Photography Hides for Nature Photography: Do you need them?

///Photography Hides for Nature Photography: Do you need them?

Photography hide or blind are a means of camouflaging yourself and your equipment whilst photographing nature.

What are Photography Hides?

Fixed photographic hide

Although when talking about hide photography we think of some form of structure that we build. This isn’t always the case though. A photography hide can be any form of concealment which the photographer will use to hide from their subject. But usually it will be some sort of physical barrier between the photographer and the subject.

Traditionally these were a solid “shelter” like building, like you would see at a birding site. The problem with these types of structures is that they can’t be moved and unless well placed provide little benefit to the nature photographer. They also need to be built which may require some carpentry skills. One exception to this would be if the photographic hide was constructed to provide protection from dangerous wildlife. You usually find these structures at public reserves put aside for watching  birds by local government bodies.

These days, there are a large number of different “portable” varieties of photographic hides. Many are borrowed from the hunting world and modified to suit the nature photographer. When you think about this, it does make some sense, given that hunters want to get close to their quarry without “spooking” them. Nature photographers have the same goal except we don’t want to kill the subject but capture them in a photographic image.

A photography hide is nothing more than a static form of concealment. Meaning that once you are in location the photographic hide won’t move during a photography session.

Types of Photography Hides

Solid structures (buildings)

These are fixed structures, much like a shed with viewing holes in the sides. They are often found in public places and are used for bird watching.

Camouflaged “throws”

These are like big sheets that you throw over yourself and equipment. They are very portable.

You can watch a video of one version of this type of personal hide below.
(I am not affiliated with this business in anyway)

Portable structures (tent like structure)

Some Commercially Made photography Hides

Portable “walled” curtains

This form of hide is just like a wall in which the photographer sits behind. Most are portable.

Tower hides

These are used as the name suggests, to gain height from the ground. Some are on frames and others are “bolted” onto the tree. Or some can also be built right into the tree like a tree house.

Boat hides

This type of hide is used to break up the outline of a boat and the occupants within.

Using natural vegetation

You could use any local vegetation to create some form of hide. Do Not Cut Down Living Vegetation To Build Your Hide. You might be able to tie groups of vegetation together to form a barrier. Try to return the vegetation to a natural state when you are finished.

Your vehicle

Wildlife and many birds are more tolerant of a vehicle than of a human wondering around. How many times have you been in a vehicle with the wildlife blissfully ignorant of your presence and as soon as you start to open the door they take flight?

Using a Photography Hide

When using a photography hide you need to ALWAYS keep in mind the welfare of the creatures you are photographing. This means you shouldn’t place your hide too close and thereby disturb the animal. Please read the ethics of nature photography before heading into the field.

The purpose of a photography hide is not to hide you from your subject. A photography hide is to hide your movements and to break up the general shape of the human form and your equipment. Think of it this way, birds and other wildlife worldwide are hunted by humans and associate the human form with being killed. Now, here is a nature photographer with his telephoto lens; What does the shape of his or her equipment look like? A hunter with a big gun!!!! So what you want to do is break up that outline.

Using a photographic hide

If you are using one of the commercially available hides, you will want to make some modifications before heading out into the field to photograph nature. Erect the hide in your yard, look at it and figure out how you will use it on location. Sounds silly but these hides are made like a “cookie cutter style” and are all basically the same. This may not be ideal for your situation, maybe the pattern isn’t quite right for your location, maybe the hide needs some more material to help break up its outline. Which opening are you going to point your lens out of? Will it require you to make unnecessary movement or sound getting set up? As you can see in the photos above, all the commercially made hides have large openings,  this is because they were made with hunters in mind not nature photographers. I would suggest that you make a type of curtain which will hang over this opening. But remember that you want to still be able to see out and that it doesn’t restrict the movement of the lens.

You will also want to purchase a comfortable chair or stool to use in the hide (you may be sitting a long while). The chair needs to be high enough that you sit comfortably behind your camera and be able to look through the window without too much movement.

Once you have the photography hide kitted out for nature photography and you are confident with setting it up quickly. Its time to learn some general tips about using a photography hide.

Scout the location you will be using the photography hide in.

Don’t rush this step! Check where the wildlife is most abundant; Which way they travel when arriving or leaving? Which way is the light coming from when you plan to be there? The same principles of photography still apply with regards to lighting. Is there any natural cover you can use to help you “blend” your hide into? If you are photographing waterfowl; Which way does the wind normally come from? You still want the wind at your back for waterfowl, to get the head on shots of the birds landing as birds normally land into the wind.

Plan to arrive several hours before you plan to photograph.

Unfortunately the old advice of putting your photography hide on location a week before and slowly moving it closer, will only probably have someone steal it before you get to use it. Also, you want to draw as little attention to what you are photographing as possible these days. Sadly, there are  people that have little regard for our wildlife or the natural environment and will investigate what you are doing if they see a “strange” tent out in the bush. I don’t know how many times I have prepared well for a shoot only to have a stranger walk up to the hide and stick their head in and ask “What are you doing?”. Only to scare away what I was photographing. If you arrive early you can set up, you will probably scare everything away, but if you are quick setting up and settle in with a minimal disturbance the creature will usually return in a short time.

Blend the photography hide into the surrounding vegetation.

Try to blend your hide into some surrounding vegetation to help break up its outline.

Keep movement and noise to a minimum.

Once you are inside, you still have to keep your movements to a minimum and be mindful of noise. Sound travels further than you can see!

Take everything you need into the photographic hide with you.

Don’t forget to take water, a snack, insect repellent e.t.c with you as you may be in there a few hours at a time.

Turn your mobile phone (cell phone) onto silent mode before getting to the location.

I have on several occasions forgot this and was busy “smoking the motor drive” and the phone rang and the noise scared all the birds away in a startled flight. It is interesting that most birds and animals don’t seem to mind the sound of the shutter firing, they hear the sound of the shutter firing and are curious more than anything but a telephone ringing, well that  just scares them.

Are Photography Hides a Necessity?

A photography hide is just another tool available to the nature photographer. They do have a benefit particularly if you are trying to photograph birds or wary wildlife but they are not a substitute for good field craft and photographic skills. I use photographic hides in my work as a professional nature photographer but not as often as you might think. I mainly use then in semi open ground where it would be difficult to conceal myself and equipment from “flighty birds”. I have various different styles of photography hides for different purposes and situations. I have also constructed my own over the years on special projects.

A photography hide isn’t essential in my opinion but they do serve a purpose. If you are “focal length challenged”, if you use the hide wisely and follow my tips above they do assist you to get closer to your subjects. It doesn’t hurt to use them when need be. Remember though, they are no substitute for poor photography or field skills.

Which ever way you decide to go, keep in mind the points above and remember to protect the natural world and creatures and not cause undue stress.

If you liked this article and nature photography tips why not share with others or leave your comments below. Remember also that James Doyle photography conducts nature photography workshops,  nature photography tours and is available for private tuition  and mentoring in nature photography in the Brisbane region.

6 Comments

  1. James Doyle Wednesday, 19 April, 2017 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Hi Shirley, thanks for the comment/enquiry. Unfortunately, I’m not sure whether you will find anyone in Australia that stocks photography hides/blinds anymore. There was a business on the Gold Coast many years ago that was selling a good version but I don’t think they are in business anymore. My best suggestion would be purchase one from overseas from a reputable seller like Naturescapes.net Or B & H, It would take about 10 days to arrive after purchase. Both these companies, I’ve dealt with over many years and are excellent, so you would be safe dealing with them. I hope this is of some help to you Shirley. Cheers!

  2. shirley scott Wednesday, 19 April, 2017 at 8:44 am - Reply

    Dear James
    My favourite thing to do is to photograph birds and wildlife.For some time I’ve been thinking about getting a bird hide.LIGHT perhaps to suit two people.openings of slightly varying heights and ?some sort of seating.
    Can you suggest a site/sites/business in Australia please?
    Thank you.
    Cheers
    Shirley

  3. Giselles Pruson Thursday, 12 December, 2013 at 10:17 am - Reply

    I like it when folks come together and share opinions.
    Great site, keep it up!

    • James Doyle Friday, 13 December, 2013 at 8:44 am - Reply

      Thanks for your feed back Giselles.

  4. Sarah C Saturday, 7 December, 2013 at 7:39 am - Reply

    What an interesting read James, I’ve been toying with the idea of buying and using blinds for my photography. You have some good suggestions and tips in this post which makes it a bit more clearer about whether to use one or not. Thanks S

    • James Doyle Thursday, 7 August, 2014 at 8:50 pm - Reply

      Glad you found the article of interest Sarah. Hides are good to have in your kit, they are rather cheap in the scheme of things really and can give you that little extra in getting close in some situations.

      Cheers
      James

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