I spent 32 hours last week in blinds like the ones pictured here in this post. The bird photos accompanying this post were all made from these photography blinds. While not always necessary for larger birds like eagles, herons, cranes, geese, etc., a photo blind is very much necessary for consistent work with smaller perching birds like warblers, sparrows, and songbirds.
Perching birds are very skittish, very small and very fast. Only a birdbrain (pun intended) would choose bird photography as a vocation. It takes an incredible amount of research and patience to do this work. But in my experience, it also takes a photo blind.
Sure, I have the occasional “lucky” shot of perching birds made without blinds. But if you need to produce salable work, consistently and on-demand, you need to at least think about photographing birds from a blind.
Blinds (or hides as they are described in Europe) can be anything from a ghillie suit to a temporary bag blind or (as those pictured here) a permanent, fixed, structure that is designed to hide the photographer’s presence from the birds.
The advantage of a permanent blind is that the birds grow accustomed to the blind being there and are much more likely to approach it than a temporary blind that just popped up in their vicinity.
The blind shown in this post is what’s known as a “dugout” blind. It’s buried beneath the surface so that the viewing holes are at ground-level. This offers the advantage of a unique perspective on birds that may come to water.
WHAT YOU NEED TO SUCCEED IN A BLIND
No matter what kind of critters you photographed, and no matter what type of blind you use, there are a few things that you need to be mindful of if you want success.
1. You will need to try to arrive at the blind before sunup. This way, there isn’t a bunch of commotion at the blind in broad daylight which may keep timid species from getting close to the blind.
2. You need to make sure your background is distraction-free. The cleaner the background, the better the shot.
3. You need to find natural vegetation and realistic perches as setups which allow the birds somewhere to land while in the vicinity of your blind.
4. You need to use a tripod. Having your camera mounted to a tripod minimizes quick, or constant movement from the camera lens that could scare the birds. You also will benefit from simply not having to hold or carry your camera for hours at a time.
5. You need the sun to be coming from behind the blind so that you can stay on sun angle. This is easy with portable blinds; you can simply move them around to make sure that they are 100% on sun angle. Fixed structures will only be useable during the time of year that they sit on sun angle.
6. You need to understanding patterns of bird behavior. This increases the likelihood that you can bring in birds without stressing them or exposing them to danger.
7. You may need to use recorded bird calls to entice birds to come to your setup. It’s important to learn how to use these calls appropriately, responsibly and carefully making sure that you don’t overdo it.
Patience and preparation are key to getting great bird photographs. But sometimes, especially with perching birds, that just isn’t enough. For those times, you need a blind.
Photography from blinds offers photographers the chance to be among wildlife in a less-intrusive way, capturing photos of birds and animals as they go about their urgent business of feeding, breeding, parenting and migrating.
Not only will a blind help you avoid stressing the birds, it will get you close enough to use shorter lenses, which offers a unique perspective that most people never get.
If you can muster up the patience to spend enough time in a blind, you are almost certainly going to be rewarded with opportunities you would never get otherwise.
If you don’t want to invest in a permanent blind, and aren’t sure how often you might need a blind, you might want to start the easy way – with a bag blind. I recommend the LensCoat LensHide Lightweight Photo Blind.
It offers a Camo mesh window, a cinch cord for the lens, a slot for an external flash and is made of a breathable material. At less than $130, it’s an affordable way to get started photographing from a blind.