Take a walk through the aisles of the big name outdoor appeal stores today and you will find yourself lost in a jungle of camouflage patterns. It seems as though manufacturers have concocted an infinite variety of patterns that could cover just about any and every situation imaginable.
In the last blog post regarding camouflage, I covered the topic of color and how animals actually see color… which is VERY different from the way that we are seeing those colors. This go round I’m gonna dive into exactly how and why some of the most popular styles of camouflage are actually HURTING photographers in the field when it comes to concealment.
The point of camouflage is to break up the human form. This in turn allows us to effectively blend in throughout a variety of different situations. The idea of camouflage is not to look exactly like a patch of marsh grass, nor is it to make us look like a tree. The idea is to distort the human shape.
The problem with looking just like a clump of marsh grass is multifaceted. First off, this is only designed for marsh grass. Take the same pattern and go into the woods, sagebrush, grasslands, etc . . . and this pattern sticks out like a soar thumb. If you have camouflage that is designed with extreme intricate detail for a specific habitat or purpose, the less effective it will be in all other situations.
This very simple concept, means that you will need thousands of dollars worth camouflage clothing in order to prepare yourself for several different types of situations. Oh, and don’t forget, that marshland is a completely different world in the spring vs summer vs fall vs winter. You can see how that camouflage can get to be a big business just based on the premise of concealment in only one type of habitat across the 4 seasons.
This is just the tip of the iceberg however. The problem with much of the high end super detailed patterns goes WAY beyond matching a specific type of habitat and season. You see, the intricate detail in camouflage is designed to conceal you when at close range and well after you have had time to get into place settle down and further attempted to conceal yourself.
Now I do a lot of my photography from blinds – especially when it comes to photographing waterfowl. In this type of situation, I’m settled into where I will be photographing for the morning long before the sun rises. I have taken the time to “brush” up with natural vegetation over and around me. I am covered from head to toe in camouflage. Hands, face, head, you name it. Then natural vegetation is used to further blend in and actually break up my shape. My camera has vegetation concealing it, as does my tripod. Only after all of this have I concealed myself effectively to allow extraordinarily skittish species such as ducks in the wild to come in close enough for me to make frame filling photographs of them. This is how intricately detailed camouflage is designed to work. Chances are however, 99.9999% of wildlife photographers will never do this.
Unless you are prepared to go to such lengths for concealment, then gamble on the fact that your subject may or may not even come into right where you are, this type of camouflage is only hurting you.
Now to say that the camo is hurting you might sound like an exaggeration. Its not. You see, intricate camo is only designed to work at close range. From any sort of distance… Let’s say even 100 feet, all of the detail fills in and becomes a solid human shaped mass. The eyes of animals have evolved, like ours, to pick out shapes from the chaos of vegetation. Black and white or color blind vision does well to help an animal look past the chaos and hone in on what’s important – shape and form.
If you are stalking an animal, if you get caught out in the open, if you are not motionless at close quarters with natural vegetation to help aid in the concealment process, then you will stick out like a soar thumb and you might as well have just walked in with no consideration of concealment what so ever. Intricate camo patterns fill in at a distance and become obsolete with out the use of a blind. End of story.
All of this even extends to the use of blinds themselves. Man made blinds are often time little more than tents. These are unnatural shapes in the wild and animals have evolved to be weary of things that seem different. Using a blind is just like using camo clothing in that it will often times just fill in from a distance. You must either “brush it up” to hide it, or leave it sitting on one place for days before you plan to use it. Otherwise, you and your man made blind stick out like a soar thumb.
There is a certain irony at work here. In the evolutionary pendulum that swings back and forth between predator and prey, billions of years have gone into the notion of concealment. To understand how to disappear into your surroundings, we need look no further than some of the very same animals we wish to conceal ourselves from to begin with! That my friends, will be the next blog post. . .