To What Lengths Will You Go to Get “The Shot”?

To what lengths will you go to get “The Shot”?

Grizzly Bear

A few weekends ago, I accompanied a good friend of mine (we’ll call him “Dave” mostly because that is… uh…well that what his mother called him!) to a large sporting goods store to shop for hunting equipment. I thought that buying some camo gear might help me with my wildlife photography. Hunters and photographers are alike in many ways; we just carry different “weapons.” Upon walking into the store, I noticed a full camo ghillie suit, complete with fake leaves from head to toe and a hood/face mask.

The camouflage looked so realistic, it was hard to imagine any animal being able to spot me wearing it in a natural setting. Of course, clothing is only so good, because even if the animal can’t see me, it can smell me. So investing in simple camo clothing wasn’t going to be enough. Nope – I needed the special “anti – scent” camo clothing system to prevent my smell from giving my location away. I began to realize that this hunting clothing might get very expensive rather quickly.

As I walked around the store, perusing the different styles and colors and types of camouflage pants, shirts, jackets, underwear (no scent underwear? Hmm… now there might just be a market for that!), hats and gloves, I came to the section of “no stink” products.

Of course my camouflage anti-stink clothes are only so good. I needed the patented “Scent Be Gone” shampoo, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, mouth spray and gum. And why go to such lengths only to have my normal lip balm give me away? Yes, I would need the no-scent lip balm (no, I am not making this up)!

Did it end there? Not quite. It wasn’t enough to have no-scent clothing. I couldn’t leave the store without picking up a bottle or two of “Scent Be Gone” laundry detergent – just to make sure no unwarranted scents crept into my clothing!

And just for good measure, in case I missed something in the long chain of stink defense, I would need some scent killer spray (why risk it when you have come this far?). Scents can’t just be minimized – they must be killed outright!

Seems like a lot of money to spend for clothing and supplies just to get a shot of a zebra at a zoo.

When it came time to check out I asked Dave, “So what does that smell like”? He looked at me and responded, “It doesn’t.” To which I replied, “Then how do you know you are really buying anything?” I have to admit that a scene flashed into my mind; it involved a factory where people were putting plain water into fancy “Scent Killer” bottles and having a good laugh as the Brinks armored car pulled up to the loading dock loaded with bags full of money!

But before judging my hunting brethren’s expenses on camo gear and supplies being a bit silly, I began to consider that maybe they are right – maybe I should spend $1000 on clothes and anti stink stuff instead of $5000 on a longer lens?

I began to consider the lengths we will often go to get closer to wildlife for our “hunt” or to gain a different perspective on a landscape scene. We may think $1,000 on camo gear for hunters sounds rather silly, but try telling a hunter that you spent $5,000 on a zoom lens in order to take a picture of a deer!

We would love to hear what practices you have engaged in and how much you have invested in order to get “The Shot.” And please, always remember to be safe out there for the sake of both us and our “targets”.


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Avatar of Tom Redd About Tom Redd

Tom grew up in Texas, but the love of nature and the mountains lured him and his family to Colorado, where he and his wife raised their kids enjoying the beauty and activities that surround them. It is that beauty of both wildlife and landscape that made Tom want to capture and preserve these experiences thru photography. He became serious about photography in 2008 and continues to learn and refine his skills. Some of his photos can be found at 500px.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Paul Crowe

    Unfortunately it isn’t just smell that will cause reaction, noise of course but odd movements of any vegetation will startle an animal presumably on the line of “That aint natural therefore it is possibly dangerous I better move off” invariably in the wrong direction to that what you want.

    • Thanks Paul, I agree!

  2. 2
    ) Mark

    I think good fieldcraft and spending time researching the habits of your intended subject is one of the largest helps in getting the shot, also looking at where the sun will rise and set so you can find a good position for the light is another investment that costs nothing but time.

    The rest is just fancy tools but people were getting magnificent shots well before all this high tech stuff came along.

    On the otherhand, $5K lens – who wouldn’t want the Nikon 300mm f2.8 VRII? Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

    • Thanks Mark for reading and for the comment. Funny, the 300/2.8 does seem reasonable, doesn’t it :)

  3. 3
    ) FrancoisR

    Very entertaining Tom!

    Life is a farce… You dont need all that stuff to get close to any subject lloll.

    thanks

    • Thanks Francois! Glad you enjoyed it the post.

  4. Thanks for an interesting and humorous article. I believe in the end the animal (birds in my case) must come first. Does not matter if we do not get the “shot”. Too much of an obsession these days to get that “perfect” image, time to let go and just enjoy nature. The best images are kept in the heart.

    blessings
    Amar

    • 5
      ) FrancoisR

      Thumbs up to you Amar!!! Is all that gear for the birds ah ha ha ?

    • Thanks Amar!

  5. Very interesting and amusing simultaneously. Here mostly I go to shooting ( by camera) early morning just out of bed without a shower. I am not sure if the animals , specially birds care if I have taken a bath or not…

    • Desi – I am glad you found it “interesting and amusing”

  6. Interesting article. I find that if I sit very still and quietly down wind from where I think my subject will appear, I don’t need any scent killer. I’m not convinced that the scent killer products really do anything to hide you from animals.

    I do use a blind for photography sometimes but don’t think I need it often. Minimizing movement is the biggest issue for not scaring animals. I can stand still 20 feet away from a bluebird nest and they’ll fly up real close as long as I don’t move regardless of what I’m wearing or how I smell.

    • Craig, agreed, minimizing movement is key. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  7. This article is disappointing. There is no equivalence between wildlife photography and hunting. Yes, there are similarities to a degree but the end result is quite different. At the end of the day, the ethical wildlife photographer “does no harm” and the animal is alive for others to admire and enjoy. On the other hand, the “sport” of hunting involves the death or maiming of an animal which is then of value only to the hunter and to nobody else (well, maybe a taxidermist). Comparing the two activities makes as much sense as comparing paintball games to actual war.

    • 20
      ) Cal Towle

      Couldn’t agree more! I took a workshop in the Tetons with Jim Stamates who teaches “low impact field techniques” which is basically do no harm and let the animals know that you are there so that they accept you as part of their environment and act naturally. Hiding and sneaking is predator behaviour. I watched this principle in action last winter on the local delta where the Snowy Owls over-wintered. Some cowboys with camo and long lenses would sneak and scare; one guy just stood totally in the open near where they would land and calmly snap a few frames then relax to wait for the next opportunity. He would stand there for hours hardly moving, his bright clothing an irrelevancy, his 300mm lens more than adequate.

      • Cal, thanks for visiting and the comment. Interesting that you point out being still in the open. It can be more dangerous (for both the subject and the photographer) to sneak up, because if the photographer is seen in close proximity in a “surprise” – the animal is more likely to react poorly. Animals see us long before we see them and if we are not threatening and we are patient, they are more accommodating.

    • John, thanks for reading and for the comment. I don’t think I tried to make any equivalence of the two passions, but rather to show the lengths to what we will do to engage in those passions. I agree with being an ethical wildlife photographer and “doing no harm”.

      I do not want to get into a political debate here, the article was meant to be light hearted and for us to look inward. When we look inward we usually find something to laugh about and also sometimes something to improve – both are good.

      I appreciate your comments and for visiting the site. I hope that the article or my response didn’t disappoint too much. Photography is meant to be beautiful and to bring people together, not divide.

      • Thanks Tom, it was a good article and I probably overreacted. I guess I am frustrated with what I see in the outdoors these days where people seem to have no appreciation of wildlife. Many hunters (not all to be sure) simply view wildlife as targets for them to shoot at for the mere pleasure of killing them. I have no quarrel with those who need to hunt to eat but in truth those kinds of folks are pretty rare. For many it is all about ego. I know a little about this because I was a hunter for over 30 years until I did some deep introspection and realized that it is no sport to kill a living thing unless it is absolutely necessary. At that time I took to photography with a passion, even though I had been a casual photographer for many years. Keep up the good work!

        • 36
          ) Liz

          You might want to take a look at Ducks Unlimited. It is amazing the amount of conservation this group does in order to protect ducks/waterfowl, but it is also started and maintained by hunters across the US. Just food for thought, anyways. Not every hunter only looks at wildlife as a target. (I do agree with you that life is sacred. I am always sure to use everything from any animal that I take and to take it in the most quick and humane way possible, and I haven’t hunted in years as there hasn’t been need. My little sister takes this even farther by having obtained a license to taxidermy roadkill so that it is not wasted. I feel more badly about the way that fishing works than the way that hunting–done properly–works. Poor little guys pulling against a hook.)

  8. I am just back in the UK from a circular trip from Las Vegas up to Yellowstone and back via Horseshoe Bend near Page. Before we left I saw an image of Horseshoe Bend In a Vegas gallery and wondered how good a shot I might get.

    When we arrived there I was surprised how far we had to trek from the car park and even more shocked that there was no guard rail at the overlook. Eventually, I plucked up enough courage to balance my tripod over the edge, hang on to my Nikon and hope for the best. I ended up with w very average shot .

    Back at the Vegas gallery I enquired how the photographer managed to get the shot. “Oh he used a helicopter”, was the reply. Perhaps sometimes what we wear and what we use is not enough for a great shot and we have to live with it.

    • Michael, thank you for the reply. The article was intended to be entertaining as well as to invite each of us to think about what we do to get “The Shot”. The “Shot” could be landscape, wildlife, an event, whatever. It was not just to poke fun at those that hunt but also to take ourselves as photographers not so seriously. In the end, the article’s title is what the article is about and that was to invite readers to share their experiences.

      Thank you for catching the intent of the article and thanks for sharing.

      I am sure that your photo was still a great memory! Happy Trails.

  9. 10
    ) Martin

    Nice article, you really got it right. If you can fool eagles, then you are good.

  10. Photography is my hobby, marketing it my profession. Here is what I’ve learned from vocation that applies to my avocation:

    - No matter what your passion (photography, hunting, music, running, golf, fishing — whatever), there is a profit-motivated market for it.
    - That market is filled with vendors whose job it is to make you believe you need something to be successful at your passion.
    - Building a sustainable business is key, so they have to continuously create new ways to make you feel like you’re not doing enough to advance your craft.
    - No matter how much people imagine that they’re immune to it, marketing works. It creates demand. That’s why vendors do it. You are most likely not above it.
    - Enthusiasts are shockingly willing to allocate 95% of their investment in their passion trying to squeeze out the last 5% of performance. Even on things that are obviously trivial to non-enthusiasts. (What could you remove from you camera bag and still get great pictures? If you’re anything like me, quite a bit.)

    About the only things that I’ve found that helps is to 1) set a budget and stick to it, 2) allocate your time as possible to actually *doing* your passion, as opposed to exposing yourself to your passion’s market (magazines, retail web sites, etc.). That stuff is fun, and even necessary, but overdoing it causes unnecessary gear lust in my opinion.

    • 19
      ) Colorado Zephyr

      Well put…

      but overdoing it causes unnecessary gear lust in my opinion.

    • 35
      ) Cherag Tantra

      Spot on…

      there is no end to number of things you could do/purchase to get that perfect picture or simply been in that perfect moment…

      old school of thought people would always debate that they still got perfect pictures with whatever they had at that time… does that mean you do not accept new products… of course not… but the most important bit that i realised (after spending on gears blindly reading numerours blogs) was you need to realise your ability as a photographer, your knowledge about photography and get that basic knowledge on concepts before you proceed any further in purchase of new equipment.

      I have a Nikon D90 and am very tempted to go for the new D600/D800 but I have promised myself that I wil do so only when I have realised that I have finally got the best images with the D90 and THAT same images would have been better with a D600/D800 & most importantly I will need THAT difference in image quality. Its only at that level you could justify going for a newer purchase.

      That’s just my opinion.

  11. 12
    ) francisco

    in life and including photography, sometimes patience is enough… nice article though!

    • Excellent Francisco!

  12. Fun!

    As far as the first image goes (the bear), I think I would opt for the $5000 lens.

  13. 18
    ) Colorado Zephyr

    I invested in a golden retriever. Great company for my trips into the Rocky Mountains. My concern about crossing paths with a bear or mountain lion in places I hiked provided me with extra insurance. Yes, I did encounter a mountain lion at Crescent, CO, and both parties kept there distance. My golden retriever was my best friend for 11-years!

    I’ll keep large wild animals at a distance where my long tele can capture them. Good luck with your “photographic hunt.”

    • Colorado Zephyr – thanks for the comment. A mountain lion!! What a great experience, I was lucky enough to see 3 last year, prior to that I had never seen one. Glad it was a happy encounter.

  14. I can cope with the camo gear and long lens but I think I will draw the line at smelling like a bear!!

    This is nothing new but I would far sooner stay down wind of the target and arrive home smelling of Brut!!

    Andy

    • Thanks Andy for the smile.

  15. Just my 5 cents for the discussion.

    As we all know the most important thing in camo is to be able to brake the shape of a human body. Birds especially have very good vision and even better visual memory. If let’s say white human has difficulty identifying oriental faces and other way around then for the birds it’s not a problem at all. Birds vision is relying on the size, shape and colour. Combining all three things together in the brain birds can see smallest difference in the objects. Some animals cannot see very well like deer (They are also colour blind) for example but they can smell you for miles away. So my point is that when you go to photograph wildlife you may want to learn a thing or two on what bird or an animal you going to photograph. One thing I have recently learned about Buffaloes…. DO NOT FEED THEM when you photograph them. These guys change their temper in a blink of a second and they can act very unpredictably. If you planning to photograph an animal try to learn about this animal a thing or two, that always helps.

    I will always will take a longer lens instead of the super duper camo, but combination of both always giving you best results.

  16. 32
    ) Don B

    I really enjoy this web site, and appreciate the spirit in which the article was written. It is well written.

    But, i really don’t want to see any articles about hunting on photographyLIFE, even if written a light hearted spirit. I don’t want this to be a political issue, so I won’t say any more.

    I think you are an excellent writer, and I know I’ll enjoy your future articles.

    Don B

  17. 33
    ) Shawn B

    It’s really an interesting article!! I would like to read more comments and reviews on camo peripheral products!!

  18. 34
    ) Mike

    Excellent and an interestingly humorous article Tom, on my visits to the States I have occasionally wandered into a hunting store and have been amazed as most UK visiters would be at the variety of hunting equipment, but I guess the real aim of this article is don’t take life to seriously.

  19. 37
    ) james

    Your humorous article shows up a profound divide between hunters and photographers. A hunter expects his/her encounter with an alpha predator or a large prey species to end in the death of that creature. It is a vastly different proposition for a hunter to be in a predators detection zone, or worse yet that creatures startle zone.
    May I suggest to your readers, that how ever closely they mimic the style and methods of hunters, carrying a camera is not the same as carrying a high velocity scoped rifle or heavy gauge shotgun.
    Carrying a camera produces a completely different threat profile, both for the viewer and the viewed. It follows that it demands a completely different mind set.
    Polar Bears are flagged as being highly dangerous because they are large powerful creatures that move fast, but then so are Grizzlies. Ice Bears are notorious because they regard humans as normal prey.
    Photographers survive wilderness encounters because of the choices the animal makes. Pretending not to be a human has a down side.
    Your very funny article, absolutely slayed me, I could have died laughing :D

    • Thank you James, I am glad you saw the humor in the article and I thank you for your feedback.

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