Tiny Cameras Mounted to Birds Capture What Life is Like With Wings

For nearly half a decade now, filmmaker John Downer has been pioneering the use of tiny cameras to capture photographs and videos from a bird’s-eye view — literally. He attaches extremely small and light HD cameras to the backs of birds in order to capture incredible point-of-view imagery of the animals going about their day-to-day lives.

In an interview he recently did with Popular Photography, Downer explains how he went about creating the bird-cams:

What we had to do was strip down the highest-quality, but smallest HD camera available. We had to engineer it so it was basically a circuit board, a chip, a lens, and batteries. We had to make sure it was as light as possible, but we also needed it to record slow-motion […] So, we had to make the cameras and the mounts so the bird could fly naturally and feel comfortable.

It also needed an extremely wide lens. You don’t to see just the bird’s perspective, you want to see the bird in the frame as well. You’re getting these fantastic wrap-around views that include the arch of the wing. It was quite a challenge. For the first two years we didn’t even attempt it. The technology was getting better and better so we decided to leave it for the last two years of shooting, which ended up being a good decision on our part.

Other techniques he employs include filming from full-sized helicopters (commonly done in wildlife photography/videography) and with gliders/silent drones.

The result of all this work was a wildlife program named Earthflight. You can see some sample photos captured for the project in this Flickr set. Here are some highlights from the program (there are short segments showing bird-cam footage):

The project is also being featured as a two-hour special on the Discovery Channel and BBC called Winged Planet.