How Do Trail Cameras Work? 11 Things (2024) You Must Know

If you’re not a landowner and you don’t hunt, then you may not be aware of how trail cameras work.

Trail cameras are utilized by nature photographers, hunters, wildlife enthusiasts, and landowners to collect data on wildlife while maintaining an element of stealth.

Here’s what you should know about trail cameras and how they work.

1. What are trail cameras?

Trail cameras are high-quality devices that are used to track wildlife creatures in their natural habitat with minimal disturbances.

Trail cameras are weatherproof and operated with batteries.

They use infrared technology to capture footage quickly for a variety of uses.

2. How do trail cameras work?

Here are the technologies that help trail cameras detect animals and capture the shot you need!

bulletDetection circuit:

When trail cameras detect motion or heat, they snap a photo.

bullet Batteries:

Trail cameras utilize batteries as there aren’t plugs in the middle of meadows, woods, etc.

Having a camera with long battery life is often required because it can be inconvenient to have to go out and swap batteries constantly.

bullet Infrared emitters:

How does your camera capture photos when the light isn’t great?

This has to do with the infrared emitters.

Regular flash, red glow infrared flash, or an undetectable “no glow” version are all different features the camera may have to help with night photos.

Just note that cameras with no glow flashes tend to have a lower flash range than other cameras.

bulletPicture quality:

Popular trail cameras allow you to view sample pictures to ensure they are of proper quality.

bulletSetup and viewing screen:

Trail cameras often have a setup and viewing internal screen that you can use to operate it.

3. Do you need a cellular trail camera?

Cellular trail cameras have become a new and popular option on the market.

These cameras provide you with real-time notifications about animal detection as well as the photos being taken.

Most of these cameras work on the AT&T or Verizon networks.

When selecting a carrier, you want to choose the one that provides the best service for your area (not necessarily the carrier you currently use).

Consider having at least 3 bars of service for your camera to work properly.

If you’re interested in having a camera that sends notifications to your phone, provides instant access to photos, and even offers live streaming capabilities, then a cellular trail camera is a great option.

4. What should I know as a first-time buyer if I go the cellular camera route?

Believe it or not, there’s still quite a bit of confusion regarding how cellular trail cameras work.

Everyone may carry their own cellphone these days, but once you throw cell cams into the mix, it can be a bit difficult for everyone to understand.

To make it easy, we’ve compiled a list of the top three things every first-timer should know if they’re opting for a cellular trail camera on their recreational land.

bulletCellular trail cameras require a signal

As noted above, every cell cam must have a signal.

If you purchase a Verizon-certified product, then it’s going to need Verizon coverage.

The same goes for an AT&T product.

It’s worth checking which network covers your area (especially if you’re out in an area that isn’t well-serviced).

In general, and to no one’s surprise, the better the signal strength of the camera, the better the performance.

Don’t worry if your cellphone doesn’t have the same provider as the cell cam.

It’ll send photos and videos to any phone that has a signal.

bulletCellular trail cameras require data plans

This is another common source of confusion.

There’s a difference in wireless Wi-Fi-enabled cameras compared to wireless cellular trail cameras.

The concepts are similar, but how the devices transmit data varies greatly.

You need a data plan for a cellular trail camera and the ability to connect to the internet for a Wi-Fi-enabled camera (which is, of course, difficult in the woods).

bulletCellular trail cameras require external power sources

Cellular trail cameras can be hard on batteries.

They have a much higher consumption rate compared to standard SD card cameras.

If possible, pair it with a solar charging device to ensure you never run out of power.

5. What are the pros and cons of a cellular trail camera?


bulletNo limit on the operational range pending signal strength

bulletAbility to manage and control the device remotely

bulletAccessories like security boxes

bulletExternal power sources are widely available

bulletFast data transmission speeds


bulletData plans are required

bulletThe cellular signal must be present for proper functioning

6. How can you maximize your viewing potential with your trail cameras?

Trail cameras must be strategically placed in order to capture pictures and videos of wildlife when you aren’t around.

In most cases, they’re triggered by motion, and they store pictures and videos for you to view later.

Trail cameras are ideal for documenting the activity of rarely seen wildlife, monitoring animals without disturbing them, and scouting the presence and movement of game animals.

Here are some top tips that you can use to position your trail camera(s) wisely to get the best shots.

bulletPlace the cameras higher and angle them slightly downward

This will help increase your visibility in the thicker brush while increasing the chances of seeing both the large and small animals.

bulletUse a mount over a strap for better visibility

bulletConsider putting some cameras closer to the ground if you want to see amphibians, snakes, or small carnivores

bulletPlace cameras slightly off the trail at a curve, which will cause the animals to walk toward it

This will increase the number of pictures of the animals looking directly at the camera and decrease the number of blurry photos if your camera has a slow trigger speed.

bulletClear branches, large shrubs, and leaves from around the camera to minimize setting off the motion trigger excessively on a windy day

bulletIf you’re using your trail camera to scout for game animals, minimize your scent by wearing gloves when setting it up

bulletDouble-check the camera’s placement and test it before you leave

You don’t want to find out later that you forgot to turn on your trail camera and captured nothing!

7. How can I prevent the camera from being seen?

To prevent a camera from being snatched, you can protect it by getting a security box or labeling it with your name and phone number.

We also recommend noting the serial number of the camera as this can help authorities if the camera gets stolen.

That said, the risk of having the cameras stolen is relatively low if your cameras are on private property.

8. What features should you consider when selecting a trail camera?

As trail cameras are growing in popularity, it can be difficult to sift through all the options.

Here are some of the features you’ll want to ensure your trail camera has.

bulletPicture quality

Picture quality is rated by the number of megapixels, and a higher number of megapixels leads to higher-resolution photos.

This is important because it’ll allow you to zoom in on photos after they’ve been captured.

That said, you shouldn’t let megapixels drive your decision to buy a particular camera.

Megapixels are only as good as the lens the camera uses, so be sure to look at sample photos from the camera online to understand what your result will be.

bulletMotion or heat sensors

Trail cameras often have triggers to take photos based on motion.

Although, they could also have triggers based on heat.

Whether you require heat sensors likely depends on the animals you want to capture.

For example, if you’re looking to monitor a salamander migration to your pond, then heat sensors won’t pick up cold-blooded animals on camera.

On the other hand, any mammals will be captured using this technology, and it could be a nice feature to have.

bulletTime-lapse mode

Time-lapse allows you to take pictures at specific intervals and times of day (i.e., every five minutes).

Some models will allow you to select how often a camera takes pictures and how long it will operate in time-lapse mode.

This feature is often useful if you know your landscape (meadow, pond, etc.) is more active at certain points of the day.

bulletDetection range

The detection range feature tells you the farthest distance an animal can be from the camera in order to trigger a photo.

It can be as close as 40 feet or as far as 120 feet.

When selecting a detection range, you should also consider your picture quality, so you’re not getting a bunch of blurry photos.

bulletTrigger speed

The trigger speed is the time it takes for the camera to take a photo once the animal enters the frame.

If possible, you want your trigger time to be less than half a second.

Otherwise, you’re likely to end up with a bunch of animal butts and empty frames, which can be frustrating!

bulletRecovery speed

Recovery speed is how quickly the camera is able to reset to take a new photo.

Slower recovery speeds (1-2 seconds) may save you memory, but you will also miss some shots of new or multiple animals.

A faster recovery and trigger speed will help you capture anything exciting that’s happening on your trails!

bulletPhoto bursts

Some cameras can take bursts (several photos per second).

Having this feature increases your chances of getting a good photo.


Timestamps are a crucial feature to get if you’re curious about the best times of the day or year that animals are on your property.

bulletBattery life

Battery life should definitely be a consideration if you don’t live on your property for regular maintenance or anticipate high activity.

You’ll likely be choosing between alkaline batteries, lithium batteries, and solar batteries.

Alkaline batteries are cheaper, but they’ll degrade the picture quality over subsequent use and cooler temperatures.

Rechargeable lithium batteries are longer-lasting and rechargeable.

They get better consistency and also work in cold weather.

There are also cameras that recharge using solar packs; however, these solar options may not work for you if you’re in an area that is densely packed or otherwise doesn’t get much sun.


Having a camera with color LCD screens can make the camera setup a lot easier.

It allows you to readjust placement to get a good shot and see the pictures right away.


Pictures are typically stored with an SD card.

You’ll want to make sure you get an SD card with a minimum of 32 or 64 GB of storage space.


Because animal activity can increase at night, it’s important for any night vision camera to have good lighting, so you can get night shots.

The three types of light to choose from include white flash, infrared light (“low glow), or black infrared light (“no glow”).

9. Can I use a trail camera for home security?

Yes! Trail cameras make an ideal budget-friendly option for home security cameras.

They’re designed for the elements and thus stand up well to nature.

The factors you’ll want to consider if you’re going this route are as follows:

bulletNo glow

If you want a covert camera that doesn’t shine or alert trespassers, a no glow trail camera is the best option.


HD video will give you the clearest picture (especially at night).

Get a camera that has at least 720p.

bulletMotion sensor range

Different cameras detect motion at different ranges.

The necessary range will depend on the area and how many cameras you have.


Not all cameras take video, but if you’re using it for security purposes, then you’ll want one that does.

bulletCellular capability

If you’re using your system for home security, then having cellular capability can increase your reaction time and allow you to address any potential problems faster.

10. Do trail cameras make noise?

Nope. Trail game cameras are great stealth cams and are designed to capture shots without detection.

There is, therefore, no shutter click.

11. Where should you place your trail camera?

It’s hard to answer this question without seeing your recreational or hunting land.

Your objective determines the placement of your trail camera, and a poorly placed camera is ultimately useless.

Here are some of the criteria that can help you place your camera well.

bulletPlace your trail camera in a spot that can be camouflaged

bulletPlace your trail camera in the line of sight of the area you want footage of

bulletPlace your trail camera in a discreet spot with a broad view

bulletPlace your trail camera in a spot that allows you to capture pictures/videos as someone enters or exits your home

bulletPlace your trail camera at an appropriate height for what you’re aiming to capture

Final thoughts

In the end, there’s a huge variety of trail cameras to choose from depending on what you want and what you’re planning to use them for.

Keep our tips in mind while you’re shopping, so you can end up with what’ll work best for you.

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Erika Gokce Capital

Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.


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