Trail cameras or camera traps are an absolute essential tool for nature photographers but they can come with a hefty price tag. I'll show you how to build a simple alternative for recording daylight images.


This guide is now a couple of years old and although it is still valid, new software and hardware has been released that supersedes what follows. I'll be re-writing this guide for my new setup in the coming months. 

A couple of years ago I started playing around with Raspberry Pi micro-computers to see how they might be able to help me with regards to wildlife photography. It's safe to say that these palm-sized computers have taken the world by storm and in the two years since writing the original post on how to make a nestbox camera from scratch a lot has changed. With multiple revisions and versions of Raspberry Pis out there factors like size, computing power, connectivity and power consumption all have various degrees of flexibility meaning there is probably a micro-computer to fit your exact requirements. Having previously owned Bushnell Trophy Cameras (and found them to be excellent products) after having one stolen and the other break down after only a year, I wasn't relishing the idea of buying another at £150 so I turned to the Raspberry Pi for a solution. As it turns out, there is already a product utilising a Raspberry Pi for this purpose. Check out Nature Bytes for the complete kit.

Scope

My aim for this project was to build a small, portable trail camera so I could monitor potential sites for wildlife photography while I wasn't present. Images would be all I required at this time but videos are no doubt possible and I'll try and add a section on how to capture these later on. The main requirements were:

  • Small form factor
  • Portable: power away from mains and any network connections
  • Removeable storage of media
  • Weatherproof

Setup

First we'll need to collect the various items needed to make the trail cam as well as have a computer and network connection for the initial setup of the software for the camera.

Items required:

  • Raspberry Pi - Pretty much any model will do. I'm using a B+ in this set of posts but in production I would advise using a model with the lowest power consumption.
    • A Raspberry Pi Zero would be the best here with an A+ being second best. Just be aware that the Pi Zero has no wired or wireless network interface so you would need some other means to setting up the operating system.
  • Raspberry Pi camera module.
  • A micro-SD card to hold the operating system and trail cam software. You might need an adapter if your computer only has an SD card slot.
  • Something to provide power to the trail cam. I'm using an Anker 10000mAh power bank. The bigger the capacity, the long the camera will run for between recharging.
  • A USB flash drive to store the images you collect.
  • A PIR sensor
  • Three jumper wires
  • A Real Time Clock (RTC) if you want to be able to timestamp your images so you know what time the image was created.
  • Some kind of casing - this can just be an airtight kitchen container, customised as required.
  • An ethernet cable or WiFi dongle to access the Raspberry Pi during setup and a computer to access it through.

Once you've assembled all your kit, you are ready to set up the trail camera operating system and software.