I want you to take a moment and think of some of the best camouflaged predators in the natural world. When we talk about camo and predators, probably the first thing to come to mind is the tiger. The stealth and hunting prowess of this big cat is legendary. A splash of orange here, a stripe of black there, all mixed up with highlights of white.
Millions of years worth of evolution went into the design of the tigers camouflage. As I mentioned in the last article, the dance between predator and prey is like a pendulum ever swinging back and forth as adaptive advantage begets dynamic equilibrium with each party working tirelessly on a genetic basis to keep one step ahead of the other.
Time and hunger has designed the camouflage of the tiger, much as it has the great gray owl – another one of natures ultimate stealth machines. The great gray owl’s camouflage is set to a background of 18% gray, with vertical highlights juxtaposed with strips of brown and flecks of darker gray. Like the tiger, this pattern is millions of years in the making.
What makes these patterns so deadly is the fact that they not only break up the predator, but they are almost universal in application. These animals must work their way in closer and closer to their prey, remaining unseen as they do so. These patterns are not meant for one very specific habitat. These patterns are designed to offer maximum stealth in a variety of situations whether in the open, at a distance, or within striking range.
Nowhere on these predators will you find a leaf, a cattail, or any sort of distinguishable marking that will make it look like any one thing. This is the camouflage that nature has selected for in order to fill the bellies of predators. Their survival depends upon these patterns. Whether they eat, mate, feed their young, and pass on their genes to the next generation depends upon the effectiveness of their camouflage.
As a wildlife photographer, you are essentially a predator of sorts. You are not a bug that can disguise itself as a leaf or a flake of bark in order to hide 6 inches away from that which wants to eat you. Your ability to conceal yourself must work in a wide variety of situations. You must be able to approach unnoticed. You must be able to conceal yourself with the same degree of effectiveness 150 feet away as you you do 50 feet away.
Big science goes into this sort of stuff for the military. Lives depend upon the effectiveness and universality of their camo. There is a reason that the military, with its billion dollar budgets, has not adopted the intricate and artistic patterns of hunting appeal companies. The military doesn’t give a damn about what it looks like to us.
The science behind the camouflage patterns used by the military has always been based upon the same concepts used by predators. Today we see a revolutionary change over to digital camo patterns but this is still based upon the concept of large patterns designed to be contrasted next to each other, with small breaks for furthering the break up.
In the commercial camouflage market, the concept of break up is what wildlife photographers need to conceal themselves. Several companies have thought long and hard about the science of camouflage in regards to how predators utilize it. The result is a variety of “predator” based camo patterns. These are explicitly designed to break up your shape, and do so in a wide variety of situations. Situations, like those wildlife photographers find themselves in.
Here are the companies that I highly recommend taking a look at based up their utilization of the science behind how predators use camo:
1. Natural Gear. https://www.naturalgear.com/homepage.aspx
2. Predator Camo. http://www.predatorcamo.com
3. ASAT. http://www.asatcamo.com
If you go to these websites, take a look at any test photos that they have such as ASAT’s here: http://www.asatcamo.com/2_2_testphotos.htm
Also take a look at the actual science that goes behind the pattern designs that use such as found at Natural Gear: https://www.naturalgear.com/Science.aspx
There is an old woodsman saying. If it happens in the woods, an eagle sees it, a deer hears it, and a bear smells it. In the next article in this series, we will look at the other half of the concealment equation… sound and scent.