When we look at the absolutely breathtaking images of nature, it’s easy to forget that behind every picture, a photographer is hiding in the bushes, possibly sitting in the inclement weather, trying to get as close to their subject as possible.
As a hunter, the goal is to get the game within range--even if just for a moment--to take the shot.
As a photographer, the goal is to get as close as possible for as long as possible without raising alerting the subject. Nothing is more gratifying for a wildlife photographer than catching an animal in its natural habitat.
It takes a serious person with serious gear to get the right picture. Here is everything you need to know to take your photography to the next level.
A Quality Camera
As good as you believe your phone camera may be, it’s hard to argue the value of a quality camera.
The first step to choosing a good camera is being realistic about what kind of images you’ll be taking. If you only take pictures of small bugs, a camera built for distance could be a downfall. A full-frame sensor takes a physically larger image, almost in a “zoom-out” manner, while crop sensors are more focused on an object or set of objects allowing for focused high resolution.
Autofocus is a great function for shooting nature because the camera will use focal points to adjust the image into view. Cameras with autofocus can be switched to “manual” mode for further adjustments.
The most active time of day for most wildlife is at the crack of dawn or just as the sun goes down. This creates a need for low light capabilities, where the camera picks up and captures more natural light to create a brighter, more vibrant image.
When shooting moving objects, such as running animals, using a high shutter speed is the best way to capture a blur-free image. Shutter speed controls exposure, or the time the camera has to evaluate an image, with fast shutter speed capturing an image quickly but without as much depth. This is why you want the option to adjust shutter speed, giving you control over the image.
The best wildlife photos are taken in the depths of nature, far away from human contact. You’ll need to minimize the size and weight of your gear, including your camera equipment, to get into these spots.
With travel and rough terrain in mind, finding a lightweight camera and lightweight gear is important.
To get the perfect shot, you’ll likely be trekking into some of the most severe conditions found in nature.
The wind, rain, snow, and the risk associated with hiking through nature could put your gear at risk. Cameras are expensive, and one slip on a loose rock could cause severe damage.
Durability is a major aspect of outdoor images. You’re not in a photography studio, so you need a camera with high durability. This should include a solid body, well-secured internals that won’t break loose if you bump a tree, and avoiding small intricate parts that could easily be lost.
GunSkins Vinyl Wraps transform your gear to be waterproof, scratch-resistant, and impact resistant, whether it’s made of wood, metal, or plastic.
This protection includes a quality camera bag.
Camera bags are designed with adjustable pockets, allowing you to adjust each area to fit snugly around your gear to keep it from moving. Quality bags have thicker padding and dividers designed to keep your gear safe.
Camera bags can be found with hard or soft outer shells.
You’ll be using this pack for more than just your cameras. Whenever hiking into the great outdoors, you need to consider water and safety equipment within your pack list. This should include items such as a medical pack, an orange tarp or other visual devices in case you need to be found, and some form of fire starter. This is the absolute minimum to your gear, while your personal experience should help establish the needed safety equipment.
If you’re going to bring food or water into the field, you want to ensure any potential spills won’t damage your camera equipment. Food shouldn’t be aromatic because that can alert wildlife to your presence.
Taking wildlife pictures often requires more than just a camera. Depending on the situation, you could need other gear to get the image you want.
It’s important to evaluate your gear before hitting the trail because it will help you avoid packing too much excess unused equipment. Consider setting your gear up, even just in your backyard. This will help you become familiar with your setup and where everything is.
You’ll likely be setting up in the early morning or tearing down after dark while it’s still dark. The last thing you want is to misplace something, drop something important, or make a ton of noise.
Becoming invisible is essential for the perfect picture, but this means more than just a camo shirt.
First is the unnatural colors we wear day-to-day. When looking at any form of nature, even the grass in your yard, you’ll see a wide range of colors and shapes. With this in mind, you first need to choose the right camouflage for your terrain. This includes the general shapes, textures, and colors.
The textures within most camo designs are a blend. A wooded camo will likely have some branches, leaves, grass, bushes, moss, and much more. Check out your local terrain, even taking pictures before you go shopping for the right camo.
Next is the smell. Believe it or not, that great fragrance you use to wash your clothes is quite different from the scents of nature.
Much like hunters, you should consider washing your nature clothing, separate from your day-to-day clothes. While natural or dirt-scented soaps can be found on the market, there may be a simple way.
Wash your clothes with unscented soaps, and then days before your photoshoot, place them in a trash bag or storage bin with some fresh yard and tree clippings, placing it in a relatively warm place. As the fresh clippings break down, they release held moisture that remains trapped in your bag or bin. These moistures then find their way into your clothes, giving you a fresh scent.
Much like the concern for your clothes, your body soaps and natural odors don’t blend well with nature.
The morning of your wildlife photo op, load all of the things into your vehicle first, and when you’re finally ready, jump in the shower. Consider using naturally scented soaps or no soap at all, specifically trying to wash away any strange smells.
You should have a special deodorant for the occasion, something unscented or with a very mellow natural scent. You’ll want to use this not only on your armpits but anywhere you commonly sweat to help reduce body odor later. Use small amounts.
Throughout your trip, you’ll need to be cautious of your body odor and how much you're sweating.
Now that you're clean and ready to go, put on the minimum clothes from your bin, such as your undershirt and pants while leaving any jackets or outer layers sealed inside and loading the entire bin into your vehicle. For those with an expected long trip, you may even wear different clothes along the way and change into your scented clothes when you get there, taking them back off when you’re out of the field, returning them to the storage to be re-scented.
You’ll want to avoid anything that could cause a ton of sweating. It’s time for the old “work smarter, not harder” to be taken very seriously.
Don’t push the time limit--get there early so you can take your time hiking to your spot, reducing body odor.
If you have a long hike, consider taking a mountain bike to increase speed while reducing effort.
There’s a reason it’s so easy to spot certain unnatural objects sitting in nature. Nature rarely provides smooth sharp edges, with the silhouette of your body standing out among the grass and trees.
There are two primary methods to eliminating your body’s shape--with a ghillie suit or using a hunting blind.
Ghillie suits are an outer layer used by hunters and military specialists (snipers and recon) to help blend in with nature. Store-bought suits use different textures and a series of draping strands or rough-cut materials. When you’re standing, you’ll be covered in textures similar to a tree’s bark. Once you lie prone or sit down, the draping material helps bend you in with the ground and remove shadows.
Ghillie suits have one major flaw: As you move to grab gear from your bag or adjust for a shot, your movement is more prominent and easily noticeable.
A popular option for photography is hunting blinds.
Blinds place a textured wall between you and nature, with the option for camo, texture, and using elements of nature to hide your position.
The frame of the blind should be wrapped with GunSkins Gear Skins, adding the perfect design to help hide the solid structure.
Consider hanging surrounding nature around the blind, such as placing branches, grass, or bushes in front of your blind. Take a step back and take a look--do you blend in?
Build Your Own Blind
The true value with a blind is the fact it’s not attached to you. This allows you to move, grab things out of your bag, or even layout some of your needed gear. While blinds are a great option, they can become bulky. You may want to consider building your own blind using lightweight materials.
A PVC tubing frame is lightweight and easy to break apart for travel, but the white tubing hardly blends in. This is where a thorough wrap with GunSkins vinyl comes in handy.
The walls of these DIY blinds are usually burlap or other rough-textured, matte materials. These materials not only blend in but have a “grabby” texture that will help you add natural camo, such as leaves and grass, when you get to your spot.
You’ll either want side legs to support your blind, or you’ll want to consider a lean-to that utilizes a tree or other large natural object which you could lean the blind against.
GunSkins Your Gear
When durability and camo are key, GunSkins become an essential tool.
GunSkins is a professional grade coating that can be applied to your equipment from the comfort of your home.
So how does it work?
First, you explore the collection of GunSkins vinyl, with availability to the top camo designs on the market.
Once you receive your vinyl, you’ll want to grab some degreaser, a sharp razor blade, a heat gun, and a hard card or squeegee.
With a clean work area and your tools laid out, you’ll need to degrease all of your surfaces. This can be done with quality degreasers such as FrogLube solvents or dish soap and warm water. This process pulls the protectant oils off of the surface, allowing the adhesives to bond properly.
After the surfaces have fully dried, cut a general oversized needed shape for your gear. If the piece is far too large, it could become difficult to work with.
With the backing paper peeled, the vinyl should have a slightly tacky feel. Begin wrapping the piece, alighting the design just how you want it. If you need to lift and adjust the vinyl, this is your time. Once you get everything aligned, give it one tight press down.
Using your heat gun, begin heating the vinyl. GunSkins utilize a thermally activated adhesive which becomes more liquid or sticky when it gets hot. Once the vinyl is hot, press it down tight.
Once the vinyl is pressed down, take your sharp razor blade and trim around the edge while pulling the vinyl tight.
Once the vinyl is trimmed, use the heat gun to heat the edges, pressing it down tight while creating a moisture-tight seal.
If you ever decide to remove the wrap or change to a new design, you can use a heat gun to heat the adhesive, and the vinyl can be removed.
Wildlife photography is an artwork that brings the beauty of technology to everyday people.
Photographers place themselves in untouched nature, regardless of the weather or terrain.
These tips and tricks and the durability found with GunSkins will take your images to the next level.