Animals alerted by camera focusing

Is it just my imagination, or do lizards and birds really detect when I focus on them?
Several times I’ve watched something ignoring me for a few minutes as I walk around, but as soon as I try to focus my camera on it, it runs away.
Infra-red focus rays? Or the camera looks like an eye? Any ideas?


If your camera twitches the lens or beeps when focusing, they may be reacting to the sound.


I’ve noticed this many times too. As I understand it both sound and vision are involved. But I do think many animals have the ability to estimate where an eye is looking, and I’m guessing that a camera lens registers as a potential predator’s eye.


I’ve observed hawks sit in trees until my camera beeps to take a picture, then fly off. I’m convinced they could hear the noise, even from way up in their tree.


I think that animals are also often detecting that you yourself are behaving differently, regardless of a camera. When someone takes out a camera they generally change their pattern of behavior, stop, and orient themselves towards the organism they are trying to take a picture of. This can alert organisms to the fact that they have been detected.

It’s also reasonable that some organisms could perceive a camera specifically as an eye, but I’ve observed many lizards behave in the way described towards humans even when no camera is involved.


I think it happens less when I use the swivel screen with live view. I guess the animal is keeping an eye on where I’m looking, and if I hold the camera somewhere lower and look down it may not register as “this human is watching me” to them. I’ve used this trick on occasion not only to take pictures but also to observe a shy animal: Sit down, put the camera in your lap, look down on the swivel screen and zoom in on the animal. Maybe pluck some real or imaginary dirt off your clothes like you’re grooming yourself. They are often fine with that and relax again since I’m no longer acting like I’m paying attention to them. If I raise the camera to look through the eye piece, it covers up my face and as others have said may look like a giant eye watching them.


I don’t think it’s your imagination. I had an experience with photographing a fly on a picnic table where it would fly as I pressed the shutter. Did it about a twenty times even though I was changing my timing, waiting some or going immediately after framing the shot. My camera appears to use its light to focus, probably infrared. It does this even if pre-focused. I finally got a photo by putting my finger over the light.

I still have a series of fly photos to remember this by. Most are slightly out-of-focus and leaving the frame.

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Even just the general tensing up is fairly noticeable (hence why we always seem to fail on the occasions we most care about). I used to play with the family cats like this, tensing up and relaxing, it’d usually end up with them nibbling on my legs.

Conversely, you can pretty much always tell when a cormorant or crested grebe is going to dive a few seconds before the movement actually begins. It’s even easier with little grebes, because in that case the answer is absolutely always, all the time, at this point I’m surprised they’re not classified as fish.

In Hawaiian, the word for camera lens is the same word as the word for eye.


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