These wild gadgets helped make these photographs great

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Whitney Johnson is Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences at National Geographic.


No photographers were harmed in the making of this picture.

That’s partly because of Tom O’Brien, a resident technical wizard who designs things like the camera trap used for this photo of wolves picking a muskox carcass in the Canadian Arctic. Back at Nat Geo HQ, O’Brien even gnawed on part of this camera trap to test it, anticipating a probe by a hungry predator.

If Nat Geo were a James Bond movie, Tom would be Q, the British intelligence gadget builder. In Tom’s case, however, he equips photographers so that we can see the extraordinary in our world.

“If you can dream it, he can probably build it,” says Peter Gwin, speaking to Tom’s ambition in this week’s episode of the Overheard at National Geographic podcast. And he’s right. For more than 100 years, engineers have been designing and manufacturing custom cameras and other visual storytelling contraptions for us.

“I don’t like to share these ideas, but I will share one here just for you, the readers,” Tom wrote, when I asked what keeps him awake at night. He tells me that he dreams of building a remote amphibious camera platform that photographers can control to get near dangerous, or even skittish, animals in wetlands, or other areas where remote-control vehicles cannot navigate.

“I’ll keep my secret on how I plan to do it–and leave it to your imagination,” he adds.

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