Hide photography

Marsh Tit

In recent years a new photography niche has arisen: people offering hides in nature reserves specially adapted for photography. Often a small pond in front of the hide, at eye so you have a nice low angle on the birds and some branches or sticks for the birds to sit on, often covered in moss. In the Netherlands there are several people/organisations offering hides like this and in foreign countries the diversity is even bigger. Water hides, hides specialised in species like vultures, eagles, grouses to name a few. And of course the mammal hides like the Brown Bear hides I used in Finland. These hides all offer a great opportunity to capture species that often are hard to photograph. The large carnivores of the taiga are extremely difficult (if not nearly impossible) to capture without hides, but also for forest birds this offers nice possibilities. Where most of the time these birds are only seen somewhere high in the trees, now you get them at a nice distance for photography at eye level. And where you normally have to look hard to find many bird species, now you just wait for the birds to come to you (or better to the food that is somewhere out of sight of the camera). Of course it’s also possible to create your own private hut, but this is a lot of work to make and maintain one, with these hides you have others do the work and you just have to come, sit and press the shutter.

So these hides are all positive? Well, there is one disadvantage. Because the hides are man made and specially made for photography, the conditions may be too perfect. A nice quiet background, near mirror-like reflections, nice moss carpets at the edges, it’s all set up to take stunning pictures. But it’s very difficult to give your personal touch to these images. There are only a few things a photographer can change in the setting, so many of the images will look like other photographers using the same hides. Looking at photography fora on the internet it’s often quite easy to pick out the images taken in a hide like this. They’re all really nice, but they also look somewhat similar. It’s hard to make an image that really stands out. Of course, this is also the challenge for the photographers using hides like this.

This weekend I could use a bird photography hide for the first time. I had a really nice time looking at Hawfinches, a bathing Starling and different species of tits. We didn’t have much time as we had done different things in the morning, but still saw several different bird species and managed to take pictures of them. All in all a really nice afternoon, but when I look at my images, I know that I didn’t manage to take any that really stand out of the crowd… Well, I’m sure I’ll get back one day to try again. It’s definitely a nice and easy way to get close to many bird species and a completely different way of experiencing nature.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.


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