Camouflage in wildlife photography is probably one of the essential elements in a photographer’s success. Indeed, if you cannot get close enough to the animals without being noticed, it is very likely that you will return with the memory card empty. So, to avoid this, we will see in this article how to camouflage yourself simply and for very little money.
Ethics of The Wildlife Photographer
Before starting this article, it seemed very important to me to talk about the ethics of the wildlife photographer. Indeed, the techniques that I will teach you will allow you to approach wild animals very closely, most of which are fearful of humans and often very sensitive to disturbance.
It is, therefore, your responsibility not to do anything and not to frighten the animals unnecessarily, because the consequences can often be terrible: abandonment of the young by the parents, attacks from cornered animals, accidents, etc.
If you love animals (and I’m sure you do if you read this blog), please respect them.
How to Camouflage in Wildlife Photography?
Blending in with your environment is the key to success in wildlife photography to get close enough to wild animals.
Here are the three main factors that you can use when going out to try to become invisible:
• Camouflage Clothing
• Camouflage Your Smell
• Visual Equipment Hides
Without making this article too long because they alone deserve a complete article, we will deal with the different visual hides in a future post. But first, here are some simple rules to put into practice to blend in with the surroundings.
Rule #1: Avoid Flashy Colors
We all know that to go unnoticed, it is better to wear neutral colors, such as khaki, brown, or green, which are naturally found in vegetation. So, avoid as much as possible colors that stand out too much, such as red, blue, or pink.
But above all, think about the color of the vegetation around you, since you can see that in the photo on the right. My pants are probably a little too dark compared to the color of the tall grass, which is somewhat in light shades.
Indeed, depending on the environment (dry meadow, dense forest, field, etc.) where you will evolve, you will have to adapt the color of your clothes to the surrounding flora. Likewise, seasonality is also essential since trees and vegetation will not have the same color in spring as in autumn.
So, plan several outfits that you can use throughout the year, depending on the situation. On the same principle, you can easily imagine that in winter, in snowy environments, wearing very light or completely white clothes will be much more effective.
Rule #2: Hide Light Areas of Your Skin
While it is an excellent start to wearing khaki, it is also crucial to camouflage your skin as much as possible, as animals detect significant differences in contrast first.
The skin is much lighter than the clothes, so this is what will betray your presence immediately. To see the difference, my photo was taken after adding additional accessories to hide my skin.
Rule #3: Break the Human Form
Have you ever come across a deer on the side of the road which remains utterly insensitive to the passage of cars but which, as soon as you get out of the vehicle, runs away at full speed.
How is it that a wild animal is not at all frightened by something as significant and unnatural as a car but runs away as soon as you set foot on the ground?
The reason is straightforward: centuries of hunting have made wild animals extremely fearful of humans, and the slightest appearance of a human silhouette is a sign of great danger to them. Breaking your human form is therefore essential.
Fortunately for us, it is effortless to do since the simple fact of squatting will allow the animal to be deceived and hide, for example, in the tall grass.
In the next section, we will also see some exceptional clothes, which allow us to break the human silhouette, even while standing completely.
These are everyday clothes with a camouflage pattern and have the advantage of costing almost nothing.
You will easily find it in sports stores, especially in the hunting department, on the Internet on specialized sites, or entirely simply on Amazon. Choose inexpensive clothes because they will quickly deteriorate in contact with vegetation (brambles, mud, etc.).
How to Camouflage Your Upper Body?
In summer, a simple khaki or camo patterned t-shirt will do the trick. Be careful; choose t-shirts with long sleeves to camouflage your forearms, as we saw in the previous paragraphs.
You can indeed see in the left photo above that rolling up my sleeves makes me much more visible because of my very fair skin.
Plus, rolling up your sleeves will protect you from a wildlife photographer’s worst enemy: the tick. For periods a little cooler or the morning, a cardigan will be perfect and remarkably comfortable.
I prefer the models with the zipper, which allows me to take it off easily and quickly if the temperature rises during the day, which is often the case in spring.
How to Hide Your Hands?
You can indeed experience than rolling up your sleeves makes you much more visible because of fair skin. Plus, rolling up your sleeves will protect you from a wildlife photographer’s worst enemy: the tick.
For periods a little cooler or the morning, a cardigan will be perfect and exceptionally comfortable.
If you are interested in this camouflage glove, you can get it on Amazon for $11.88 Today.
How to Camouflage the Lower Body?
Nothing too complicated here either, since simple neutral-colored pants will do. However, remember to buy a thick enough model to prevent it from tearing during your walks in the forest, where brambles are very numerous.
If you are interested in this camouflage glove, you can get it on Amazon for $33.99 Today.
Also prefer camouflage pants with a natural fabric because synthetic materials tend to make a lot of friction noises, which can scare the animals away.
How to Camouflage the Face?
The face is a crucial part of camouflage because it is the most visible part of your body, and therefore the most easily detected by animals.
Here are the main accessories you can find:
- Caps and bobs
I like caps because they are versatile, and if you come across walkers, they won’t look at you strangely.
Choose a model with a not too long visor (like this one) so as not to constantly hit you with your camera when you put your eye in the viewfinder.
Scarves are visually more aesthetic, but I find them very impractical as they tend to slip off the face easily.
Finally, balaclavas are the most practical accessory since they allow you to camouflage the entire head and face.
Be careful; however, consider using a reasonably thin and light fabric model because you can quickly suffocate in it when the temperatures are high.
3D Camouflage Suits
Also called fuzzy, 3D outfits are complete pull-on outfits with elements that reproduce nature, such as leaves or ferns. They aren’t just used for wildlife photography, as the military also uses them to camouflage their snipers. They are also used for paintball and hunting.
Their effectiveness is particularly formidable, so easy to blend in with nature. It has even happened to me to be on the lookout, and walkers walk past me without seeing me.
There are mainly three models, and each has its advantages and disadvantages:
- Synthetic shaggy
- Fabric shaggy
- Camouflage capes
Remarkably light than those in fabric and more comfortable to wear, synthetic shaggy is less realistic in camouflage.
Also, please pay attention to the noise they produce. Depending on the plastic material used, friction can cause noise pollution detected by animals with excellent hearing.
Some animals can also detect the smell of synthetic material, so do not hesitate to leave the outfit for several days in the open air (I will tell you about it in the next section of this article).
But the significant advantage is that they are generally cheaper than fabric models.
The camouflage is remarkably realistic with these fabric shaggy and borders on perfection since you become a living fern. However, in my opinion, they have many flaws which unfortunately affect user comfort.
First of all, the heat: with so much fabric on your back, don’t expect to stay in it for several hours in the middle of summer because you suffocate quickly. But when the temperature is low, this defect quickly becomes an advantage.
Second, the fabric material grips vegetation a LOT, so you quickly end up with lots of brambles and leaves hanging all over the outfit, reducing travel efficiency.
Very similar to 3D outfits, camouflage overcoats are, as their name suggests, coats that are put on from the top and have no sleeves.
Most have a built-in hood and are very practical when it rains, but they do not have pants, making for a less complete outfit.
If you are interested in this camouflage glove, you can get It on Amazon for $52.50 Today.
For my part, I find them less practical than fuzzy because they tend to get stuck in the vegetation and tear because of their size. You will also find plastic and fabric, like 3D outfits. For my part, I started with a cloth, but I quickly gave up using it for the reasons I just mentioned.
Indeed, over time I got tired of bringing the whole forest in my car and spending almost an hour cleaning the outfit (not to mention the smell after several outings). I, therefore, advise you to buy one in synthetic material, certainly less realistic and less ecological, but which will have the advantage of being much more practical to use.
How to Hide Your Camera Equipment?
Neoprene Lens Protectors
Neoprene protections are covers that are put on the lenses, and that perfectly fit their shape. Their advantage is twofold since, in addition to perfectly camouflaging your equipment, they will also serve to protect it from scratches and (a little) shocks.
Unfortunately, besides being relatively expensive, these covers can only be used on one model in particular. Indeed, if you have several lenses, you will need to buy the model corresponding to each lens, which can quickly represent a significant budget. The above protector (in image) is for Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 VR.
Camouflage Adhesive Tapes
Much less expensive than neoprene protections, camouflage strips allow photo lenses to be covered in the same way and tripods and other objects.
Their great advantage is undoubtedly their price since several tapes only cost around ten euros and can be used on all lenses.
Use strips without glue, which is generally corrosive to your equipment and may attack your lens.
They may not last as long as bands with glue, but if you decide to resell your material one day, you will be happy not to have signs of wear on your fabric.
We will talk more about the use of camouflage nets in the article dedicated to photo hides, but be aware that camouflage nets can also be used to cover your equipment.
Their use is effortless: coarsely wrap the net around your lens.
Also, note that you can choose huge models, which will allow you to cover your equipment and put yourself under and thus camouflage yourself simultaneously.
But we’ll talk about that in more detail shortly.
Noise muffs are objects that cover the camera and muffle the sound of the shutter, which can very often scare away very fearful animals.
Some models are also made in a camouflage material and cover the lenses, making replacing neoprene protections or other camouflage nets.
Attention, before any purchase, remembers to check that the cover is compatible with your camera.
How to Hide Your Scent (Smell)?
It is an element that very few think about but knows that the smell is highly developed in animals, and all odors that are out of the ordinary will be synonymous with danger and, therefore, flight.
Therefore, paying attention to your scent is very important, and I would even say it is a factor that can ultimately influence the success of a photo outing.
Here are some good practices to put in place.
1. Goodbye Industrial Products
On the day of your photo outing, forget about perfume, hair gel, body creams, and other industrial products.
Likewise, avoid taking a shower the same day as your photo outing and prefer to do it the day before because the smell of the shower gel will quickly betray you.
If you can’t help it or hygiene is too important to you, shower with plain water only (you can always wash with soap when you return from your trip).
If you are not afraid to scare your better half away, even go so far as not to take a shower for several days: the dirtier you are, the more natural your smell will be and the more quickly you will blend in with nature.
2. Goodbye the Washing Machine
Likewise, NEVER wash your camouflage clothes with detergent or soap: it is the worst animal repellant there is.
Indeed, the fabrics have significant absorbing power, and the smell of laundry will permeate your entire outfit for several weeks.
On the contrary, the worse your outfit smells, the more it will become undetectable, so do not hesitate to wear it several times in a row and even store it outside, in a slightly open plastic bag, for example, so that the natural air permeates it.
And if your wife (or girlfriend) finds that you smell terrible and that she doesn’t want to cuddle you anymore, then wash your camouflage clothes with clear water, leaving them to soak for several hours if necessary to avoid as much as possible, the smell of soap.
In addition, another problem with washing clothes with commercial detergent is that most of the time, it contains brighteners.
I won’t go into details, but know that brighteners are products used in laundry to make clothes “shine” and make them visually more radiant.
The problem is that these molecules absorb ultraviolet light and then emit this energy by fluorescence (a bit like children’s night lights that glow at night).
This light is invisible to our human eye, but for some animals, things are very different.
You think you are entirely camouflaged, but for animals sensitive to ultraviolet rays, you are a lamppost that flashes brightly in the middle of the forest.
3. Always Go Forward with The Wind
Your scent will be undetectable by animals you approach since it will be repelled behind you.
And when we know that an animal is capable of smelling an odor several tens of meters away.
To quickly know the direction of the wind, here is a straightforward trick: use an enema bulb filled with talc or flour and spray a little in the air.
These products are so light that the slightest breeze will tell you which direction to go right away.
You may also like to read: Do and Don’t of Wildlife Photography
Camouflage in wildlife photography is quite an art and probably the essential part of being a master long before you know how to set up and use your camera. Indeed, most wild animals are very fearful, so the amateur photographer must become almost invisible to get close enough.
Without this discipline and a minimum of experience, photographing wild animals will be very complicated. We will see in a future article the different hiding places and possible hiding places.
In the meantime, respect the animals and take care of them. That’s all for today. Happy wildlife photography.