflective objects (cameras & equipment) makes it more likely for you to be noticed. Of course, if there is a Murphyís law regarding sasquatch photography, it would be ďthe best way to ensure NOT seeing a Sasquatch is to have your camera readyĒ. I say this not to imply that Sasquatch photography is a waste of time, but to state that it is very difficult. Expect to come up empty handed more often than not. Photography of sasquatch evidence, on the other hand, is much easier. Once you find the evidence, itís not going anyway. Take time and get some good pictures.
There are a few points to mention regarding any photographic evidence that you collect. Remember that your picture is a 2 dimensional representation of what you saw while you were in the field. That image combined with your recollection of what you saw, makes for some great evidence in your mind. However, someone who was not there will not see the same evidence in your pictures as you do - he only sees the picture. For that reason, your pictures are never as good as you think they are. Try not to interpret too much into your pictures - they are what they are - and donít be bothered by peers who donít see in them what you see in them. Lastly, enjoy yourself in the field and simply relish in the fact that if you do get a picture of one you will have accomplished something very few people on this Earth have done.
For additional information, be sure to read the following chapters from the
Royal Geographic Society Expedition Manual:
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