The setup was simple: A waterproof GoPro submerged in a bucket of water, pointing up at the wide blue sky of southwestern Texas.
While soothing music plays, the camera captures the snouts, beaks, and tongues of various animals that happen to stop by for a drink. Dubbed “The Bucket,” this odd, intimate video is the most popular that John Wells has published on his YouTube channel, The Field Lab.
Asked why it’s resonated so much—at over three million views and counting—Wells told National Geographic, “I have no [expletive] idea.” (“Watch: This Is What Happens When a Lion Steals a GoPro.”)
“I guess it’s just an interesting view of something that’s perfectly normal but something that you don’t really think about,” says Wells, who lives off the grid on a desert ranch wholly sustained by solar power and rain catchment tanks.
Wells was inspired by a similar video he made in 2009 of a cow named Benita drinking water. That was before he owned a waterproof GoPro camera, and had to rig up a clear-bottomed bowl using a piece of plexiglass.
It took about five hours of filming over the course of two days to capture the new images, most of which show a menagerie of animals that live on or around his ranch, he says. During the interview, two roosters crowed loudly in the background. “That’s Chupa and Manny,” explains Wells. “They spend the day on my porch.” (Watch What a Grizzly Does with a Floating Camera.)
The rooster duo make an appearance in the video; as do the bees who live in a pile of tires in the yard; George the rabbit; and Ben, a four-year-old steer that Wells adopted as a calf.
The one exception to the domestic creatures is a wild burro.
“There’s two herds out here on the ranch and occasionally they come in and hang out,” said Wells, who says he had to lure the burro over with food before he took a drink.
Finding That Special Shot
“Perspective is a good idea to try to make something different,” says Ronan Donovan, a National Geographic wildlife photographer based in Montana who uses unusual angles in his work.
“You can shoot the same animal or the same behavior, but if you do it in a different way from how everybody else has done it, that makes it more interesting.”
Donovan has created several remote camera set-ups to capture surprising images, for instance of wolves in Yellowstone National Park. His strategies generally involve stashing cameras “near carcasses, dead things, and outside of dens,” he says.
The photographer adds he’d like to see Wells’ bucket technique applied to lions and giraffes and other wild animals in other parts of the world.
“It would be a good premise to do at a watering hole in Namibia or something.”
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