Camouflage tape

In wildlife photography, one should strive to make photographic equipment visually inconspicuous, in order not to attract the attention of wildlife. On other pages I describe padded leg wraps for tripods (actually, not primarily for camouflage but for carrying comfort) and a camouflage hide designed specifically for wildlife photography. A variety of commercial and homemade accessories can be used for making equipment less conspicuous. Adhesive tape with a camouflage pattern is probably one of the simplest solutions. Several commercial products is available. They can be found mainly in hunting and fishing shops, military surplus and in shops that specialise in paintball gear (practicers of this sport actually use some camouflage gear that approaches or exceeds in sophistication the one used by elite troops).

Camouflage adhesive tape.

Adhesive tape with a camouflage pattern is cheap, but has several drawbacks. It is not durable (basically, the substrate is ordinary packaging tape), and does not stand up well to rain and humidity. It also degrades in sunlight. This tape tends to be smooth and relatively shiny, so it is not really suitable as camouflage, unless in an emergency or for temporary masking.

Plastic camouflage tape.

Plastic tape is better, because the substrate is thicker, more resistant to weather, and less reflective. It is quite durable, and available in most of the popular camouflage patterns. It is not quite suitable for covering large objects, because it cannot be found in widths of more than about 6-8 cm. Using several strips to cover the barrel of a large lens produces parallel breaks in the camouflage patterns, which can be picked up easily by human eyes (and possibly wildlife) at a distance (in fact, more easily than at close range). Camouflage works by disrupting visible patterns and shapes, and you do not want to introduce a geometric pattern on a camouflaged surface.

Adhesive cloth camouflage tape.

Adhesive backed cloth has a matte surface, and probably is the best among the materials described here. It is matte and completely non-reflective. As a drawback, it may become wet if not moisture-proofed, and may fray along the edges. A thick adhesive cloth also offers some protection against scratches and lighter bumps, and makes it easier to handle equipment with smooth metal surfaces. You can see here a lens I partly covered with this tape. Unfortunately, I have been able to find it only in traditional military camouflage pattern.

As a further alternative, hunting, paintball and military surplus shops also carry strips of burlap that can be wound around equipment. They are originally used for camouflaging guns, but can be used for almost any equipment devoid of controls that must be touched directly. The advantage of burlap strips is that they conceal the outlines of objects better than tape, but they are meant only for temporary use. Of course, these materials are easily re-used. Further advantages of these materials is that strips of two or more colours can be used, thus allowing a custom appearance, and that multiple wrapped strips of burlap are irregular, and from a distance do not show the parallel striping produced by multiple turns of tape.

There could be a couple of potential risks inherent in camouflaging oneself and one's gear. One danger is that well-camouflaged gear can be difficult to find again, if for some reason you leave it unattended in the wild. A greater danger is from hunters. You may be camouflaged so well that hunters may not recognize you as a person, and shoot at what they believe to be an animal hidden in a moving brush. Hunting accidents are not infrequent, so this is a real possibility. My suggestion is to investigate in advance whether hunters may be afoot in the area you intend to use. The risk of hunting accidents is higher at the beginning and end of the hunting season, when more hunters, including inexperienced and/or excited ones, practice this activity. You would do well in being aware of when hunting season starts and ends.

I don't have practical suggestions, although I have been toying with the idea of a bullet-proof vest (or actually, of a bullet- and slash-resistant one, which would weigh 2-3 kg instead of the 5-6 kg of a relatively bullet-proof one), but I cannot see myself trading 2-3 kg of photo gear for bullet protection. In any case, no protection is practical against bullets designed to kill moose or other large mammals, and vests do not cover some of the most delicate parts (head, neck and belly). I would consider, instead, using a colourful flag or sign on my hide. This is probably effective without scaring wild animals away, because what they are really afraid of is the human shape, not human-made objects.

A further concern is that terrorism and/or the fear of terrorism are unfortunate realities in many countries, and people dressed in camouflage gear and carrying large pieces of disguised equipment may invite unwanted attention. In the worst cases, before going out in the field it might be a good idea to call the local police and tell them in general terms what you want to do and where. This way, if they receive reports of a terrorist training in the woods, they may have an idea of what it may all be about. This is not a far-fetched idea - I have heard that once a photographer who had set up a long telephoto on a tripod on a beach to shoot shore birds was interrupted by police investigating a report of someone setting up a machine gun. Recently, small luminous bill-boards set up in a US city were widely believed to be bombs, so anything is possible in some countries.