Night Photo Kits
Depending on positioning some are used all day, but
the name of the
original intent has stuck for us. We have
been building kits to do these
sorts of photographs since 1983 and they have
changed from film
cameras in wooden boxes open at the end
and the sense beam reflected
back by a cycle reflector on the other side, to
the reliable design you see here.
It is almost impossible to 'seal' these boxes and our
are insects attracted by the warmth blocking
the sense beam hole, and
keeping the sense boxes aligned when they
get barged by impatient
badgers and foxes!
Below is a photograph of the whole
setup of one of the ground level kits.
Grass, bark chips all vary between sites according to need.
The black box upper centre on a wooden post is the
flashgun. We use
various housings for these from this wooden construction with
through to using a transparent food container (see the
The beam break is in the small black toolboxes (with slate and
brick on top
for protection and stability) with the short piece of log between
The beam shines a few centimetres above the log, passing through
pencil sized holes in the boxes to make it more sensitive and
light reflected off the ground from preventing the receiver ever
seeing a break.
This site uses a piece of branch as a point of interest, but other
stones or just a slight rise in the ground level.
The large box partly hidden by the tree contains a Low-end Canon
looking through a slide-in picture frame glass. Also in this box
power supplies and electronics.
Ref: P34_20070817_0859_383 Relocation of fb2 & tree felling.jpg
Another view of the same kit from the
other side. The box at the left contains a cable reel resting
on a brick to keep it dry. This sort of equipment MUST use an
Earth Leakage or Residual Current
breaker back in the house to guard against
accidents, water ingress etc.
Ref: P34_20070818_0931_495 Relocation of fb2 & tree felling.jpg
You can buy commercial beam break unit
for UKP100's (year 2013) - We use a pair of security system
units from RS components in a box with hole to
reduce the beam to about pencil thickness.
The leads lying on the ground don't look
artistic and we used to bury them, but the
care less, and laying on the surface suffer
much less damage from animal teeth!
The cameras are digital SLRs (Canon low-end models) held in 'Pre'
mode, mains powered, and
triggered through a hacked cable release or
a wired 2.5mm stereo jack plug, according to camera
camera power supply is under the lens to prevent condensation on
lens and window.
The whole system has fixed settings -
Manual Flash sync and fixed F
number, X-sync shutter speed,
No power auto-power off, Manual
Focus, Flash colour temperature.
The camera looks through a glass window. Standard
size small and thin picture frame glass works
well and is cheap and easy to replace when
scratched, dropped or whatever).
The electronics consists of a 12 Volt Relay with a 'timer base' to
give a flash recharge time - see later.
The electronics is in a
'sealed' food container - the main box gets
periodically infested with
insects that like the warmth, and that
is not good for electronics.
The flashguns are mostly
'cheap' Mecablitz guns modified to accept 'fake batteries' powered
from a mains adapter. This sort of thing is POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS because flashguns
high capacity capacitors storing several
The power supply is at the bottom of the plastic window to help
Here is a variation on the ground level
kit mounted on an old B&D Workmate with the
beam break pair on a couple of cheap
tripods fitted with wooden platforms.
Here the flashgun is at the centre in a clear
Below is the inside of the largest
camera box to illustrate what you need. The packing of items
into the box is a trade-off of what you can get and how hard it is
to work on it.
Make sure your design allows easy access to the memory card - the
fortunate learn by the
mistakes of others!
Power supplied for 12V relay
system, the camera supply (various), and the flashgun supply (more
recently this is in the box with the flashgun). The angle finder
on the camera is not needed when
the camera can be framed via its rear LCD. At the right is a glass
window, normally mounted on
the outside, which is a removable 10cm sized thin glass picture
frame. Plastics scratch when you
have to clean off plashes of mud and are thicker so create more
The kits now
place the camera PSU right under the glass window to help with
Many modern cameras don't
have the dedicated flash socket on the side that this one
does - you need a 'hot-shoe' adapter. Make sure there is enough height.
We use cheap Jessops
medium sized tripod heads fixed to the wooden base by
1/4" Whitworth screw and nut to mount the camera and allow
into receivership early 2013 - if we find a new source will
include it here)
The electronics uses a 12V relay timer
base as it's only active 'component'.
The relay base triggers the relay on high (something like 12V)
voltage state and keeps
the relay closed until something between 30 seconds and 2 minutes
has elapsed after
the signals returned to low (relay closed).
This allows the flashgun to recharge and prevents the camera being
by waving bit of foliage or similar. The 2 pole 2 way contacts
provide the PRE signal
(shutter half press) when the relay is relaxed, and switches the
shutter EXP to ground to
take the picture.
Different cameras react differently to the shutter being held
closed, and the PRE signal
disappearing just before EXP is active, and vice-versa.
The circuit diagram should clarify the placement of
passive components to avoid problems.
The full size drawing is in Vutrax format we can
send you if you want it (the free demo
version is enough to work on it
- see http://www.vutrax.co.uk
This is a a GIF file of the drawing
created on 3 Jan 2009 (still the
latest jan 2013):-
This is a photo of one of the wiring
looms with some of the modifications present
It is almost certain that anybody
wanting to build this kind of kit will take
a different design route.
The relay base used to be a tiny microprocessor (Intel 8051) that
also counted frames and stopped
at 6 to avoid faults zipping through expensive slide film. But a
timer base is simple and works
well with digital camera economics - frames are (almost - shutters
wear out) FREE!
Our kit for photographing Owls using the post in the meadow is
just a much longer range
version of these kits, with all but the IR sender indoors. For
control we use a Raspberry Pi
'hobbyist' computer with a PiFace add on card providing 2 relays,
1 each for the PRE
and EXP shutter controls. A program in Python allows multiple
frames when the bird
is blocking the beam, and turns the kit camera off during daylight.
can ask us for the design details and software.
We have stuck with Canon SLR camera because they seem to be the
only range capable of
fully manual settings that come back up the same (mains power,
power up automatically, manual mode,
shutter, aperture, manual focus unchanged, colour balance locked)
after loss of power.
Canon also repair their cameras well - and at 20,000
frames on some camera each year the
do wear out in a few years, as do the flash
tubes/capacitors every year or two.
Do tell us if you find another camera range.
We gave up on Nikon digital, the only other
major 'whole system' provider, decades ago after
experiences an awful slide scanner with
no support, and have never returned to their products.
Some Panasonic Lumix pseudo SLR cameras are 'usable', but the tiny
sensors don't produce
good images without a lot more light than we have from small flashguns.
We hope this outline provides some pointers as what to look for.
Do send us some examples of what you produce - good or bad - we
seen the problems ourselves and be able to advise
Last Updated: 20 Jan 2013.