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I find myself watching a lot of shows such as Planet Earth, National Geographic and other such amazing nature shows.  The other day I was watching Planet Earth and they were filming a chameleon on an Australian desert.  How do they get a close up of a chameleon and keep up with it during its travel from place to place?

I can't imagine a chameleon staying around if a photographer walked up to it!  They had a close up of him eating a bug and you could practically look down his throat while he was chomping.  How do they do this?  I just can't image how it can occur.  In addition, they are saying that these deserts are 100 degrees or more in temperature, so I just can't wrap my brain around how this is accomplished.

I have researched a bit into flying cameras, and robot cameras on wheels, but I just can't imagine a chameleon getting used to a noisy little robot camera coming up to it?  Plus, you could see the chameleon's footprints, so if it was a robot camera, how could you not see the footprint of the rolling camera in the sand, which was perfectly manicured, like you would expect a desert to appear.

Thank you

ANSWER: Hello, Kee,

Since I have done a lot of nature photography of the type you describe, I feel fairly confident to answer your question. These groups have some VERY expensive equipment, and among other things, they have zoom lenses you wouldn't believe! They will set up on a tripod, and they can shoot as long as they need, to get the shots they want. Often, animals like chameleons will be captured and little radio transmitters attached to their bodies, and this will allow them to follow the animal's movements. Sometimes it's a different animal. Animals tend to have territories, and if you study their behavior, you know they will show up again if you are patient. Editing does wonders as well. They shoot lots and lots of videos, and they only choose the best. You only see what they get.

Australia has a lot of desert that is very dry. 100 degrees isn't that "hot" when it's dry. And sometimes, they have air-conditioned enclosures.

I would say it's not that likely they use flying cameras or robot cameras. They might set up a camera in advance, and then lure the animal with food. Sometimes they operate from a blind. There are also "cherry picker" type vehicles that have a camera and a seat mounted on an arm that can go quite high.

My equipment is not at all expensive, and I don't do video at the present time, but I have gotten many excellent shots from a vantage point some distance away. My biggest telephoto lens goes out to 1300mm. I saw a 1200mm lens for sale on B&H that cost around $12,000. My lens cost $280. I have a large sensor on my camera (14.7megapixels), and I can crop down quite a bit. The sensor I have is not state of the art. Some cameras now have 24megapixel sensors. Some sensors work well under extremely low light conditions. For television, they don't need that much resolution, even for HDTV.

These folks often have a budget out the yin-yang, and you can do a lot when you have that kind of money to spend.

I hope this answers your question. Let me know. Take care.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks for your quick response.  Your answer makes so much sense.  Placing a sensor on the chameleon so that they can follow him, that has to be it.  

Thanks also for describing the strength of these cameras, since the only camera I may have used was a disposable, I think, or perhaps it had the photo in it and you pulled the photo out and waited for it to develop in your hand. (yeah, that bad!)

But really, your answer was so informative and helped me to understand how all this amazingness happens.  Of course they probably put food out there that the animal likes, why didn't I think of that!  Knowing this side of it makes me love these shows even more!

I appreciate you!

Hello, Kee,

Thank you for the very kind rating. I don't know if you saw that I added a comment about knowing the animal's habits, and that animals have territories, and if you are patient, they may return. So they don't always use sensors. Just sometimes.

A disposable camera, and a Polaroid camera, are both so far behind the state of the art, it's not funny, as you realize.

I enjoy these shows very much. I just wish they would stick to the facts, and often they insert a lot of speculation along the lines of evolution. That diminishes my personal enjoyment, but I always appreciate great artistry in nature filming.

Take care. I appreciate you, too! I enjoyed answering your question.


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Pat G


I can answer questions about the artistic aspects of photography, and tricks for shooting landscape, scenic, macro, and animal photography. I am familiar with Pentax SLR cameras, both film and digital. I have also done work in urban photography and creative photography, and I am familiar with creative uses of filters and lenses. I am familiar with composition and color theory, and know how to make use of light. I can answer questions about things like lightning photography and moon photography. I spend time studying the techniques of the well known photographers. I work exclusively in color. Although I travel anywhere and everywhere in pursuit of landscape and scenic photography, my main area of expertise is the American southwest, and I am familiar with many scenic areas. I also have familiarity with the plants of the Sonoran Desert, having studied not only their appearance but also their uses, including ethnobotany. See my educational credentials for other art that I do.


I have spent the last ten years as a semi-professional photographer, selling my work on the internet, and having won international honors. The gallery of my most recent work, where I usually post frequently is I will take questions about how I did various photographs.

The first prize I won for my art was when I was in third grade. I have a bachelor's degree in art from Ohio Dominican University, where I learned mainly ceramics and glaze calculation. I have also done various kinds of fiber arts. In addition, I do digital landscapes, abstracts, and fractal art.

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