Photograph by Mark Thiessen
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Steve Winter took this custom-made camera car on assignment to document tigers in a new way.
Photograph by Mark Thiessen

How this ‘camera car’ captured the perfect tiger close-up

It took intimate pictures of big cats—until a curious female got too close.

This story appears in the September 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Every photographer has a dream shot. For Steve Winter, that shot was a tiger’s face seen from below. The challenge, says Winter—who has long covered big cats and other wildlife for National Geographic—was getting that perspective in a way that didn’t end with his own face inside the animal’s mouth.

ROBOT VS. TIGER

Photographer Steve Winter tries out a unique gizmo to get an in-your-face view of tigers.

Enter this apparatus, a camera mounted on a four-wheel, remote-controlled vehicle. The “camera car” had been built by the National Geographic Society's Exploration Technology Lab engineers but never used. Winter saw its potential to capture that looking-upward view and asked if he could take it to India for a project on tiger conservation.

In the field, the contraption didn’t last long. Though male tigers “ran away” from it, Winter says, a curious female batted it with her enormous paw. That probably did the camera in—but not before it caught the shot Winter was after.