Category Archives: Photography

A Camera for All Seasons

As part of my upcoming glacier field work, it was decided that a camera would be a useful addition to the station, which will be installed and left unmanned for 2-3 months (see The Project) . The camera will be used to take pictures of the station and the surrounding site, so that I’ll have a record of what was happening throughout the study period. So, as an example, I can look at the pictures  from a period with some interesting data and see what the weather was like, or as another example, what type of bear it was that destroyed my equipment.

The following is a DIY post on building a type of ‘nature’ camera. If anyone is actually interested in building something like this and requires more information, feel free to contact me.

Having priced commercially available units at round $2,500, and not being overly impressed with the camera hardware being used, I decided to build my own rig. My design was strongly influenced by that of another rig built by a researcher in my department, Camilo Rada. Here is the basic outline:

  • Use a good quality DSLR camera (I’m using a Canon T3i).
  • Use a high capacity battery that will supply sufficient power to the camera to operate over several months.
  • Use a timer to control when power is supplied to the camera and when and how often pictures are taken.
  • House everything in a weatherproof container.


Collection of the main components used, including a Pelican case, Canon DSLR (T3i), camera battery with dc cable input, high capacity (10Ah) battery, DC timer switch, 2.5mm stereo plug, various connectors and wires. The cost of all materials came in a little under CAD$1000.

The most important component of the build is the power system. I replaced the standard camera battery with a commercially available battery adapter, which is normally used to power a camera directly from a mains socket. I wired this adapter into a DC timer, which is essentially a switch which opens and closes the power circuit at user defined times. The other end of the timer was then wired to a high capacity (10 Ah) 7.4V lithium polymer battery, originally designed for use in remote controlled aircraft.

Adapted camera battery pack. This will be connected, through a timer, to a higher capacity battery.


The timer (bottom right) is wired between the camera battery (on left) and the larger battery (below). It can be programmed to allow power to flow to the camera at specific times.


As the camera will be left to operate by itself, an automatic way of firing the shutter (taking the picture) is needed. I modified a standard 2.5mm stereo plug by shorting the outer contact (outer ring) with the inner contact (inner ring)by removing the black plastic cover and soldering the corresponding connectors together (and removing the middle connector). This plug is then inserted into the remote control port of the camera, and tells the camera that the shutter trigger is being pressed.



Testing which connectors need to be shorted to fire the shutter.







The timer is programmed to allow power through to the camera from the battery at set intervals, and the power switch on the camera itself is set to on. When power reaches the camera at the set times, the modified plug tells the camera that the shutter button is being pressed, and a picture is taken. After a minute, the timer shuts off power supply until the next programmed time. As for the camera settings, the mode is set to automatic (Program or P in the case of this model) so that the aperture and shutter speed will be selected automatically by the camera to suit the light conditions. The camera should be focused by the user during set up to suit the required view, and then the focus should be set to manual to prevent the camera from changing the focus during operation.



Testing the power and timer set up.


In order to weatherproof the camera rig, and keep it protected, I housed the equipment in a Pelican case. Firstly, I cut foam to fit the various components so that they are held securely in place. As a camera will not work very well in a completely opaque box, I created a window. I cut out a section of the side wall, using a drill and knife initially for the rough cut, and then a file to smooth the edges. I fitted a piece of clear acrylic for the window; I chose transparent acrylic rather than glass as it is easier to cut and is less likely to scratch or break . I bought acrylic that had a protective removable plastic covering (like cling film) which I left on until the end of building so as to avoided scratches. Basically, I treated the window like I would a lens.  I used a silicone glue to attach the acrylic to the box, and left it to cure for 24 hours.

Pelican case, with foam cut out to fit camera etc.


Won’t be able to see much through that.














Completed camera rig


I test ran the camera on the roof of the Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences Department here at UBC over the course of a few days, and it performed well. At the glacier, I will install the camera box in an additional wooden shelter (which I’m currently building), in order to keep it in a steady position, and to provide additional protection from anything that might damage or obscure the window. It will be set up to take images every three hours, and will hopefully provide reference and context for our data.

Testing on the roof of my department at UBC.
Daytime image from test run of camera, looking east from UBC.
Nighttime image from test run.


Update (July 4th 2014):

Yesterday, I built the aforementioned wooden shelter for the camera. This will act as a mount for the camera, protect the window from damage, dirt, and droplet build up, and reduce excessive heating from the sun. It was constructed using two 1″x8″x8′ pieces of cedar, some U-bolts, and assorted screws. I’m not a carpenter, and this was just a design that I thought up to solve a problem; there are probably far more elegant solutions! Below are some images from the build.



















White paint will help reflect sunlight (reduce heating), and protect the wood.

Canada: My Introduction

Twenty four hours. From my front door in Sligo, on Ireland’s Atlantic west coast, to Vancouver, in the Pacific forests of Canada. A relatively long time to be travelling, but a remarkably short period to find yourself transplanted into a new life.

I’ve come to Vancouver to take up a research position at the University of British Columbia, looking at the relationships between the atmosphere and the planet’s snow and ice cover. I’ve decided to start a blog to keep family and friends updated on life here, and to give  some information on the work I’m involved in, for those who may be interested. This opening post is just to get the ball rolling, and give a brief synopsis of the story so far.

In reality, my first two months in Canada have mostly involved all the excitement of endless application forms, house hunting, university registration, bank and phone account set ups, navigating cryptic public transport maps, getting lost in supermarkets, getting lost in translation, and incidents of general isolated wandering. This is combined with getting to grips with new courses, teaching, and getting a research project off the ground. So instead of having to read about that, here are some pictures of my initial weekend adventures!

My first trip outside of Vancouver was a hike to Lake Garibaldi, a large, currently frozen alpine lake, surrounded by glaciated mountains. The drive to the lake is almost as spectacular as the hike itself, taking the scenic ‘Sea-to-Sky’ highway from Vancouver to Squamish, which winds along the coast between lush, brooding temperate rainforest of Douglas fir, and the snowcapped Coast range.

On the move on the Sea-to-Sky highway
Approaching Lake Garibaldi
Lengthening shadows on Lake Garibaldi
Lengthening shadows on Lake Garibaldi


The city of Vancouver is incredibly diverse, with over half of the population having a first language other than English (very excited about trying as many different foods as possible). There is a thriving Chinese community, accounting for  at least 20% of its population. The end of January saw the arrival of the year of the horse, and I was fortunate enough to take part in some of the Chinese New Year festivities.

Launching lanterns during the Chinese New Year festival,
Lighting up the wishes for the year
Processed with VSCOcam with b1 preset
Trying the chicken feet at Chinese New Year breakfast


For my next wander, I did as the Canadians do, and strapped on a pair of snowshoes in search of Elfin lakes. The location lived up to its name, with stunning scenery, and enchanted animals (see image).

Snowshoeing to Elfin Lakes
Some friendly locals on route
Heading west on the return from Elfin Lakes


Following the unusual occurrence of snowfall in urban Vancouver, I found myself bricklaying, like many Irish migrants before me. Granted these were bricks of snow, as a Chinese man, a Kenyan man, a Malaysian woman, and an Irish man attempted to build an igloo; insert own punch line here. The world is a small place.

United Nations Igloo building


The world is a small place. British Columbia is enormous. Canada is incomprehensible. Being so tied up with getting started in a new country and position, I’ve only just made the lightest of scratches on its surface. I am eager and excited to see as much as this country has to offer. I expect that you could be born and raised here, and still not see a fraction of it. But I’m willing to give it a go.

Downhill skiing above Vancouver
Backcountry skiing in Red Heather (I’m assuming it’s a summer name)
Backcountry in bear country