Back to the Basics of Camera Placement

As we move toward more advanced image acquisition equipment, it’s often hard to resist finding high-tech solutions to low-tech problems. For example, if you can use image stabilization, why worry about camera vibration? While it’s true that modern cameras can often get you good images under lousy conditions, improving conditions usually improves the image quality dramatically. In that spirit, here are a few camera placement tips that we frequently see overlooked.

  • Megapixel expectations — Sure, higher resolution is better, but we may all agree that megapixel cameras are often overhyped. While you can cover a stadium or large open atrium with a single camera, that’s often more about obstructions than area. The megapixel camera that can see around trees and through marketing posters has yet to be invented.
  • Fixed vs. pan/tilt/zoom (p/t/z) — With areas that have obstructions, the answer is often to use fewer p/t/z cameras, rather than more fixed cameras. This is fine for live viewing (see following) but Murphy’s Law was enhanced to cover p/t/z cameras a long time ago. Something like, “If a camera can be pointing the wrong way when something happens, it will be.”
  • Recording and viewing — Along the p/t/z versus fixed lines, many people forget that cameras are used for both live monitoring and forensic review. If you’re covering a parking lot with p/t/z cameras and thinking that a 35X zoom lens will allow you to space the cameras pretty far apart, keep in mind that fewer cameras means fewer recorded streams. If you’re just viewing live, that’s not a problem, but if you’re going back later to review something, you may discover holes in your coverage that you weren’t expecting.
  • Stable mounting platform — As we look to cover long distances, with megapixel cameras or long optical zoom lenses, keep in mind that you’re only as good as your mounting platform. A camera using high magnification will get you seasick if it’s on top of a tall light pole on a windy day, or pendant mounted to a long, unsupported pipe.
  • Outside influences — Even with perfect camera placement, things go wrong. A camera located near a restaurant exhaust vent can capture the perfect image but require frequent cleaning. A loading dock camera can be blocked by unexpectedly tall vehicles. Sometimes it’s important to have a “Plan B.”
  • Height matters — Higher isn’t always better. Sometimes placing cameras too high can give you a great shot of the tops of people’s heads, rather than their faces. Too low and they can be disabled too easily. The trick, as Goldilocks can tell you, is getting it just right.

I’m sure this is just scratching the surface — what’s your experience? Feel free to vent or provide your own ideas by posting a comment.