A hide allows you to get closer than ever to your wildlife subjects without disturbing them. Giles Babbidge explains how to choose one that will suit your needs
Aside from observing and learning the habits of your subjects, one of the key techniques for getting the best possible wildlife shots is to blend in with the environment. Only when creatures are comfortable with your presence will you get the most pleasing results.
There are various ways to improve your chances, and the use of a hide is perhaps the most tried and tested. In this guide, I’m going to run through a number of questions worth considering when selecting a hide for your own wildlife photography.
What will you be photographing?
Wildlife Watching Standard Dome Hide
First and foremost, you need to ask yourself which wildlife you want to take pictures of. This may sound like a silly question, but as with all photography gear, it’s important to match the equipment to the subject and shooting conditions.
For example, if the plan is to photograph birds visiting your garden throughout the year, you’ll likely want a hide that can be left in place so that they get used to it and go about their business unfazed. The location of this hide will be governed by a number of factors, such as how much space you have, the type of pictures you want to shoot, and your camera setup.
If you want to capture wide-angle shots, either because you want to show off your subjects in the context of their immediate surroundings or you lack a powerful enough telephoto for frame-filling results, your hide will need to be placed closer to where your subject is going to be. Of course, if you’re photographing larger animals then logistics will dictate a need to keep your distance.
If the best way to photograph your subject in their natural environment is to get down low, you might need a re-think. For this, a one-man tent or a bivi (basically a thin waterproof cover in the shape of a sleeping bag) might be the best approach. In the interest of keeping a low profile, you can simply cover this with camouflage of varying types – natural or man-made – and enjoy working in a fairly unobtrusive way. Just be warned, though, that this is not the most comfortable design of hide, especially in poor weather and for prolonged periods of time.
Is a permanent or portable hide most suitable?
Wildlife Watching Bag Hide – C33 Medium Weight All Terrain
If you’re planning to go out into the field, then hide bags are a great way to stalk your subject. They offer the flexibility of being an all-over cover for you, your camera, a tripod and a folding seat. Alternatively they’re simply a way to break up the outline of you crouching down behind your tripod-mounted camera.
Many of the commercially available dome hides on the market these days are designed to be portable while still offering the stability required to be left in position for extended periods of time. This is handy if you have access to land that certain animals frequent and you can get permission to wait there – for example, if you can get friendly with a local farmer, they might let you set up base by in the corner of a field to give great access to the local rabbit colony.
A photographer out in the field under the Wildlife Watching Bag Hide
Another thing you can try is using your car as a mobile hide, turning your attentions to local hedgerows and rivers in the early mornings or at weekends. No doubt the local wildlife will be used to passing traffic, but the addition of something like a leaf-effect scrim net draped over the windows facing the subject is a quick way for create a screen between you and them.
Should you build your own hide?
Wildlife Watching Groundsheet for C30 Standard Dome Hide
If you are on a tight budget, the DIY route might be the way to go. However, this doesn’t mean you have to cut too many corners – in fact, you might find that it ultimately provides the best solution for your needs.
You could start with something like a simple groundsheet and a few poles and introduce some twigs and leaves or some camouflage scrim netting so that you blend in with your surroundings. A step up from this might then be to adapt a bag hide so that it offers more flexibility for shorter trips such as a day spent in woodland.
If, however, the cost isn’t such an issue and you want to have a permanent structure (such as a year-round, heavy-duty hide in a corner of your garden), then the world is your oyster. People often hand-build these out of plywood and drape them with camouflage netting. They can have a latched door and pre-cut windows through which to poke your lens. On the inside is typically a stool for you to sit on and maybe a shelf and hooks to arrange your gear logically around the place so that it comes easily to hand.
For a long-term setup, you could select a standard dome hide and extend your base around it (in which case, do it over a course of weeks, to allow wildlife to get used to it). Work with your surroundings, doing your best to blend in.
Whichever approach you take when selecting a hide, remember that you’ll need to make it work for you. Very often, out-of-the-box models need tweaking so that the user can work in comfort over extended periods of time. Also, it’s important to make sure that the structures don’t stick out like a sore thumb in the landscape – for the benefit of you, your photography and the wildlife you’re trying to photograph.
About the Author
Giles Babbidge is a commercial and editorial photographer based in Hampshire. He travels all around the UK and works with a wide range of clients – you can find out more about his day-to-day activities over at his website.