A Camouflage Buying Guide for Wildlife Photographers

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When speaking with wildlife and bird photographers, the subject of camouflage always initiates a rousing conversation. Some are surprisingly dismissive, others are all-in and, of course, there are those of us in the middle, who understand the benefits, but are not quite ready to order a complete ghillie suit. In fact, camouflage gear is not a panacea, and all photographers should agree that your location, movements, techniques, scent, and even breathing have more impact on getting that great animal photograph than what you are wearing or under what you are hiding. However, camouflage is beneficial and, more than just clothing and face paint, camouflage-patterned gear and accessories are important to getting the shots you want and keeping your equipment in good shape.

Firefield Woodland Camo Face Paint
Firefield Woodland Camo Face Paint

Before we mention some suggested camouflage gear, let’s look at what camo can and cannot do to improve your wildlife photography. For starters, it will not help you with research, preparation, gear decisions, camera settings, composition, or timing. It will only help you blend visually into your environment and avoid detection, assuming you are able to stay quiet and still.

An important point to remember is that photography is not hunting and is certainly not warfare. Our goal as photographers is not always to get the closest, most direct shot of an animal; a photograph that incorporates the animal’s environment or behavioral movements may be a much better photograph. Also, while some animals have excellent vision, most animals utilize their senses of smell and hearing to detect threats, and common camo gear does not help with that.

My point in mentioning the obvious is to stress that it is never necessary to overspend to improve your photography, but if you are at an intermediate stage in your wildlife photography practice and have developed the skills to be patient and prepared over long periods of time, often in uncomfortable or formidable settings, then camouflage accessories and coverings will help you get a shot you may otherwise have missed. For some people, “donning the uniform” helps to get into the proper mindset and this can improve your skills. There is also the simple fact that many folks, me included, like camouflage designs and, given a choice, might choose camo-patterned accessories simply because we like them more than black or other color options.

Of course, there are more than one kind of camo pattern and you should match with the environment and the season in which you expect to photograph. Whether working in snow, in fall colors, mid-summer greens, or in brush or marsh, there is a pattern that is best for you. Many photographers may work in a range of locales and cannot buy a new set for every spot, so a generalized camo set of forest green camo is a safe option. Also, factor in which animals you are photographing. Birds generally have very good eyesight and see colors, so blending in is important. Also, with birds, you are often on the edge of a meadow or tall grass, so camo should mimic those colors as much as possible. Deer and other larger animals will not see color as much as profile within a pattern, so trying to mimic the patterns of the surrounding brush and trees and to diminish your profile with a digital breakup pattern is more important than color choice.

Gear

Let’s consider some accessories that will help keep you out of sight and also protect your equipment and provide a bit of comfort in harsh conditions. Tripod leg protectors are available in a range of camouflage patterns and can be swapped out easily if you work in varied environments. They also protect your tripod from scratches, give you a soft place to hold, and provide a thermal barrier when the tripod legs get cold. Likewise, camouflage lens skins disguise and protect your lenses, particularly important because of the long lenses used in wildlife photography. LensCoat and easyCover Lens both produce a wide variety of neoprene camo skins custom-sized for most lenses. There are also many options when it comes to camouflage camera body skins, in silicone or neoprene. These coverings may also prevent glare from bright sun reflecting from your equipment and potentially spooking your subject.

LensCoat LegCoat Tripod Leg Protectors For Gitzo 1228 (Realtree Snow)
LensCoat LegCoat Tripod Leg Protectors for Gitzo 1228 (Realtree Snow)

Other accessories that are made with camouflage patterns include beanbag camera supports, such as this beast from MOVO Photo, a classic Domke shoulder bag, straps by ONA, and a gimbal head from Leofoto. An interesting camo-patterned set of hunting tools that can be helpful to photographers comes from BOG—monopods, bipods, and tripods that can also serve as walking sticks, a seat, and camera support. Jobu Design makes a 31" Camouflage Tripod Bag to complete the look.

Movo Photo THB03 Camouflage Camera Lens Bean Bag with Head Mounting Plate (Deep Woods, Junior)
Movo Photo THB03 Camouflage Camera Lens Bean Bag with Head Mounting Plate (Deep Woods, Junior)

Covers, Tents, and Blinds

Perhaps the most effective camouflage item for the intermediate photographer is a blind or tent that can provide almost complete covering for photographer and gear and enables a degree of concealed movement for body adjustments and lens changes. LensCoat makes a series of blinds in varied camouflage patterns and different sizes, up to approximately 7' (2.26 m). Some are water resistant and all offer a mesh viewing window, a cinched opening for the lens, and a slot for a flash unit, as well as internal pockets for storage.

LensCoat LensHide Lightweight Photo Blind (Realtree Max-4)
LensCoat LensHide Lightweight Photo Blind (Realtree Max-4)

The PATRON Tent from Novoflex is a large solid-colored olive tent with three openings for viewing and lens placement, and Japan Hobby Tool has a camo-patterned tent with multiple large openings.

Japan Hobby Tool Photographer's Camouflage Tent II
Japan Hobby Tool Photographer's Camouflage Tent II

For gear protection and to help blend into your surroundings, numerous “raincoats” are available for lens and camera. Made from breathable poly tricot material, LensCoat markets several in a range of patterns and sizes, and some offer foldaway arm sleeves for easy access to lens and camera controls. In addition to blocking stray light from entering your lens, TravelHoods are an effective way to disguise and protect the end of your long lens as it sticks out of a blind or bush. Because they are very light and fold flat, they are also a practical alternative to the often large and expensive lens hoods made for ultra-telephoto lenses.

LensCoat RainCoat 2 Pro Camera Cover (Realtree Max5)
LensCoat RainCoat 2 Pro Camera Cover (Realtree Max5)

As mentioned, remaining still is one of the biggest challenges of wildlife photography and, after hours in any one position, the body needs to move and adjust. An option to maintain comfort after long hours in a tent or blind is the BOG 360 Ground Blind Chair, which collapses to be portable and swivels for easy angle adjustments.

Clothing

When it comes to clothing, there is an almost-infinite number of camouflage options available; remember, again, to match yourself with your environment and wear earth tones, even if not wearing full-on camo patterns. Even the classic khaki photographer’s vest can be a good option, along with the Glacier Glove Outback Hat. If it’s a damp day, a simple green or black rain poncho can serve. Finally, have a look at the fingerless gloves from Glacier Glove with Realtree camo pattern.

Glacier Glove Midweight Pro Hunter Glove with RealTree Xtra
Glacier Glove Midweight Pro Hunter Gloves with RealTree Xtra

As we mentioned at the outset, the need for camouflage in wildlife photography always seems to spark a rousing debate, and we’d love to hear your thoughts about your setup in the Comments section, below.

4 Comments

As a 25 year veteran wildlife photographer and veteran of multiple deployments in Afghanistan, as a Green Beret, I can speak on camo. It definitely can and does have benefits, if it didn’t you wouldn’t see it being used. There is no better camouflage than being invisible, but unfortunately that’s a secretive, classified subject. You can do your own research on that if you want, not everything about invisibility is classified, but you get the point. It’s not a technology that’s available to the general public, but it does exist. So were left with modern day camouflage and it can be very, very good. The problem is animals, mammals and birds both have a heightened sense of awareness to any movement. So you’re much better off setting up a hide and than covering your lens, tripod legs, etc, in lens coat products. Outside of offering benefits unrelated to the camouflage itself, they offer very little benefit to the wildlife photographer. So although I used to buy and use Lens Coat products and still do in some ways, it’s not for its ability to help hide me or my gear. The truth is I don’t buy or wear any camouflage when I’m doing my wildlife photography. It’s not that I’m not a believer, because like I said, I know it’s benefits and it’s limitations. I like to move and I like to hand hold my Nikon 500mm f/4E VR FL and D5 or D500. I’ve also learned so much about wildlife and my subjects over the years, behavior, environment, nesting habits...you name it. That knowledge is much more valuable in helping you both find and better photograph your intended subject(s)! At the end of the day, I know wildlife is extremely hyper vigilant when it comes to movement! Especially any animal that both hunts and is hunted, but all animals in general as well. So knowing this, and being hyper-vigilant myself, I use cover and concealment to my advantage as much as possible. Basically I use my experience and training from the Army and have adapted to my wildlife photography. Someone once said, “as Green Beret’s, we could be living in the addict in your home for two weeks, without you even knowing!” I thought that was a wonderful way of explaining what we were capable of doing and it’s translated well. Now there is no way, without spending countless hours training, to explain how this all translates. This is not my point here, my point is you don’t need camo, as much as you need intelligence. Research your subjects, learn everything you can about them and their habits, etc. This and understanding cover and concealment will help you get closer, more than wearing camouflage will. Honestly it takes years of experience, but we all start somewhere and my best tip is to read, read, read and then read some more. Literally learn everything you can about the types of birds and or other animals in which, you’re most interested in. There is nothing that will help you get closer or help you to find the subjects you’re interested in. So I personally do not wear any camouflage, but I also would never wear bright colors either. My advice to you, is save your money and buy or build a hide! In the meantime learn everything you can about hides, cover and concealment, the differences and how you might adapt those to your wildlife photography! Camouflage is not really going to help you and while it also can’t hurt you, there is way more to wildlife photography and the number one thing is prior knowledge of your intended subjects! Period! 

Thank you for your experienced comment Patrick.  I'm curious what you prefer to photograph, birds?, large mammals, etc.?  

Camo does make a difference. I've watched bird flight patterns change when someone with white and or bright clothing showed up to shoot. As mentioned in the article it doesn't have to be camo as browns, greens and blacks work too. 

Thanks for the comment Robert, interesting to hear of that experience and the noticeable difference in flight.  I usually keep my tie-dyes at home when in the woods, but yes, blending greens and browns and a comfortable spot to minimize movement is good place to start....perhaps an overhead tarp (not blue!) if you're staying put for awhile.  Thanks again

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