Photo Blinds for Wildlife Photography
Blinds or hides are used by both hunters and photographers. By the word blind, I mean a tent or structure made of camouflage material to hide you and your camera from the animal you intend to photograph. Typically they are placed in locations where animals visit frequently. They allow you to photograph wildlife in its natural state, without its behavior being altered by human presence – feeding, courting, caring for young, interacting with other, etc. Typical places to locate a blind are near a watering hole, food source, den, lodge, nesting site, baited area, backyard bird feeder, etc. Blinds need not be fancy or perfectly match the surrounding as long as their shape is somewhat disguised by the pattern of the fabric or materials used in construction. It is important that the fabric does not flap noisily in the wind. Success is most likely when the blind is in place for enough time for the animal to become acclimated to it.
I have used blinds suitable for photography from the following web sites: http://www.sportsmansguide.com, http://www.basspro.com, http://www.cabelas.com, http://www.dickssportinggoods.com, and http://www.rue.com. The best are lightweight, easy to set up alone, and relatively inexpensive. Even cheap tents can be modified to suit your purpose by camouflaging them using spray paint. I typically modify the blind I purchased to better suit my needs for photography, adding openings for my lenses on 3 or 4 sides. I fit the holes with sleeves made from camo mesh (2 or 3 layers) to cover the lens and I add an elastic closure to adjust the sleeves to the diameter of the lens. The mesh disguises the lens while allowing me to look for the approaching animals. I also add small observation windows of the same multi-layered mesh for the same purpose. More permanent blinds that I have constructed, I have a wooden frame made from cheap 1 x 4 and 2 x 4 pieces of lumber, approximately 42 inches long. I cover the frame with cotton camo material purchased from a fabric store, which I staple in place. Burlap is a cheaper cover used by many photographers but I am allergic to it. Side pockets inside the blind are useful for storing small accessories. You can further disguise your blind adding branches or grasses local to the area.
When working in hot climates, I add ventilation holes made of camo netting near the top of the blind to allow the hot air to escape. Photographers have been known to suffer from heat stroke when exposed to high temperatures for a long period of time. Always take water into the blind. If extremely hot, carry a spray bottle filled with water and spray it on your skin. The cool water drops your body temperature. Even wetting down the interior wall of the blind can lower internal temperatures. When working in hot humid conditions, avoid bring the camera and lenses indoors unprotected where the moisture from outdoors will condense on the glass. Place camera and lenses in a plastic bag where any moisture will form on the surface of the bag and not the equipment. Similar problems can develop when lenses are taken from a warm room into cold. In humid conditions, consider storing camera gear in a bag with silica gel, a drying agent.
Entering a Blind
I enter the blind at times of low activity or in the dark. For a nervous subject I place the blind at some distance away from the final position and move the blind in place over a period of time. A tactic to fool your subject into thinking the blind is empty is to have two people go into the blind and then one person leave. By watching the animal’s reactions, you can determine if they have accepted you and the blind. In its presence, they should resume their normal behavior.
For placement of the blind, I consider the background behind the subject and the surroundings where the subject will be photographed. Bright rocks, shiny objects, bright colors, and dark strong forms if distracting should be avoided. The direction of the sun at the time of day you plan to photograph should be considered. Usually I prefer to have the sun to my back or to the side. On ponds, I often have two blinds, one for morning and one for evening shooting. Some photographers working on long-term projects place their blinds over a dug out trench. Chairs are placed inside so the photographers can shoot at eye level with their subjects. I find with a long lens such as a 600 mm and a little extra distance from the subject, the angle of view is relatively horizontal giving the illusion that you are shoot eye to eye with the subject. For best results, while in the blind stay alert. Animals approach very quietly. Listen carefully and watch for movement. It is not the time to read a book.
Cover Scents, Game Calls
If the animal has a good sense of smell such as a coyote, then fox urine, skunk and other cover scents distributed around the blind will help disguise your presence. Like hunters, you could use game calls to attract animals closer to the blind. Duck and turkey calls, courting sounds, and predator calls can be bought in most hunting stores. Decoys placed in front of the blind can also increase your chances of success. Decoys are available for ducks, geese, turkey, etc. From their stands or camouflaged boats, duck hunters use both calls and decoys placed in the water in front of their blinds to attract waterfowl flying overhead.
On privately owned ranches and farms, baiting is a great tool to attract wildlife. Obviously you must have the owner’s permission to be on their land. You typically want to bait areas where you want your subjects. For deer, javelina and waterfowl, I have used whole corn (in water it sinks under surface). For songbirds bird, sunflower and other birdseed is perfect and for woodpeckers depending where you are located, suet or fruit may be effective. Cat food works well for raccoons and some other mammals. On federal land, private blinds and baiting are typically prohibited. However on some refuges, blinds are provided for visitors. Without bait and decoys, these are often not as effective as a blind where you can add enticements. I spent a lot of time in South Texas on a ranch where I could deploy blinds where I desired, at watering holes etc. In many cases, I enhanced the environment with logs, bushes or perches. I have also placed a blind in a ditch or pond using a float designed for fishing or a Styrofoam platform of my own making.
No mater what approach you use, working from blinds can be very exciting and rewarding. There is nothing like being just a few feet from wildlife and walking away with great photos.