Written by: Anna-Mart Kruger
Planning and building photographic hides is an exhausting process. First a location is selected from an extensive short list, before a mini hide (or test box) is installed and used for several months, allowing the design and positioning to be adjusted – sometimes by the tiniest degree – to ensure that the lighting, focal lengths, backgrounds and animal behaviour all fall in to place so that photographers can produce images of startling quality and originality.
Photographers become invisible to their subjects in a hide, making a photography hide a great tool for the nature photographer.
Here are my five reasons to use a hide if you want to improve your wildlife photography:
1. You are guaranteed to walk away with stunning images
2. A hide is ideal if you have limited time available for a photography trip
3. You can get very close to your regular wildlife and bird species, as well as more elusive species
4. You can get that eye-level shot, which is not always possible from a safari vehicle
5. You are safe and protected from dangerous wildlife
And here are 10 things to bear in mind for hide photography:
1. Choose your subject
There are a few companies in Africa that specialise in hide photography. The hides are usually based in a location to capture images of specific mammals or birdlife, such as bee-eaters, kingfishers or vultures. Some locations can offer both.
2. Choose a destination that offers you a variety of hides
If your chosen destination can offer different types of hides, it will supply you with more variety. Hide photography is not a substitute for good field craft and photographic skills, thus it is always good to identify a location that not only offers hide sessions, but can also include safari game drives to get the most out of your trip.
3. Join a photo safari company
You will maximise your own success if you join a photo safari company, such as iCapure Photo Safaris, that can share their technical and practical photography skills, and guide you to optimise the quality of your shots. I’ve been on safari with many professional photographers and I have learned a variety of different skills on each occasion. The photography guides are also familiar with the area as well as the animal behaviour, and they can prepare you for specific shots.
4. Know your gear
Technical know-how and a fancy kit is not the most important. However, you do still need to have the knowledge of how your camera works and what you can do to obtain certain results.
The really great action-packed moments in wildlife photography last on average between five and 20 seconds. If you are not intrinsically familiar with the settings of your camera, or the abilities of your chosen lens, you will either miss it or blow the images you do manage to capture.
5. Be aware of minimum focal distance limitations on your lenses
It’s important to know how far the subject will be from where you are positioned. This will help you to determine the minimum focal length that you need. If your subject is going to be four to six metres from you, a focal length of 24mm-300/400mm should be fine. If the distance is further than six metres I would suggest a minimum of at least 150-500 or 150-600mm, especially if you want to get a few close-up shots.
I also love to include habitat in my images so I always take my second camera with me, with my 18-35mm lens attached, to include the whole scene.
6. Use supports
Some hides and safari vehicles offer tripods and beanbags as support. Wildlife photography is often about quickly changing your position so I personally prefer to invest in a Benro gimbal heads and mounting plates.
7. Patience is a virtue
A patient wildlife photographer, who has empathy and a fascination for the animals in front of the camera, will always have a much more enjoyable time in the field than somebody who gets frustrated because they aren’t getting the exact photo they envisioned. As a wildlife photographer, your images are predicated on the fact that things in nature are unpredictable. Anything can happen at any time…
8. Keep movement and noise to a minimum
Once you are inside, you still have to keep your movements to a minimum and be mindful of noise. Sound travels further than you can see! Take everything you need into the photographic hide with you. Don’t forget to take water, a snack and insect repellent, as you may be in there a few hours at a time.
Turn your mobile phone (cell phone) to silent mode before arriving at the hide location. You can also use the silent shutter function on your camera if you are in hide without double glass.
9. Additional tips and tricks
- I have found that a wireless remote works very well when you are sitting at a bird hide with lots of action. For example, at a bee-eater hide the bee-eaters usually fly in and out at high speeds, and from more than one direction. Instead of looking through your viewfinder, you can sit back, enjoy the action and use your remote with ease.
– Since I’ve discovered back button focusing I haven’t focused or composed my shot any other way.
– Time lapse photography at a hide can be a great alternative, especially if you have big herds of elephant or antelope visiting the waterhole.
– Don’t forget to sometimes switch to video mode and take a few short videos of the action.
10. Last but not least
We need to be mindful of the privilege of spending time in nature and being in places where the hand of man hasn’t quite exerted its full force yet.