Wildlife Photography from Hides is a long-debated topic.
Is it ethical?
Does it increase disturbance for wildlife?
Is it really wildlife photography when sometimes things come so close?
Wildlife photography hides are popping up everywhere, offering photographers the access to photograph different wildlife species relatively easily. These hides are great for those who don’t have the time or knowledge to put in to finding their own local species, in some ways it is better that an expert provide the facilities so the welfare of the species is protected, someone who looks for their own location may not knowingly cause increased disturbance. Consequently, the wildlife photography paid hide business is booming.
But with that boom comes a wide variation in the quality of experience you may be booking onto. Some hides are overbooked with too many people and not a comfortable or pleasant experience, especially if people sharing the hide with you do not demonstrate or practice good behaviours. Some are overpriced, with little or no chance of seeing the species that they advertise. Some advertise a 100% guarantee for a specific target species, this is bad practice as you can never 100% guarantee a species and if you can then ethically something is wrong.
To attract wildlife into an area, most hides will leave some sort of bait out. This is pretty normal, and there is no real problem (in my opinion) with leaving things like nuts or bird seed out for various bird species or nuts for badgers and squirrels, or eggs for Pine Marten or Dead mice or roadkill for buzzards, sparrowhawk or owls.
However, things do get a little controversial when hides use what is known as live bait. This involves leaving a live animal for a prey animal to take. The most common example of this is live baiting kingfishers for diving shots.
What was once a spectacular shot, it is now commonplace to see a photo of a kingfisher entering into the water with its beak just breaking the surface or leaving the water with a fish. Amazing – until you realise that the bird is diving into a glass or perspex tank placed just below the surface of the water.
This is a highly unethical practice and is banned from most major wildlife photography competitions worldwide due to the moral issues around the technique. Not only is it not great for the fish, but the bird can become injured (although this is rare).
It is extremely difficult to get this shot without following this practice, but it is possible. I took these images from a RSPB hide (non-photographic). Although the images are heavily cropped and not perfect, you still get the same type of image.
When booking a wildlife photography hide experience, please ensure that you aren’t supporting live baiting.
All the images are the same.
Most hides will set up specific perches or places where you can get a very appealing image. Therefore, how do you manage to not just get the images that everyone else gets?
My big tip on this is observation. Spend time looking at what the subjects are doing. Observe behaviour, in many hides you will have smaller birds like finches that will squabble over food, look at where this happens, and be ready for when they do. Look for other perches further away that are more natural or have different backgrounds. Maybe a perch with the sky in the background or a different colour to the green of the standard intended background.
These are all images that were taken from a Redstart hide. The first 4 are the standard perched images of the male and the female. The flying images are of the birds hovering before they went into the nest box, observation was key here and once I established that this was a regular pattern of behaviour I was able to capture some decent flight images. The woodpecker image – I had observed the redstarts mobbing the woodpecker 3 times before I managed to get this shot, but it all happened far to quick, for this image I focused on the woodpecker and as I knew at some point the redstarts would chase it away, I clicked away when this happened.
The final set of images were of the birds in trees surrounding the hides. Overall, I think that this gives a reasonable representation of a Redstart and generally is a reasonable portfolio of different shots.
The same can be applied in any hides by just being observant and looking at what is there. Use different lenses to get a different perspective and you will soon develop a different and diverse portfolio that is different from the standard of hundreds of images of a bird on a perch.
When booking hides, do some research, read reviews and ask questions. The price of a hide is generally between £60 and £150 dependent on the species, you can expect to pay the top end or even higher if you want the hide to yourself but weigh that up with the type of images that you have the potential to capture.
In conclusion. Hides that are run in the right way – ethically, with the welfare of the wildlife at the heart of the operation are an excellent opportunity for you to be able to capture rare or different species, often you will be able to get great photo opportunities very close and if you have the patience and enthusiasm then you can capture some outstanding images.
In 2 weekends at Scottish Photography Hides near Kirkcudbright I managed to capture images of Roe Deer, Badger, Otter, Red Squirrel, Pine Marten, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Tawny Owl, Dipper, Redstart, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Cuckoo, Stonechat and many smaller birds.
The details for Scottish Photography Hides are below.
I have used other hides and another one I would highly recommend is the Red Kite and the Woodland Hide at Argaty Red Kites
Also I would recommend Aviemore for the Ospreys.
Glen Tanar Lookout hide for Pine Martens and Badgers