As a creative medium, photography is resistant to change. Every new technique that comes along is embraced by some and adamantly rejected by others. In the case of tripwire photography, the absence of a human being present at the decisive moment to trip the shutter might be regarded as another automated step with the perceived abandonment of artistic control.
Many iconic images are the result of pure serendipity, but just as many are staged or at least anticipated. Consider the original clouded leopard images produced by National Geographic in 2000. They were camera trap images and they looked the part; the subject was flashed straight on, the retinas glowing with reflected flashlight. The images were nonetheless iconic because they represented the first time that the species was documented to celluloid. But “documented” is the word that worries the purist. The clouded leopard was rendered in the same way that a hunter renders a 12 point buck with a trail camera. A document was produced to confirm the existence of something elusive. But artistic control seemed as lost to the wildlife photographer as it is irrelevant to the hunter.
Almost a decade later, Steve Winter of National Geographic tackles the snow leopard of the Himalayas with camera traps. The results exhibit creative and atmospheric lighting, serendipitous snowflakes and the clever mixing of ambient and flashed light. The images win awards, are published extensively and their massive production efforts are documented in TV specials. The world gazes in awe at the most unique renditions of the wildest of creatures and the critics grumble about the appropriateness of camera traps in the most prestigious of photo contests.
The occurrence of the unexpected produces a stunning image. The photographer carefully chose focal lengths, lighting approaches and camera positions just like any other photographer would. His images were no more defined or limited by the camera trap than by any other piece of technology.