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My Assistant Is My Baby—A Photographer Redefines Family Time

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Senna Rush is used as a stand-in for a grizzly bear while her father, photographer Drew Rush, tests his camera trap.

As a photographer using remote cameras, you tend to travel heavy. Cases and cases of equipment add up—as do their contents. Bolts, batteries, camera mounts, camera bodies, lenses—you name it. And it seems it all has to be loaded and unloaded multiple times just to get one usable frame.

At the beginning of a National Geographic magazine assignment to photograph grizzly bears and mountain lions in northwestern Wyoming, my wife, Mandy, and I had our first baby. Talk about adding a lot of equipment to the kit.

But working close to home allowed me to get my daughter out in the field from a very young age.

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Drew Rush’s wife, Mandy, and baby daughter, Senna, pretend to be a cougar so Rush can test his camera-trap setup.
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The camera trap is later triggered by a cougar in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, in Wyoming’s Wind River range.

As a first-time dad, I remember being scared to death about the future—as I’m sure many new parents are. But, interestingly enough, every time I bring my wife and daughter into the field with me I stop worrying. I seem to be more in the moment—looking for things I can show Senna to teach her about the places we go.

Trying to seize the opportunity, we’ve been camping in the Wind River range looking for cougars. We wait out snowstorms in the Beartooth Mountains looking for pika and stomping through the subalpine scouting for grizzlies. And let me tell you, there’s no better stand-in for a grizzly bear than your baby daughter as she sits and stares back at your camera trap giggling, and the rest of the team stands behind you trying to make her laugh.

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Senna Rush is used as a stand-in for a grizzly bear while her father, photographer Drew Rush, tests his camera trap.
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A grizzly bear is captured by Rush’s camera trap in Wyoming’s Beartooth Mountains.

Sure, we accommodate for safety concerns. Terrain, wild animals, and other potential dangers dominate the conversation of whether my trips will be alone or with family. But when we are all together, I find there may be no better way to slow down, look around, and really take in the surroundings.

For me, I would think of it as a lost opportunity if my family couldn’t look back and say we had a chance to share these experiences. Some of my best memories from childhood are of packing the car for a quick weekend trip to the mountains with my dad. I could never have imagined that it would come full circle like this.

When I grew up, any time inside was most likely spent looking out. I was always wondering what was out there—always ready for the next trip into the wild. Funny now that I can see those same tendencies in my daughter, who, as she’s learning to walk, only wants to be outdoors—slowly toddling off to see what’s around the next corner or under the next leaf.

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Photographer Drew Rush works in Wyoming with his wife, Mandy, and baby daughter, Senna.

I think that’s also what drives a successful camera-trap operation. Knowing that the perfect site is out there continually drives you to keep going, trying to find that next spot. I never thought I would find such inspiration in my daughter, whose inherent curiosity drives me to keep looking for the next camera setup.

Now, I just hope that next location is big enough to accommodate changing a diaper or playing in the dirt—if I’m lucky enough to have my family along.

Drew Rush is a recent National Geographic Expeditions Council grantee. Follow him on his website and on Instagram.

Also, check out his Proof post “Looking for Hungry Grizzlies on Purpose.”


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