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Bird-Mounted Cameras

Photography & Video
Bird-Mounted Cameras

Remember the documentary Winged Migration? The filmmakers were able to get all those great shots of migrating geese by acclimating them to the presence of an ultralight plane at an early age. The birds thought the plane was part of their flock. Now filmmaker John Downer has taken avian photography to the next level: mounting hacked cameras onto birds themselves.

His film Winged Planet airs on the Discovery Planet Oct. 6. The trailer for the film is a stunner.
[brightcove vid=1878727817001&exp3=1768206610001&surl=,AAABm7FQcjE~,pzZZjgIueEjEDOpWr3ZzKqD5beb-o3dL&w=480&h=270]

How’d he do it? Here’s an excerpt from John’s interview with Popular Photography Magazine:

What we had to do was strip down the highest-quality, but smallest HD camera available. We had to engineer it so it was basically a circuit board, a chip, a lens, and batteries. We had to make sure it was as light as possible, but we also needed it to record slow-motion. We wanted to film 50 fps rather than 25 which is normal [The standard in the US is 30 or 60 fps]. So, we had to make the cameras and the mounts so the bird could fly naturally and feel comfortable.

It also needed an extremely wide lens. You don’t to see just the bird’s perspective, you want to see the bird in the frame as well. You’re getting these fantastic wrap-around views that include the arch of the wing. It was quite a challenge. For the first two years we didn’t even attempt it. The technology was getting better and better so we decided to leave it for the last two years of shooting, which ended up being a good decision on our part.

How’s that for a bird’s eye view?

12 thoughts on “Bird-Mounted Cameras

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  6. Marjorie Fiske says:

    Was watching Earthflight: A Nature Special. How do you get a bird to put the camera on and then how does it transmit to the photographer? And how do you get it off the bird when you are finished? Incredible shots in this special.

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Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.

View more articles by Stett Holbrook
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