Fieldcraft of wildlife photography
Post on 13-Jan-2015
DESCRIPTIONFieldcraft for wildlife photography
- 1. Field Craft What is Field Craft? Field craft is name given to the multitude of skills taught by the British army to hide, hunt, track, shelter, light fires and find both water and food in remote locations as well as navigate and move efficiently while evading detection. What has this got to do with Wildlife Photography? Some of the skills taught on tracking, hiding, hunting etc, can be easily converted to watching wildlife and as such a basic understanding of some of these skills may improve your ability to track and get closer to the wildlife you are looking to photograph. With this in mind I have laid out some of the more straightforward strategies that may help you to get closer to your subject below. The 8 Ss Soldiers are taught how to evade detection by using a series of Ss that help to act as reminders of what helps another individual identify a human presence. Humans are pretty distinctive and most animals have learnt to give us a wide birth because of the threat we pose (be this intentional or not). Therefore the Ss are as follows:- Shape the shape of a human is pretty distinctive. Even carrying objects on its back and hands a human figure can be identified from a great distance quite easily. The following actions may help reduce the ability of detection. Use of camouflage clothing or suitable alternatives. The British Army use camouflage material commonly known as DMP (Disruptive Pattern Material) to clothe a soldier. This material when worn in the correct environment helps to disrupt the easily recognisable shape of a human by using random patters in colours usually found in nature. The addition of branches and twigs to an outfit also further modifies the human shape and makes identification harder. Note that each environment demands a different type of DPM as wearing temperate woodland camouflage would do little good in a desert or snow environment. As the British army are now fighting in environments that their current DPM clothing is not designed for a new pattern DPM is currently under production. This will filter down to the general public with in a couple of years. This allows a greater range of tailored DPM clothing for different environments to be utilised by the general public and us photographers if we so chose it. In the mean time current surplus DMP clothing will be disposed of to make way for the new pattern material. This should mean new stock in army surplus shops etc and may even mean a reduction in price due to availability. Although a cheap way of camouflaging yourself army surplus isnt to everyones taste. So if you do not wish to cloth yourself as Rambo there are some alternatives to purchasing army surplus clothing. Some specialist wild life watching suppliers are producing their own DPM patterned material that looks different enough to not be mistaken as army clothing and to further help this distinction they are creating outfits with non military styling. These outfits can be very pricy due to the limited production and sale volume.
2. Another possible route for suitable clothing is the outdoor adventure market. Now common on some high streets, shops such as Blacks, Millets, Field & Trek and Nomad that stock a wide range of clothing that may prove a suitable alternative to army camouflage. Finally dont forget the high street as these may also provide suitable alternatives. Remember the reason DPM works is because it breaks-up an easily recognised pattern of a human by using patterns and colours found in the environment it was designed for and while alternative clothing may prove suitable keep in mind that colours should be sympathetic to the environment you are working in. So avoid bright colours and large logos and go for muted colours and simple patterns. Also consider the durability of any garments, look for parts that can become easily snagged. Remember that whatever you finally choose it needs to be able to protect you from the elements, and be comfortable to wear, allow free movement, resist damage to some degree and fulfil any other requirements you may demand from it. Need for such extreme approaches may be negated by using hides. Both portable and purpose built hides help to allow people to get closer to wildlife then would normally be possible under certain situations. Shine The best way to advertise you presence is to reflect any available light back to a watching pair of eyes. Think of signalling for help using a heliograph mirror and you can appreciate the power of reflecting light. Therefore reduce the number of shiny things you have on display and are using. You can do this by leaving all your shiny objects at home or by covering potentially shiny objects. In old times assassins used weapon black to coat shiny steel weapons to prevent them from glinting and therefore betraying the owner. Although we do not need to go down that route it is worth thinking about what can reflect light and how we can minimise this with covering it with a suitable material or substance. To help I have identified some things that you may have on your possession that may shine and some suggestions as to how to reduce this possibility. o Zips, shoe eyelets, pop studs etc. Buy clothing that uses buttons instead of zips, or avoid shiny metal zips etc. Alternatively cover them with non-reflective or black tape. Using gaiters can help reduce shine from shoe lace eyelets. o Tripod Legs Most tripods have either silver or black metal legs and due to their circular leg shape run the risk of reflecting any stray light. Therefore it is best to cover the legs. Some camera shops and websites sell special camouflage covers but this can work out expensive. An alternative to this is using pipe lagging that you can buy from any large DIY store. Although do make sure that this is of a suitable colour and that it too will not reflect light. Other solutions include fixing non reflective material around the legs or the tripod as a whole. Suitable materials can include DPM Material, Cotton mesh, Leaf scrim, cammo netting, and plain or patterned non reflective material, or DPM Tape. 3. Other more extreme solutions include painting your tripod or lightly sanding the sheen off of your tripod legs. o Camera you camera can also reflect light with its sleek shiny body. The most obvious part of the camera that can do this is the lens and this is the only part you cannot successfully cover if you want to still take the best photographs you can. To cope with the other parts of your camera there are various alternatives available to you. Camera Armour is a rubber jacket that can fit over your camera and comes in black and DPM styles. Available for the most popular Cannon and Nikon DLSRs only. Additional extras by the same company include battery grip jackets, lens jackets, and lens cap covers. Other products available to purchase include lens covers and camera covers in a variety of materials and finishes. Alternatives solutions are similar to masking your tripod (above). o Boots or Shoes leather or synthetic material boots and shoes that are well cared for last. Therefore polishing shoes and boots is important to maintain them and keep them waterproof. Unfortunately polished leather can reflect light so before going out give them a coat of polish but dont shine them. This also helps to create an extra coating that you can wash mud off of o Jewellery By its very nature jewellery is designed to be shiny as an outward display of wealth. So minimise the amount of jewellery you wear. Where you have jewellery that you cannot take off try covering it or wearing it inside clothing. Rings can easily be covered with gloves, tape etc. o Watch most people wear watches and these are also a great source of reflecting light. The most obvious solution is to take it off but this may not be the most useful solution so other possible solutions include covering it with long sleeves, gloves, tape or a custom watch cover. o Skin and hair Healthy clean hair has lustre as does hair that hasnt been washed for a while as the natural oils your hair produce coat the hair. Skin can also become oily and both skin and hair should be considered as sources of shine. Hats, scarves, face veils, camo face paint etc. can all be utilised to help cover areas that may create shine. Lastly nail varnish whether coloured or plain and false nails should also considered as another potential source of shine. Shadow if working at night, early morning or late evening your shadow will be long (as its lit by a low sun or moon) and can cover a great distance depending on where you are positioned. This can be easily identified from a great distance as a human shadow. Therefore with this in mind there are a few procedures that you can take to minimise this. Avoid high ground where your shadow is easily projected long distances. Use cover and keep to low ground so your shadows are intermixed with other shadow or contained in low ground. Keep low reducing the size of your shadow. If stationary stay low or behind cover. 4. Silhouette A variant of shadow is the human silhouette where backlit by either the sun or moon. The human form can be identified at a vast distance if on open ground or on high ground such as the crest of a hill. Therefore as with shadow look to ways of reducing your silhouette by using cover, getting low or travelling below the horizon if possible. Sound Any alien sounds in an area may silence any wildlife noises, as the wildlife within ear shot try to identify any noise as a threat or not, producing a pocket of non-sound. This pocket will help identify, you, your position, speed and direction and alerts any animals you may be tracking to your presence. Therefore try to reduce any noises by ensuring your kit is as noiseless as possible, including the clothing you are wearing, and keep any sounds as muted as possible. If while moving and you break a branch etc. and the area becomes silent of animal noise. Stop and wait for any wildlife noises in the area to re- start before continuing to move as otherwise any further noise you create will act as a warning of a threat to any animals in the area. Speed Human eyes are much attuned to movement and this is how martial arts and the moving of weapons quickly causing rapid movements creates an effective method of attack. Any human eye is drawn towards any fast movement making a secondary attack hard to judge and defend. Animal eyes are equally attuned to movement as predators will attack quickly and the ability to react on just a glimpse of fast movement maybe all the quarry has to stop it becoming lunch. Therefore moving quickly is a sure way to draw attention to yourself. Even if you can do this quietly your movements alone may help spook any wildlife in the area. Remember some animals eyesight is far superior to human eyes so remember the old adage slowly, slowly catchy monkey. Smell Another sense that animals can posses depending of the species that far outstrips the human ability is smell. Avoid pungent cosmetics products (aftershave, perfume, shampoos etc.), Keep clothing and equipment clean and avoid pungent detergents or fabric conditioners. Use natural soap and washing products or use less then the suggested amount to reduce the pocket of smell around you. The opposite to the above hyper clean is more of a problem as throughout the ages mankind lacked the ability, understanding and products to mask any body odours and as such many animals associate the smell with humans and therefore danger. Finally to increase your chances of getting close to an animal, approach from down wind as this both reduces the sound and smell issues. Straight lines Cat owners will be able to confirm that when a cat stalks something they do not approach it directly but crouch down low and slink towards it in a zig-zag pattern, and only accelerate when they are within striking distance. Why? Any movement perceived as coming straight at you (and animals) is immediately processed by the brain as a potential threat so by not approaching an animal directly you can reduce the animals ability to notice you. 5. Spacing If travelling or working with others always travel and keep apart. The more people condensed in an area, moving or stationary the easier they are to detect. Remember Wildlife is part of the food chain and as such spends a great portion of its life trying not to become pray of larger predators. This is an automatic ingrained survival system that we humans have lost over our centuries of domestication. Therefore any understanding of skills that allow you to approach wildlife closer should be a bonus to your wildlife photography repertoire. I am not suggesting that you camouflage-up with half a forest stuck to your body crawling on your belly through a dip in the land like a one-man action hero film. But I am suggesting an appreciation of how humans betray their presence maybe of use to you if you wish to improve your wildlife photography skills. 6. Spacing If travelling or working with others always travel and keep apart. The more people condensed in an area, moving or stationary the easier they are to detect. Remember Wildlife is part of the food chain and as such spends a great portion of its life trying not to become pray of larger predators. This is an automatic ingrained survival system that we humans have lost over our centuries of domestication. Therefore any understanding of skills that allow you to approach wildlife closer should be a bonus to your wildlife photography repertoire. I am not suggesting that you camouflage-up with half a forest stuck to your body crawling on your belly through a dip in the land like a one-man action hero film. But I am suggesting an appreciation of how humans betray their presence maybe of use to you if you wish to improve your wildlife photography skills.