The Art of Camouflage in Wildlife Photography

The Art of Camouflage in Wildlife Photography

Camouflage in wildlife photography is probably one of the most important elements in a photographer’s success. Indeed, if you are not able to get close enough to the animals, without being noticed, it is very likely that you will return with the memory card completely empty.

So, in order 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 am going to 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 are reading this blog) then please respect them. Enjoy the article reading.

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.

How to Camouflage Yourself for A Wildlife Photography?
How to Camouflage Yourself for A Wildlife Photography?

Here are the 3 main factors that you can use when going out to try to become invisible:

• Camouflage clothing
• Camouflage your scent
• Visual Equipment hides

In order not to have an article too long and 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 in nature, it is better to wear neutral colors, such as khaki, brown or green, which are colors that are found naturally in vegetation.

So, avoid as much as possible colors that stand out too much, such as red, blue or pink.

Rule #1: Avoid Flashy Colors
Rule #1: Avoid Flashy Colors

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 are rather 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 important, since trees and vegetation will not have the same color in spring as in autumn, for example.

Camouflage Cloth & Fabrics
Camouflage Cloth & Fabrics

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 a great start to wearing khaki, it is also very important to camouflage your skin as much as possible, as animals detect large 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, here is my photo taken after adding additional accessories to hide my skin.

Rule #2: Hide Light Areas of Your Skin
Rule #2: Hide Light Areas of Your Skin

Rule #3: Break the Human Form

Have you ever come across a deer on the side of the road which remains completely 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 large and unnatural as a car, but runs away as soon as you set foot on the ground?

The reason is extremely simple: 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.

Camouflage Photographer
Camouflage Photographer

Fortunately for us, it is extremely easy to do since the simple fact of squatting will allow the animal to be deceived and hide, for example, in the tall grass.

We will also see in the next section some very special clothes, which allow to completely break the human silhouette, even while standing.

Camouflage Clothing

These are everyday clothes with a camouflage pattern and have the advantage of costing almost nothing.

Camouflage Clothing
Camouflage Clothing

You will easily find it in sports stores, especially in the hunting department, but also on the Internet on specialized sites, or quite simply on Amazon.

Choose clothes that are inexpensive, 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, in order 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.

How to camouflage your upper body?
How to camouflage your upper body?

Plus, rolling up your sleeves will protect you from a wildlife photographer’s worst enemy: the tick.
For periods a little cooler or for the morning, a cardigan will be perfect and particularly comfortable.

I personally 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 that 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 for the morning, a cardigan will be perfect and particularly comfortable.

How to hide your hands?
camouflage gloves

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I personally 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 Camouflage the Lower Body?

Nothing too complicated here either, since a 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.

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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 an extremely important part to 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:

  • Scarves
  • Caps and bobs
  • Balaclavas

I really 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.

How to camouflage the face?
How to camouflage the face?

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 effective accessory, since they allow you to camouflage the entire head and face.

Be careful, however, consider using a model with a fairly thin and light fabric, because you can quickly suffocate in it when the temperatures are high.

3D Camouflage Suits

Also called shaggies, 3D outfits are complete pull on outfits with elements that reproduce those of 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.

Photographer in 3D Camouflage Suit
Photographer in 3D Camouflage Suit

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 shaggies
• Fabric shaggies
• Camouflage capes

Synthetic Shaggies

Particularly light compared to those in fabric and more comfortable to wear, synthetic shaggies are however less realistic in terms of camouflage.

Synthetic Shaggies
Synthetic Shaggies

Also pay attention to the noise they produce, because depending on the plastic material used, friction can cause noise pollution that can be detected by animals with particularly fine hearing.

The smell of synthetic material can also be detected by some animals, 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 big advantage is that they are generally cheaper than fabric models.

Fabric Shaggies

With these fabric shaggies, the camouflage is particularly realistic and borders on perfection, since you literally become a living fern. However, in my opinion, they have many flaws which unfortunately affect user comfort.

Fabric Shaggies
Fabric Shaggies

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.

Camouflage Overcoats

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 therefore very practical when it rains, but they do not have pants, which makes for a less complete outfit.

Camouflage Overcoat
Camouflage Overcoat

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For my part, I find them less practical than a shaggy, 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 fabric, but I quickly gave up using it for the reasons I just mentioned.

Indeed, over time I got really 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?

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.

Neoprene Lens Protector
Neoprene Lens Protector

Unfortunately, these covers, in addition to being relatively expensive, 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. 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, but also 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.

Camouflage Adhesive Tapes
Camouflage Adhesive Tapes

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 one day you decide to resell your material, you will be happy not to have signs of wear on your material.

Camouflage Nets

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 very simple: coarsely wrap the net around your lens.

Camouflage Net
Camouflage Net

Also note that you can choose very large models, which will allow you to cover your equipment, but also to put yourself under and thus camouflage yourself at the same time.

But we’ll talk about that in more detail shortly.

Anti-Noise Covers

Noise muffs are objects that cover the camera and muffle the sound of the shutter, which can very often scare away very fearful animals.

Anti-Noise Covers
Anti-Noise Covers

Some models are also made in a camouflage material and also cover the lenses, which also makes it possible to replace neoprene protections or other camouflage nets.

Attention, before any purchase, remember to check that the cover is compatible with your camera.

How to Hide Your Scent (Smell)?

This is an element that very few thinks about, but know that the smell is extremely developed in animals and all odors that are out of the ordinary will be for them synonymous with danger, and therefore of flight.

How to Hide Your Scent (Smell)?

Paying attention to your scent is therefore very important and I would even say it is a factor that can completely 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, then shower with plain water only (you can always wash with soap when you come back 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 more dirty you are, the more natural your smell will be and the more easily 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 a very important absorbing power and the smell of laundry will permeate your entire outfit for several weeks.

On the contrary, the more bad 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 really bad 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, in order 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 obviously invisible to our human eye, but for some animals, things are very different …
Basically, you think you are completely 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 easily know the direction of the wind, here is a very simple 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

Conclusion

Camouflage in wildlife photography is quite an art and probably the most important part to be a master, long before you know how to set up and use your camera.

Indeed, most wild animals are very fearful, so it is essential for the amateur photographer to become almost invisible to be able 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.