Building a Better Mousetrap

Anyone who has ever been tormented by a mouse will enjoy this semi-OT field trip today. And besides, there was some pretty spiffy hi-speed remote TTL flash involved in photographing the capture.

Imagine that you are a mouse -- an "outdoor" mouse. Specifically, you are the mouse pictured in mid-air, at left.

You live in chilly northeast of the US, and it is winter time. So, naturally, you might try your luck at becoming an indoor mouse for the winter. Except that you happen to live next to the wrong house.

Specifically, you live just outside of the nice, warm house of Jim Clark, the inventor of the PocketWizard remotes. And Jim is hunkered down in "no sleep" mode, working round the clock to finalize the design and launch of the new Flex and Mini units.

Long story short: Pick a different house to invade next time, Mickey.

You Don't Tug On Superman's Cape...

Those of you of a certain age will know exactly the song that was running through my head as I was listening to Jim's mouse-catching story. Jim Croce is famous for the original, but the link is to an excellent cover by Fretkillr.

To be fair, the little guy was just trying to stay warm. Only he had no idea that his nocturnal habits coincided pretty closely with those of a night-owl engineer. Especially one that already was consumed by the technical challenges of intertwining the new breed of remotes into the communication between camera and flashes.

Were it me, I probably would have just used a typical mouse trap. Or maybe a .410 guage. High nine for effectiveness, but low sixes on the PETA approval scale.

Jim, being an engineer, is driven to far more elegant solutions. Which is also why you don't see me designing cutting edge radio remotes, either.

First, Define the Problem

(All photos ©2009 Jim Clark, LPA Design.)

Using a light beam (correction: sound) trigger and a set of motor-driven wireless TTL flashes with PW Flexes, Jim set the bait and waited. Time after time, the mouse pulled off the heist before finally recording himself onto film (or, pixels.)

Editor's Note: The device was a WaveSensor, made by LPA.

Note the typical engineer's approach to bait -- just throw in some of everything and see what happens.

Remember, one of the cool things about the Flex/Mini is that it can crank wireless TTL at full speed -- up to 8 FPS. The pre-exposure communication burtsts do not have to happen, as the PW's hijack the communication between the camera and flashes.

Which is exactly made the above, 6-shot sequence possible. Jim just composited it into one frame for reference.

Then Design the Solution

Next, Jim set out to actually catch the mouse, "rather than just feed it," as he told me. And may I say that I love the walk-the-plank design of Jim's trap. It is humane (more so than mine woulda been) simple and it is darn-near foolproof.

And now that Jim had established the beam-tripper / wireless TTL sequence, he knew he could catch the little guy and catch him in a photo, too.

Here's the Wind-up...

• Mouse smells peanut butter. (Forget cheese -- they have a serious jones for peanut butter.)

• Mouse sees peanut butter out on nice, wide, safe ledge.

• Nice, wide ledge is in fact balanced to support only the peanut butter.

• Mouse heads for peanut butter, tips ledge.

• Ledge has conductive tape that starts the camera-firing sequence when it begins to tip. (Sorta like a low-tech version of the light beam device.)

• Mouse (hopefully) drops into large, kitchen trash can -- with wireless TTL flashes going off the entire time at full continuous speed. Schwing.

... And the Pitch:

My favorite part: The little guy's toes, stretching out to grab something -- anything -- on the way down. (Click the pic for bigger version.) And yes, the peanut butter did fall down into the trash can with him. Coulda been worse, right?

Five minutes later, cue the bone-crunching sound of a garbage disposal. Problem solved.


Actually, in addition to being a crack engineer Jim's pretty much of a softy, too. Which is why his worthy adversary is spending the remainder of the winter in this brand new condo, before being let out into the wild come spring.

Come to think of it, the mouse got cheese, raisins, cashews, peanuts and peanut butter, Not to mention a warm house with three squares a day through winter. Not such a bad deal, considering...


Brand new to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Connect w/Strobist readers via: Words | Photos

Comments are closed. Question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist


Blogger paull said...

ok, I will bite, I want to know more about light beam triggers.

March 15, 2009 11:36 AM  
Blogger Debbi_in_California said...

First I cringed (eek a mouse!) and then LOL!!
How is that light beam triggered? I see only one unit. Isn't there two to break the beam? Do you have a link for it?
Way Kool!

March 15, 2009 11:50 AM  
Blogger Craig Lee said...

Hmm, we have a mouse in our house that doesn't seem to like peanut butter. I wonder if I can use this post as ammo to convince the wife about getting a set of PWs. ;-)

March 15, 2009 12:13 PM  
Anonymous nuts_muc said...

standing ovations on this one, jim! I'd also like to know more about these triggers.

March 15, 2009 12:58 PM  
Blogger said...

The mouse spreading his paws reminds me of flying squirrels gliding from tree to tree. This is evolution in action folks - if enough people do this experiment in a few generations mice will be able to superman through the air away from the bin.

Well they would do if they were mashed in a disposer rather than let free. Though i must admit I wouldn't mash 'em.

March 15, 2009 1:02 PM  
Anonymous Bruce Philpott said...

What a terrific story, and very well illustrated. My wife's not a photographer, but loved it, too.

March 15, 2009 1:19 PM  
Blogger gbenz said...

Anyone know where to pick up a light / sound trigger that could be used with a Nikon D300?

March 15, 2009 1:26 PM  
Anonymous R. Kneschke said...

Seriously: I never thought catching a mouse could be so entertaining AND insightful in learning to use flash... You made my day. :-)

March 15, 2009 1:47 PM  
Blogger James Bong said...

That is totally awesome, but living in a forest, I can tell you that that mouse is not going to stay away when he's set free; especially after being treated so well through the winter. I have a softy friend who set mice free, but the problem kept going. Eventually he "Tagged" them with food coloring, a different color for each distance he released them. Even the ones released half a mile away came back! Either keep the mouse as a pet, or get a cat. ;)

So what are these light triggers? I want to know too!

March 15, 2009 2:27 PM  
Blogger Wink of an eye Digital said...

You can't fool me!!!!!.. that is a trained mouse! Look, he likes the camera.
And his crib? Residuals from that movie about that mouse with Nathan Lane What's the movie?

March 15, 2009 3:26 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

That is just so sweet. Talk about a manufacturer with a heart!

March 15, 2009 3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try looking at this trigger:

I don't own one myself (yet) but seems to be very versatile with the multitude of triggering options. Look under the accessories tab for a list.

March 15, 2009 3:45 PM  
Blogger James Duncan Davidson said...

Agh. The WaveSensor looks awesome. It's too bad that LPA/PW doesn't make it anymore.

March 15, 2009 4:01 PM  
Blogger Hylian said... Terry Pratchett fan I presume? :p

March 15, 2009 5:19 PM  
Blogger Sebastien Benoit said...

Did anyone else notice the little easter egg in the last picture? Check out the chess board...

March 15, 2009 5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story and photos.

A few years ago I caught a mouse in a kitchen bin, I just laid it on its side in the main room while watching TV, and waited... A little later the critter came out from behind the fireplace and jumped into the bin, which I then stood up! No photos. I got some photos of the next one to try, but I used a humane trap. I placed him in the bath for a photoshoot but he wasn't keen! After being flashed a few dozen times he jumped back into the trap!

March 15, 2009 7:08 PM  
Blogger Greg said...


March 15, 2009 7:23 PM  
Blogger Tim D. said...

Awesome story. I laughed out loud! I'm still laughing. Love the composite images! Thanks for this!

March 15, 2009 8:46 PM  
Anonymous lin said...

Aww. Great story (love the big softys)!

March 15, 2009 9:13 PM  
Anonymous Ziv said...

A very expensive mouse trap...

Nikon D3
PW Mini and Flex(for Nikon!)


March 15, 2009 9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love how the composited sequence shows that the mouse is accelerating with each shot. (distance is increasing throughout same time intervals)

March 15, 2009 9:38 PM  
Blogger Darren Whitley said...

Actually, I've seen light sensors used to take 4x5 sheet film images of NASA rocket launches. A photographer at Bionetics Corporation in Florida showed me the Padcam he manufactured to use a sound sensor to open a plastic door and the Russian scope used with the light sensor. Most photographers just use sound sensors, but that tends to trigger the cameras too soon.

March 15, 2009 9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For all who want to know more on Light Trigger and Sound Trigger, look for High Speed Photography. Only difference is, in HSP, camera is typically wide open in dark and a flash is fired on Sound or light interruption. Here, instead of triggering flash, David has triggered Camera. has some very simple circuits and they work. And you can make the same circuit trigger your camera instead of flash.


March 15, 2009 10:50 PM  
Blogger thsman said...

Too muckin fuch! A classic post if ever there was one.

March 16, 2009 1:22 AM  
Anonymous Adam Zhang said...

I did something similar before with a remote flash against a dark background.

March 16, 2009 3:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I see this post will have a follow up early summer when the little guy will bring his hundrend or so friends back at Jim's crib.
Givem the six low PETA treatment, I say.

March 16, 2009 3:28 AM  
Blogger AlexH said...

I'm betting the mouse wont want to move out come Spring; He'll be having too much fun learning cool stuff!

March 16, 2009 5:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nikon D200/D300 users can use trap autofoccus to trigger the camera with an AF lens.

1. Set custom setting A5 to AF-on only
2. Set focus mode to S (single servo0
3. Set AF area mode to single point
4. Set lens focus switch (if available) to A or M/A
5. Pre-focus lens to a particular distance.
6. Press and hold shutter release. Camera shoots when the selected focus bracket is in focus.
7. Thans to Thom Hogan for pointing this out in his excellent Nikon D300 guide.

Don't know how good this works with mice but worth giving it a try.

March 16, 2009 7:06 AM  
Blogger Jay said...

Excellent post! I really enjoyed reading it. I will be back for more! Sincerely, Jay

March 16, 2009 7:52 AM  
Anonymous -= Funk =- said...

That was an ingenious and humane way of catching the mouse and what a perfect way to demonstrate the new PW's capabilities!

I saw this on and followed the link to the strobist blog with the full story. Thanks for the entertaining narrative David, this really made my morning.

Hooray for the mouse having a nice winter and being set free. Poor thing must'a been scared out of his wits, though the pic of him flying through the air into the trash bin is hilarious.

Keep up the good work guys!

March 16, 2009 8:03 AM  
Anonymous Don said...

Nikon makes an upscale remote release which has a light trigger built in. Can't remember the Nikon number but it's in their catalog. About $120!

March 16, 2009 8:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Start a pool on how long the mouse will stay in that cage. The bars are spaced too far apart.

March 16, 2009 8:33 AM  
Anonymous Tim said...

Aww, cute story.

Er, maybe it's just the photo, but the bars on the new condo look a bit too well spaced to prevent future kitchen trips. I had mice in my boiler (yes...) a couple of years back & it was amazing how tiny a gap they were getting in through.

March 16, 2009 8:45 AM  
Anonymous Niall Macpherson said...

The only issue with spending the rest of winter being fed and kept warm is the mouse will be back in Octobre asking for caviar and a jacuzzi :-)

March 16, 2009 8:48 AM  
OpenID andycarolan said...

Excelent article, small rodents are pretty difficult to photograph I find simply due to how fast they are.... its a perfect use for fast strobes ;)

Even my wife here loved that story, but she did point out that the cage used could easily be nibbled out of (she used to work in a pet store and heard of many such cases with domestic animals, I can only imagine that a wild one would be more motivated to escape)

On a seperate note, Ive just found your blog and will be working my way through it as im now waiting for my first strobe to arrive (283 complete with a varipower module)

March 16, 2009 9:37 AM  
Blogger Hexitex said...

I posted about a device on the flickr discussion prior to this blog that could provide all the trigger options. It was shot down by lots of photographers as not worth the investment. see pic and other high speed examples on my flickr

search flickr discussion with word nxthotshoe

March 16, 2009 9:45 AM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Here is a link to a $20 or so sound/strobe device.
I played around with it a couple of times and it works great:

March 16, 2009 9:56 AM  
Blogger David said...


Yeah, we actually already have the most expensive component (the NXT) but it still seemed needlessly complex for some reason.

March 16, 2009 9:57 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Ross, MD said...

So I see that the mouse is learning to play chess, but if he is a better photographer than me come spring, I'm invading Jim's house too.

March 16, 2009 11:09 AM  
Blogger John Brainard said...

Before I read the post, I gotta point out the "Jim Croce" reference! Besides the fact that I love his music, I almost never catch those references.

You don't mess around with Jim!

March 16, 2009 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Thao Tran said...

Dude, that is hilarious. I would have never thought to try to capture the culprit in action. I had one the other day and all I did was catch and release the critter five miles down the road. Awesome.

March 16, 2009 12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice toaster!

March 16, 2009 1:32 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

So...I didn't have the ambition to attempt to capture the critter on camera...but I DID have a very similar solution for actually CAPTURING my furry friends!

As it turns out, mice are quite the jumpers! This first set up was later replaced with a much deeper box.

I used Peanut Butter to bait, catch and release 3 mice. Only took about 2 weeks! LOL!

March 16, 2009 2:21 PM  
Blogger Miville Photography said...

Gotta say, in the second picture, the first of the mouse, I love the catch lights in his eyes. :)

March 16, 2009 2:25 PM  
Blogger Aaron Koolen said...

Nice to see someone taking the non-violent route for a change. I presumed the story was going to end badly, but nope - happy ending.

PW's just went up a notch on my buy list :)

March 16, 2009 4:19 PM  
Blogger Roman Studio said...

Finally, the justification I need to show my wife why I need more PWs!

March 16, 2009 4:48 PM  
Blogger btezra said...

good stuff here, thnx for posting this

March 16, 2009 4:51 PM  
Blogger DJRock3k said...

Great Work, and very humane.

He worked you long and hard to get that posh habitat.

(insert Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy reference here.)

March 16, 2009 5:04 PM  
Anonymous Uwe Noelke said...

Realy nice little photostory. Very amusing. I like it ;-)

March 16, 2009 5:55 PM  
Blogger joe said...

i caught a few wild mice in my house and put them in plastic habitats like that. they always chewed their way out (through the plastic) in less than 24 hours.

i recommend a wire mesh cage unless you want to catch him twice

March 16, 2009 7:05 PM  
Blogger Rémi said...

To Sebastien Benoit:

I've never been a huge chess player, but regarding the easter egg you're talking about, are you referring to the fact that a black pawn has been played before any white pieces?

March 16, 2009 7:12 PM  
Blogger teh zao said...

Haha very cool. The last time I tried to catch a mouse, it involved a Sony Handicam and the night vision mode.. :D

March 16, 2009 8:13 PM  
Blogger Leah said...

Mice are also suckers for pumpkin seeds and rocky road ;)

March 16, 2009 9:21 PM  
Blogger O.Schaefer said...

That had me laughing my ass off. At work! Excellent stuff. Personally, I've got a serious jonesing for a set of Pocket Wizards myself. Peanut butter just doesn't quite do the same job.

March 16, 2009 9:23 PM  
Blogger sodabowski said...

I bet Minnie Mouse will stop nagging for a few months... :p

March 16, 2009 9:37 PM  
Anonymous Dalai Felinto said...

That was brilliant.
Last winter I had a mouse problem as well. I tried to design some traps. Unfortunately I couldn't catch any mouse :)

I have some pictures in the end of this photo album:

March 16, 2009 10:12 PM  
Anonymous virginia photographer said...

This is the funniest tale of an ancient nuisance and technology that we love coming together. I've too many ruined items in my garage to take such pity. I prefer to squash their tiny brains in 1 $1 mousetrap. The electrocution ones work but remember to check back or it gets messy.
Thanks DH for the entertainment first rate tale.

March 16, 2009 10:13 PM  
Anonymous Stephen said...

Technically proficient and a humane being...excellent combination...a model for all of us.

March 16, 2009 11:13 PM  
Blogger Vincent T said...

Bravo Jim! I've done that many times (minus the camera and radio slaves). I just use a good ol' "Hav-A-Hart" live mouse trap and let them go in the winter. No harm done!

These little guys do not like to pose for pictures though.

March 16, 2009 11:49 PM  
Blogger Pepin said...

what happens if you make a larger scale of the plank, put the new PW's instead of peanut butter?

I wonder how many strobists you'll catch at the end of the day. :)

March 17, 2009 12:48 AM  
Anonymous alantru said...

Lovely! We have a mouse rotting in our cupboard. He's clearly slipped behind a wall. The smell is awful. You don;t often hear of them coming out and just dying on the kitchen floor do you?

March 17, 2009 10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Catch-n-release germ-infested mice? Y'all are a bunch of softies. ;)

I used one of these kits for about $25 (including shipping).
Took about an hour to assemble.

I mounted mine in a nice plastic case (a gutted wireless router, actually) and modified it so that the flash could be triggered either by sound or by contact.

Flip the switch to turn on the unit, turn the knobs to set trigger delay and mike sensitivity (if using the mike), plug in the mike cable, plug in the flash-trigger cable and voila!

Not bad for $25!

March 18, 2009 5:21 AM  
Anonymous RoamingChile said...


What a fantastic post! Just awesome.

Entertaining AND educational.

March 18, 2009 1:39 PM  
Blogger Mitch said... has it in stock with free shipping:

March 18, 2009 2:12 PM  
Blogger Cameron Magee said...

MY favorite part was the caption...

"what the?"


March 19, 2009 2:13 AM  
Anonymous Colleen said...

Here I am being all bleeding-heart about it until I read that he's doing a proper (five-star even) catch-and-release. Lighting experiment? Interesting. Humane treatment of animals + lighting experiment? Fantastic.

March 19, 2009 11:37 AM  
Blogger E. said...

Great post! I love that the Croce song is the perfect length to read the post and appreciate the photos. Well-planned and well-executed.

March 19, 2009 1:31 PM  
Anonymous Dsouza jhn said...

What a creative Thought, Hat's off to your story

March 20, 2009 8:26 AM  
Anonymous tony said...

ha ha, very cool. that mouse broke in to the right house.
love the photos and LOVE those pw!

how did he get such great focus/ low dof on the falling mouse with automatically fired camera?

March 21, 2009 7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My cat loves mice, but has a 'sportsmans' attitude about it. If you kill mouse, game over. Release mouse, kitty play more.

Worthless cat.

March 27, 2009 9:19 AM  
Anonymous Canada Jobs said...

great photos...

April 01, 2009 7:58 PM  
Blogger LucasLost said...

I really love this set up to photo the pet mouse! I will try it if i got the change!

Pity little mouse..

April 10, 2009 9:41 AM  
Blogger Caralin Ruth said...

That is AWESOME. I guess those genius inventive minds just don't stop!

April 13, 2009 10:05 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home