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Getting Closer to Nature (photography hides)

Updated: Oct 3, 2019

White tailed eagle, taken from a photography hide in Hortobagy, Hungary.

Wildlife photography hides can be brilliant fun. The best ones get the photographer up close to shy, illusive or rare animals and birds and they often provide unique perspectives on rarely witnessed behaviour. For those of us for whom time is limited, they provide an exciting and relatively easy way to fulfil our desire of attaining the perfect shot.

The hard work has already been done which often means months of fieldwork and observation, learning habits and behaviour patterns, planning for the best lighting conditions and most favourable backdrops. Most operators of photography hides also provide a level of luxury unknown not so long ago.

In April, I’m off to the Cairngorms on a week-long workshop with Andy Howard, and one of the species we’ll be photographing is black grouse. The only way to properly experience a black grouse lek is from a specially placed hide. In fact, I know that we have to be in place before sunrise, which makes it a daunting early start, but I know the experience will be well worth it. This type of situation cannot be done in any other way. They are a sensitive species that wouldn’t respond well to disturbance. Therefore, a carefully managed hide-based approach is essential.

Black grouse, photographed on a previous trip to Scotland from the back seat of a 4x4, which had two other photographers squeezed in! Far from ideal.

Most wildlife species are sensitive to human disturbance, but some more so than others. For example, a barn owl can be watched by anyone on a Sunday afternoon stroll around my local patch, Redgrave and Lopham Fen. They are often so intently focussed on hunting that they ignore the casual observer. However, noise and sudden movement will soon send them in the opposite direction. I have had owls fly so close over my head that I could have reached out and touched them, and this is because of taking a different approach. I like to find a quiet spot away from the main paths, I wear muted clothing, sit quietly, sometimes using a throw over cover, and I wait and watch. You can follow this link to read more of my experiences with the fenland owls.

Barn owl, photographed at Redgrave and Lopham Fen.

I’ve also photographed (well, attempted to…) Ospreys from a pool hide in Rutland. Exhilarating, but something that needs a lot of practise and repeated visits to achieve good results, which can be expensive.

Osprey, photographed from a hide at River Gwash Trout Farm.

The most unusual hide I have ever used was one I wrote about in a previous blog post, Let Sleeping Hawks Lie. A fantastic scaffold tree hide set up adjacent to a sparrowhawk’s nest, run by Tom Robinson at Wildlife Photography Hides. He also runs a tantalising array of pond hides with a host of opportunities for learning flash photography. Something I intend to investigate further.

Juvenile sparrowhawk, photographed from a tower hide, somewhere in a Lincolnshire woodland.

Of course, these all cost money, but it depends on your outlook of what constitutes good value. I would argue that in the majority of these cases the experience and results have more than compensated for the expense.

There is one major drawback from using paid for hides, and that is the fact that you are just one of many photographers taking shots that have the potential to be very similar. If you are after a unique shot, then the chances are you are better off exploring the creative possibilities of your photography well away from rented photography hides. A day in a rented hide is rarely a substitute for creativity and imagination.

Here are some of my recommendations for professionally run photography hides:

RSPB MInsmere, Island Mere hide. If you want to photograph bitterns, this is the place to go. Take your wellies! And, apart from the cost to enter the reserve, it's free of charge!

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