The BeetleCam Project

The BeetleCam Project


As wildlife photographers, we are continually trying to take unusual and original photographs of our subjects. In recent years this has meant going to ever increasing lengths as more and more photographers continue to push the boundaries with fantastic photographs.

A year ago, from our small garage in London, we started working on an ambitious project to photograph African wildlife from a unique perspective. We wanted to get our camera extremely close to dangerous and unpredictable wild animals and photograph them with a wide angle lens. We booked our plane tickets to Tanzania and had a few months to design, build and test a contraption that would allow us to realise this aim.


Traditionally, these sort of photographs have been taken using camera traps – stationary cameras triggered when the animal breaks an invisible infrared beam. The problem with this method is that it requires a great deal of time, patience and luck. We wanted something a little more proactive and thus BeetleCam was conceived; a DSLR camera mounted on top of a four-wheel drive remote control buggy.

Designing BeetleCam posed several challenges. The vehicle needed to be capable of traversing the uneven African terrain with a heavy payload of camera, lens and flashes. It had to be reliable in the harsh, dusty environment and would need to operate for long periods without being charged. Ideally it would do all this while remaining stealthy and camouflaged.

Through several refinements and redesigns, BeetleCam was honed into a sturdy, resilient and slightly schizophrenic contraption capable of periods of brilliance, interspersed with the odd period of unsolicited autopilot. We decided that would do fine.

We stuck our trusty Canon EOS 400D on top of vehicle chassis and constructed a split ETTL flash cord that allowed the camera to control the output of two flashes depending on the light conditions (this would be important for filling in the shadows cast by the bright African sun). A few days before our departure, BeetleCam was ready to be let loose in the wild!


Our primary destination was Katavi National Park, a quite and remote park in South-West Tanzania. We didn’t hold high hopes of returning to the UK triumphant; the chances that BeetleCam would be trampled, mauled or inadvertently driven into a river seemed rather high. On the first day we gave our 400D a fond pat and said farewell.


We thought that Elephants would be a simple enough subject for BeetleCam’s first outing. We were wrong. We quickly learned that Elephants are wary of unfamiliar objects and, due to their highly sensitive hearing, are almost impossible to sneak up on. We eventually developed a technique which involved positioning the camera well in front of the elephant and then waiting for it approach in its own time. With this technique we enjoyed great success later in the trip and managed to get some incredible photos of these wonderful creatures.


After obtaining our first photographs of Elephants we were buoyed with optimism and decided to make lions our second subject. In hindsight this was a foolish idea; BeetleCam was promptly mauled and carried off into the bush. A long recovery mission ensued and we were extremely lucky to retrieve an intact memory card from the mangled Canon 400D body. On downloading the images, we were delighted to find that BeetleCam had performed its duty admirably, and we got a great series of images from the encounter.



Remarkably, although the 400D sustained irreparable damage, the rest of BeetleCam proved very resilient and, with a few pieces of string and bits wood, we were able to patch it up. We replaced the 400D with our only other available camera – a Canon EOS 1D MK III. Obviously lions were off the menu for the rest of the trip!


To our surprise it was Africa’s second most dangerous animal that proved to be the most cooperative subject: the notoriously bad tempered Cape Buffalo. Adult males who are too old to compete for females collect together and form small bachelor herds. Despite their reputation for being unperdicatble and aggressive, we found these old brutes were totally unconcerned by the small robot and some even showed mild curiosity!


Upon returning to the UK, we were thrilled with the photographs that we had managed to take during our two-weeks in the field. We have already started work on BeetleCam Mk II and plan to return to Africa this summer to take more photographs.


If you would like to see video clips of BeetleCam in action and more of the resulting photographs, please visit our website at .

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

William Burrard-Lucas is a professional wildlife photographer from the UK and founder of Camtraptions. Camtraptions provides a range of products for remote and camera trap photography, including a PIR Motion Sensor and Camera Housing. Will has also created a comprehensive training resource with a free downloadable guide and video series, which can be found here: Camera Trap Photography Guide.

Some Older Comments

  • Don January 18, 2013 05:38 am

    This is very cool, I have built a couple battle bots in the past, and was planning on building something like this. I was wondering though how did you guys/they remotely shoot the shutter or did they set up a timer. I understand the robotic side of motor control, but not so much how a remote shutter works. Any ideas?

  • Paul Sparrow March 29, 2012 01:49 pm

    Awesome work .. :))

  • John July 16, 2011 05:07 pm

    Hi Guys, A great idea and great shots...good luck!

  • Kent February 28, 2011 07:39 am


    Can you please give some instructions on how you built the car and how it is that you remotely control the camera?

  • Paul February 27, 2011 10:33 am

    Amazing pictures! Standing ovation for your work!!! Thank you so much!

  • Radwa January 18, 2011 05:42 am

    smart idea !

  • Gillian May 18, 2010 10:47 am

    that's amazing :D

  • Klemen May 3, 2010 03:23 am

    A trully wonderful idea! Keep it going! :) (and secure the camera from biting) XD

  • Fort Myers Photographer May 3, 2010 12:27 am

    Ingenious!! Plus incredible photos as well!

  • don April 28, 2010 03:30 pm

    Amazing. No wonder 1 or more of your photos won in the earth shot photo contest. You guys are photographic genius.

  • Joe April 28, 2010 02:02 am

    That is cool!

    I've tried some r/c onboard video's with a little GoPro camera, but have yet to try to get stuff like this....dang it I just may have to try it now thank's to you two...................Good luck on your next safari!

  • Marianne April 26, 2010 12:08 am

    Cool beyond words!!! What a clever idea! I've been to Kenya and Tanzania and never thought of a BeetleCam. Really enjoyed the stories and pics. Thanks for sharing!!!

  • Cassy April 25, 2010 09:28 pm

    This is so nerdy and so amazing that I wish I could do it myself.

  • Tonya April 25, 2010 07:43 pm

    Amazing photographs! and great idea! Awesome you made it work, and good luck with future ventures! Thanks for sharing :)

  • Hussein Ali April 24, 2010 05:24 pm

    Good ability to mice nice close up photos

  • Roberto Galindo April 24, 2010 01:07 pm

    Stop the

  • Jose April 24, 2010 07:16 am

    Wow!! Fantastic!!!

  • Ken April 24, 2010 05:41 am

    This is awesome nice work

  • Susie April 23, 2010 10:53 pm

    I love this, its so cool Thanks for sharing!

  • Diana Eftaiha April 23, 2010 10:04 pm

    hehe i love the idea. smart!

  • Lynne April 23, 2010 08:36 pm

    Utterly brilliant!

  • peter April 23, 2010 07:39 pm

    that is too k00l - makes me want to build too

  • saqibmoghal April 23, 2010 03:52 pm

    thats good for me. thanks

  • Sabir Ahmed April 23, 2010 03:47 pm

    Wow, brilliant idea! Enjoyed reading this. Kudos to you guys for conceptualizing this. All the best for your future shoots.

  • Roberto Galindo April 23, 2010 01:02 pm

    Who suggested pepper spraying the lions? As I can read I suggested some "smelly but inocious spray". Would you call a skunk irresponsible for using his spray on any threatening or non threatening creature?

  • Shirley April 23, 2010 01:00 pm

    Ohhh, how I envy the traveling and the fun. Not sure about the wandering in the bushes looking for the 400D though ;-))

    Thanks for showing some adventures. Btw, will the money you get from the photos pay for the trip?

  • David Unwin April 23, 2010 12:47 pm

    Wow, that is brilliant

  • Michael Cheung April 23, 2010 10:55 am

    Great article! Very nice and funny story.

  • Ronnie April 23, 2010 08:27 am

    I hope my son doesn't miss the RC Jeep that will soon be modified thanks to this brilliant idea. lol
    I love it!

  • Lewis Santos April 23, 2010 06:17 am

    Now I have a good reason to keep my Rebel. Thanks for the Idea. I really want to try this. Way to think outside the frame!

  • Peter Solano April 23, 2010 06:15 am

    Fantastic project, quite an adventure, good luck in your future trips.

  • Roberto Galindo April 23, 2010 05:59 am

    Guys, that was a neat adventure. Of course you must have good technical background... yet you do not provide info as to parts used to make the contraption turn, change velocity, move the camera around if necesary.

    To avoid the lions grabbing your robot, maybe some inocuous but smelly spray could be incorporated (I assume that you are watching the action from some not so far away place).

    Congratulations, it might be the beginning of some future sophisticated earth robots (we are tired of the martian versions).


  • Ian Ray April 23, 2010 04:59 am

    brilliant, very nice idea. kudos to you guys...^__^

  • Kathy April 23, 2010 04:38 am

    I hope you had insurance!! LOL

    Great shots!

  • Andrew April 23, 2010 03:59 am

    all I can say wild very wild

  • Don April 23, 2010 03:51 am

    That is so cool. I have been trying to add a video cam to a nitro rc, but not good success. I am into robotics as well. I have built a battlr bot type of machine but never thought of adding a camera. I think I will give it a try. Thanks for the idea, and BTW awesome pics,

  • ahhphoto April 23, 2010 03:22 am


  • Pam April 23, 2010 03:16 am

    haha this is very creative! love it!

  • iamunique127 April 23, 2010 02:53 am

    Absolutely brilliant and kudos for having the idea and seeing it through.
    It sure paid off in fabulous photos.
    Were you able to control the zoom?

  • Kent West April 23, 2010 02:44 am

    Ok, that is cool. Driving remote control cars is great, photography is great...put 'em together, in Aftrica...Dream Come True! Thanks for the article. Well done gentlemen.

  • Raj April 23, 2010 02:44 am

    Really nice

  • Mark April 23, 2010 02:26 am

    That so cool!

  • Rikki April 23, 2010 02:24 am


    I hope this doesnt find its way to the restroom.

  • FotoManiac73 April 23, 2010 02:13 am

    This is the most amazing idea in many years... this is on the scale of BBC "PLANET ERATH" series... I'm utterly impressed and in admiration of your innovative spirit and ideas... I may not be able to visit Africa any soon... but Six Flags Safari or ZOO here in US with involvement and approval from Park Administration could render similar shots in more controlled environment.. and there is no possibility of chasing of molded camera through the Serengeti desert. In all... I am at awe !!!


  • diane April 23, 2010 01:56 am

    What a great project and I love your creativity. The lion story was halarious! Thanks for sharing your adventure with us at dps - can't wait to see what you come up with next!

  • Nancy Minter April 23, 2010 01:40 am

    That is so cool! I want one.

  • Sime April 22, 2010 07:28 pm

    that is VERY cool!... haha

  • Amar April 22, 2010 06:05 pm

    Chaps, I see endless possibilities. Excellent job.

  • oliverignacio April 22, 2010 12:16 pm

    I am not a wildlife photographer.. but I can say that this is really COOL!

  • JPG April 22, 2010 09:58 am

    Anyone know what lens they used?

  • stkywik April 21, 2010 10:09 pm

    Excellent work! The two pictures of the inquisitive lion make the loss of the camera worth it.

  • earthboundmisfit,i April 21, 2010 03:45 pm

    Oh that leetle thing is so cute and very clever! Wish I could do that kind of thing when I go later this year

  • Brian April 21, 2010 07:16 am

    Stunning photos. Hmmm will it work with a video camera?

  • kate April 21, 2010 04:09 am

    For future lion stuff. Try using a modified military ammo box to hold the body. The kind with the locking lid. It may not save the lens in the future but the lions probably won't destroy it to get at the body. Plus they're small and with a little blowtorching can be made even smaller.

  • kate April 21, 2010 04:06 am

    This is the kind of stuff I want to do. Just have to get to Africa somehow. The pic of the lion's feet is absolutely brilliant.

  • Zack Jones April 21, 2010 01:47 am

    Very Cool -- check out this video of a guy that mounted a 7D on a helicopter -

  • Will April 20, 2010 11:55 pm

    Thanks for all the comments guys. We can’t wait to get out to Africa with BeetleCam Mark II!

    Also, thanks for all the suggestions. It would not be very responsible of us to start pepper spraying or electrocuting lions so I think we might just go with a stronger carapace next time!

  • Dan Ketcham April 20, 2010 11:39 pm

    Very neat idea!

    Thanks for sharing!

  • JJ April 20, 2010 10:15 pm

    I love the picture of the lion's feet! That is such a cool picture and how you can see the tail underneath her. Then the last picture of the elephants is also really cool. Awesome idea.

  • David [ ecards ] April 20, 2010 07:43 pm

    Wonderful. Prior to reading this I put remote cameras in the 'only the BBC with a huge budget' camp. You make it look so do-able that I want to try it.

    Could you explain a bit more about "and constructed a split ETTL flash cord that allowed the camera to control the output of two flashes depending on the light conditions" ?

  • hfng April 20, 2010 05:51 pm

    OMG. This is the most fantastic thing I have ever seen. So brilliant you guys.

  • Richard Taylor April 20, 2010 04:54 pm

    I could use one of these things for motor sport photography.

  • Amin April 20, 2010 04:28 pm

    Hey guys,

    Install a high pitch sound blaster or something that will scare the animals away (harmlessly) when the camera is being mauled by lions or other animals.

    At least you dont have to worry about damaged cameras this time.

  • Felicia Broschart April 20, 2010 12:47 pm

    I love beats setting the camera on the interval timer and hoping something jumps into the frame!

  • Tushar Mahule April 20, 2010 12:08 pm

    Stunning. Just stunning! great idea.. perfect execution!!

  • Mike Causer April 20, 2010 10:49 am

    Looks great!
    Needs a Nerf gun / water pistol / flame thrower attachment

  • Speedy April 20, 2010 10:23 am

    Very cool, but please explain a bit. How did you control the camera? Did you only use a remote shutter release, or did you somehow manage to control more camera functions by remote. I love the pictures! Good luck on your next trip!

  • Mei Teng April 20, 2010 10:17 am

    What a wonderful photography experience...and Beetlecam did a fantastic job! Love your photos of the elephants. Nevermind that the 400d didn't survive the African least you have the photos of a successful attempt.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • glassesandhat April 20, 2010 09:32 am

    This is awesome. This picture of the lioness looking right at the camera is very cool.

  • jp April 20, 2010 09:10 am

    Win. Well done.

  • Will April 20, 2010 08:38 am

    Thanks for all the positive comments guys! Really glad you like the project :)

  • Simon April 20, 2010 07:38 am

    When I saw the small fragile-looking camera robot, and several tons worth of elephant, I expected the worst... :)

  • Amber L April 20, 2010 06:51 am

    That is extremely brilliant! I would love to be behind an operation of that sort. It is quirky, risky, and brash with so many possibilities for failure - but success is SO worth it! Just the sort of thing I would love to do. Congrats on lovely one-of-a-kind images. They were a pleasure to see.

  • steve April 20, 2010 06:17 am

    Beautiful shots and lovely idea. Shows a different angle from the normal. Great side short of the elephant running

  • Carolyn Scott April 20, 2010 06:06 am

    hahahaha, LOVE the shot of the lion's two paws approaching before the imminent destruction of the camera. awesome!

  • Glyn Dewis April 20, 2010 05:55 am

    Fantastic piece of kit that's been used to create some fantastic images!! Really nicely done!!

    Good on you and thanks for sharing,

  • Eileen April 20, 2010 05:40 am

    Very cool idea.. I love how they are looking at the thing.. especially the lioness!

  • Mara April 20, 2010 05:29 am

    Awesome idea and execution! Love the story!

  • dukydaf April 20, 2010 04:47 am

    It was exactly what DPS needed, a little diversity. Great idea with the wide angle lens. I like the photo of the buffalo coming toward the sturdy, resilient and slightly schizophrenic contraption.

    Not really sure about the speedlights, I see the reason why they are there but the don't really seem to do the job being rather small in comparison to the power of the ambiental light and the distance (and spoiled the lions eyes) . They also consume a great deal of energy and add weight. ( Just my thoughts)

    The question is : What would it be next time ?

  • Jason Collin Photography April 20, 2010 04:30 am

    Very cool idea and functional as well. Thank you guys for sharing those sweet wildlife shots. I love the ground level view.

  • OsmosisStudios April 20, 2010 03:55 am

    Such a simple yet ingenious solution to an interesting situation. I have to say, though, that the lion encounter was kind of a "no duh" moment, but some great shots nonetheless.

  • Killian April 20, 2010 03:55 am

    Oh, this was such a cool article to read! I cringed when the camera bit it, but what a fun project it must have been! Thank you so much for sharing, and best of luck in the next go-round.

  • Tobias Fox April 20, 2010 03:50 am

    Very cool idea and great pics. Good luck with thos creatures that want to hurt your little buggy ;)

  • Tobias Fox April 20, 2010 03:50 am

    Very cool idea and great pics. Good luck with thos creatures that want to hurt your little bughy ;)

  • Nathan April 20, 2010 03:43 am

    I know this echoes what many others have said, but this truly is absolutely awesome!

  • sillyxone April 20, 2010 03:20 am

    AWESOME! for an engineer who is a sucker for robotic like me, this is a wet dream :-)

    I wonder if they were able to control the zoom with the SLR lens, but either way, I'm sure it will be included in their next version.

  • Shaun Fisher April 20, 2010 02:50 am

    Indeed awesome!

  • daniel Mollino April 20, 2010 02:23 am

    My only fear would be an animal trying to eat my 2k camera setup lol

  • Jaina April 20, 2010 02:19 am

    That really is amazing. Wildlife photography always flaws me and it's nice finding out how the photos are snapped.

  • Nasuha April 20, 2010 01:32 am

    wow, really awesome!
    400D on a mission. :P

  • Jay McIntyre April 20, 2010 01:22 am

    That's awesome! I wouldn't mind one to get some pictures in my toddler's room, without it, there'd be no chance! LOL

  • Prime April 20, 2010 01:07 am

    Truly amazing! Ultra cool. Will BeetleCam Mk II be going to Mars by any chance ;-)

  • Jolene April 20, 2010 12:58 am

    Wow. Fascinating article- thanks for sharing.

  • Jen at Cabin Fever April 20, 2010 12:55 am

    Wow, that thing is waaaayyy cool! Thanks for sharing!

    Cabin Fever in Vermont