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Photos: African lions and hyenas, captured by a robot camera under the Milky Way

Will Burrard-Lucas
A spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta).
By Selina Cheng
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

At night, capturing the elusive beauty of wild animals can require hours of hiding, with precisely adjusted camera settings and a bottomless trove of batteries. But with the help of a remote-controlled robot, one photographer has found a way to take extraordinarily intimate midnight images of lions, hyenas, and zebra in Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

William Burrard-Lucas’ photographs frame nocturnal animals against the stunning backdrop of the Milky Way. Instead of approaching the animals up close or shooting with a telephoto lens, the British photographer sent out a DSLR camera mounted onto a remote-controlled buggy that he developed himself, the BeetleCam.

Will Burrard-Lucas
A lion spotted at the Liuwa Plain National Park, Zambia.

The wide-angle close-up shots are possible only when the camera is physically close to the animal, rather than zoomed in from afar. “If I’m shooting the normal way, I would be looking at the same level or looking down at the animal, so you can’t really get the skyline behind in the same way,” says Burrard-Lucas. “It’s a more intimate perspective of these animals.”

To compose the perfect frame, Burrard-Lucas had to identify the ideal location and set up his gear before sunset. As night descended, he used an off-camera flash to clearly expose each animal at the beginning of the exposure, then allowed the exposure to continue for another 10-15 seconds in order to capture dim background light from the stars. The equipment can be controlled from about 30 meters (around 100 feet) away.

Although using remote-controlled cameras is not new, Burrard-Lucas says this kind of shot was not possible until recently. “The latest generation of digital cameras now allows me to use ISO high enough to be able to record the stars and the wildlife in a single exposure,” he explains. He also shoots with camera traps that are triggered by motion.

Here are a few photos of these unsuspecting beasts against the night sky.

Will Burrard-Lucas
Lions resting at night, at the Liuwa Plain National Park.
Will Burrard-Lucas
Ghostly hyenas.
Will Burrard-Lucas
A pack in the rain.

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