WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY WITH BLINDS

by Edward A. Tomchin

Wildlife photography, from shooting ducks at the park to capturing lion and elk on the mountain, present a highly rewarding challenge to the photographer, both professional and amateur.

Pure chance shooting, that is, hiking or driving to a known wildlife gathering place and hoping to get some good shots by chance provides a far larger number of disappointing shots than you'd care to have. Soon you'd lose interest because the reward wasn't proportionate to the time and trouble taken.

You can improve your photographic hits by taking a few simple measures, such as using blinds, decoys, calling devices, and stalking. In this piece I will talk about blinds, or hides, which are used to hide from our photographic subjects and hope it makes them blind to our presence. At least until we can get a few good closeup shots.

About half of my bird and mammal photography has been done from a blind of one form or another. One readily effective blind that I use frequently is your vehicle. Wildlife have become so accustomed to vehicles that you can get very close to them in your car or truck, which allows you to rest your on the window ledge for those longer shots. A beanbag makes a great camera rest.

Once you've spotted your subject, gently coast to the best vantage point and stop. If you've already gone past the best spot to stop, continue down the road sufficient distance not to alarm the animal, then gently turn around and come back, gently slowing to a stop at the right place.

Shut off your engine to minimize both noise and vibration. Make the best use of this spot, because if you start your engine to move, the animal will beat a hasty reteat. If you sit for a few moments, the animal will decide that your car is just another silly hrududu and ignore it.

In organized parks wildlife has become so habituated to human beings that you don't need to be hidden to photograph them. However, note that it is against regulations to use blinds in National Parks and Recreation Areas that would disturb the local environment. This leaves only the mesh blind described below as the only acceptable alternative for National Parks.

Blinds can be made from many different materials and can take many different forms. One excellent blind I have used successfully in the past is an old refrigerator carton painted camoflage with a doorway and lens flaps cut into the sides. Cut off the top, put a crossbar from one corner to the other to give it lateral strength, and you'll have a fine blind in which you can sit, stand, and move about without frightening any wildlife in the area. Make other modifications to suit.

Another excellent blind is camoflage mesh netting which can be purchased inexpensively at most surplus or sporting goods stores. This is one of the most portable blinds there is. Just drag your stool, tripod and camera to your location. Set up. Then drape the camoflage netting over you and your outfit, cut slits for shooting, and prepare to fire. The large mesh allows plenty of air flow, but you can't be seen from a distance. And you can move it as easily as you move the rest of your equipment.

Place your blind in front of a bush, tree, fence row or other natural vegetation to break up its silhouette and make the blind as invisible is possible.

If you're going for birds your blind can be placed with no regard for wind direction since birds have a very poor sense of smell. This same rule holds for most rodents such as squirrels, chipmunks, and others.

For all other mammals, wind direction becomes important because if they smell you, they won't come within shooting distance of the blind. Always sit downwind of your shooting location. The prevailing winds are from the west at most times.

In hot weather, pin up all viewing ports and leave the back and top open to increase a cooling air flow. Since stools with straight legs sink into the ground, a good strong stook with tubular runners should be used. Carry a small cooler for snacks, drinks and film.

If you want to make your house a blind, you must attract wildlife to it by creating the proper habitat. Find out what kind of birds and small animals are common to your location, then create a place where they will be attracted to feed, nest, mate and have young. Make sure its safe from other predators. The animals will come to know this in time and word will get around that your place is a refuge that serves good food.

Once the animals are coming regularly, you can begin to photograph them at your leisure. Don't shoot through your windows if you can help it. Build a permanent blind a respectable distance from the habitat you've created, but make sure you have the best of all possible views.

If you do choose to shoot from inside, keep the window spotlessly clean, both inside and out at all times. Lower the light level in the room you are shooting from. Shoot from behind drapes or hang a dark blanket behind your camera to prevent your reflection from showing on the glass. Shoot with a polarizer if you have sufficient light and film speed to reduce glare from the glass. I know of one person who hung camouflage drapes and cut a large slit in the drapes for the lens.

Using these trick should give you some wonderful opportunities to photograph wildlife up close and personal. The rest is up to you.

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Copyright 1997 - 2006 by Edward A. Tomchin